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Rethinking Marketing: Vanitha Swaminathan

Vanitha Swaminathan

Vanitha Swaminathan
University of Pittsburgh

At the center of what we study is the customer, the company, and their relationship. That is the focus of the literature in marketing. Better marketing for a better world means we need to adopt a wider lens.

First, we can consider a broader set of outcomes. Early work in marketing focused on a narrow set of outcomes such as customer acquisition and retention and brand switching and loyalty. By focusing on when a consumer switches from Coke to Pepsi, missed the point that both were bad for the consumer. A broad lens allows us to consider how marketing impacts multiple aspects of consumers’ lives, such as health and subjective well-being. 

Second, we can consumer a broader set of stakeholders. If a company exclusively focuses on one stakeholder, like the customer, and completely neglects another stakeholder, like the employee, what does that mean for performance as a whole? My research found that although cash flow is often better for customer-focused firms, firms that focus on serving both customers and employees maximize cash flow and minimize risk. If we narrowly focus on just one relationship (e.g., customer-firm), we are missing a lot. 


Finally, firm actions that benefit the consumer relationship can have terrible social costs. What costs will discourage companies from practices that have bad outcomes? This can be done by increasing the cost (e.g., taxes, permits for polluting), through voluntary consumer or company actions (e.g., displaying calorie information), or by having consumers pressure firms. For example, consider Tom’s shoes, which donates a pair of shoes for each pair sold. What is the impact of this practice on the brand? Is it just a cost, or is it worth it to the firm? Research can help us answer these questions.

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Vanitha Swaminathan is professor and Robert W. Murphy Faculty Fellow in Marketing at the University of Pittsburgh’s Katz Graduate School of Business.