Philip Kotler is calling for companies to serve their broad stakeholders through acts of brand activism, rather than focusing solely on narrow groups of shareholders. As the father of modern marketing, Kotler seems an odd critic of shareholder focused management and seemingly core capitalist values. Kotler argues the shift serves individual companies’ long term profitability as well as serving society. Kotler shared his views at the newly redesigned AMA Support Center in Chicago. View Video Interview Now.
“Marketing and business itself is not working for the many, [but] for the few,” Kotler said. He explained that while marketing programs have primarily focused on shareholders, they must also be concerned with the people producing the product, using it, being positively and negatively affected it. Ultimately, these stakeholders influence the brand value and feasibility for market growth. WIth tools like social media, stakeholders can communicate globally and more efficiently than ever before. He said, “If you really want to make more money for the shareholders, you need to change your whole view of the stakeholders.”
Marketers are optimally placed to carryout brand activism as they should already be the nexus of customer centricity. Kotler pointed to Unilever’s recent efforts. He said, “Unilever leaders recently said that brands that will count are those coming from high purpose. What are you doing as a brand to make the world a better place?”
Kotler expounds on his plea to marketers in his two most recent books, Confronting Capitalism: Real Solutions for a Troubled Economic System and Democracy in Decline: Rebuilding its Futureregarding. They focus on the state of capitalism and democracy respectively and the role that marketers can play in better serving society.
In addition to talking about brand activism, Kotler also shared some thoughts about his own influences, including Peter Drucker, the grandfather of modern marketing and a pivotal business scholar. Kotler explained that Drucker was an early proponent of marketing and making the customer the central focus of business – even going so far as to suggest that good marketing makes selling unnecessary. “If you introduce a brand new thing that creates a ‘wow,’ people line up and therefore there is no need for hard selling,” Kotler explained. “Now today more than ever, customers want that ‘wow’ experience. So in many ways Peter had aphorisms that was so centered on our idea of marketing.”
In constructing a list of the most impressive brand-building efforts in the last 15 years, it would be hard to leave out Unilever’s Dove. The Dove Campaign for Real Beauty played a big role in this success story by providing energy and impetus to an already vigorous brand.
When asked about marketers who are doing important new work, Kotler was hesitant to call out too many names, least he accidentally miss anyone. He pointed to Beth Comstock’s work with GE and praised Jag Sheth’s efforts to celebrate legendary marketing scholars. He also pointed to work being done by Jerry Zaltman at Harvard University in the area of metaphors as well as Kotler’s own Northwestern University colleague, Mohanbir Sawney’s research that bridging the marketing-technology divide.
During the visit, Kotler toured the new AMA Support Center facilities and shared insights in an all-staff meeting. He had a chance to see the Kotler Feedback Vault, a tech-filled conference room that among other features offers video conferencing for face-to-face conversations with AMA stakeholders from around the world. The room was named to honor his contributions to the discipline and field.
Philip Kotler is the S.C. Johnson & Son Distinguished Professor of International Marketing at the Northwestern University Kellogg Graduate School of Management and author of Marketing Management – the seminal marketing textbook now in its 15th edition. Many in the industry have read at least one of his 60 books and most doctoral students have read one of his more than 100 articles from leading journals, including the Journal of Marketing and Journal of Marketing Research. Among his many honors, Philip Kotler is an AMA Fellow and the first AMA-Irwin-McGraw-Hill Distinguished Marketing Educator.