Marketing Systems Concept


Roger Layton, Christine Domegan and Stanley J. Shapiro solicit feedback on a further development of the Marketing Systems Concept

An Invitation: To Provide Your Feedback on a Proposed Further Development of the Marketing Systems Concept

Provisioning systems – marketing systems and so much more”

The three of us are currently engaged in an exchange of ideas as regards an important next step in marketing systems thinking: an exploration of the relationship between marketing systems and other provisioning system options. We believe that the brief description that follows adequately explores all the relevant aspects of that relationship but we claim no monopoly on truth, wisdom or even insight.

We would welcome input–positive, negative or neutral—from any and all other marketing academics who share our interest in marketing systems. And we would like that input now, not 18 months from now when, hopefully, our manuscript will become available in some journal’s “Online First” section.

Marketing systems thinking has long been a core concept of macromarketing and other sub-disciplines within academic marketing have now come to recognize its importance. However, societies have long been provisioned in other ways as well and it is on the relationships between and within the various provisioning system options that we welcome your thoughts.

And how important is systems thinking in other contexts? With dynamic, wide-ranging impacts, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, the World Health Organization and the United Nations each affirm systems thinking as the fundamental key to dealing with the local-to-global interconnectedness of complex economic, social and environmental issues. What more need be said?

  • Roger Layton, University of New South Wales
  • Christine Domegan, National University of Ireland-Galway
  • Stanley J. Shapiro, Simon Fraser University

Please send all comments to

"A provisioning system is a complex evolving multi-level social system or sub-system, though which a community makes available part or all of the goods, services, experiences and ideas that are needed by individuals, groups and entities within the community to meet their changing needs and wants. Examples where it may be relevant include the UN 2030 sustainable development goals (SDGs), the struggle between coal and renewables in energy provision, power and politics in the provision of financial services, creating ocean literacy, countering obesity, ending famine, and helping resolve public/private tensions in health and education provisioning.

The formation of the increasingly complex marketing systems that are central to the functioning of a provisioning system begins with choices made by each individual, group and entity in a community. Each brings different and changing needs, preferences, values, capabilities and social capital to a search for the assortments of goods, services, experiences and ideas that each needs or wants at a point in time and space. This search, across independent individuals and entities who are usually strangers, is one where transaction costs and benefits are significant, and where mutual trust and power are important considerations. It is successful when participants voluntarily agree to an exchange, usually involving money, in which all parties perceive value to have been created. Over time the networks of relationships between individuals and entities formed through exchange often lead to structural and functional change, as participants self-organize in a search for increased efficiency and effectiveness.

The marketing system that emerges is a complex social mechanism, comprising a network of individuals, groups and/or entities, embedded in a social matrix, linked directly or indirectly through sequential or shared participation in value-creating exchange, which jointly generates, assembles, transforms and makes available, assortments of products, services, experiences and ideas, provided in response to or anticipation of customer demand. It may be autarchic, emergent, structured or purposeful, changing over time and space. Each marketing system, as it grows, generates or links with complementary marketing systems, cooperates or competes with others, initiates lower level or subsidiary marketing systems, and in turn becomes part of one or more supervening systems, in this way establishing the collective of marketing systems comprising a provisioning system.

A provisioning system or sub-system forms around one or more of four provisioning system modalities – an informal system, a formal market-choice system, a collaborative system and a prescriptive system. Each modality establishes, over time and space, distinctive sets of customs, including behaviors, norms, practices, infrastructures, and in some cases institutions. Participants choose among accessible modalities for each exchange transaction. They frame their choices drawing on their values (a blend of self-interest, mutuality and morality), on custom, and their understandings of each modality at the time when choice is occurring. Within each provisioning system modality, as it attracts participant support (willing and unwilling), a collective of marketing systems begin to form and grow.

The evolutionary drivers of each marketing system within a provisioning system modality are four component complex secondary social mechanisms. These are delivery systems, stakeholder action fields, technology evolution systems, and value exchange fields. Each forms and grows in response to a continuing flow of voluntary exchange amongst peers creating economic and social value for each participant. As these four social mechanisms form and interact in response to participant choices, some part or all of the needs and wants of participants for goods, services, experiences and ideas are met; at the same time behaviors, social practices, values and beliefs are changing; infrastructures, tangible and intangible, are forming; and often institutions and institutional logics are taking shape.

A provisioning system then is a complex evolving multi-level social system or sub-system, though which a community makes available part or all of the goods, services, experiences and ideas that are needed by individuals, groups and entities within the community to meet their changing needs and wants. It is shaped by cooperating, co-existing, competing and conflicting interactions within and among the provisioning modalities and by external events. It is rarely or ever in equilibrium, often difficult to predict, beset by the dynamics of complex adaptive systems where tipping points or critical junctures, competing or conflicting systems, and limited rationality conspire to provoke discontinuous change."