Work-Life Strategies & Solutions

On the Evolution of Work Systems in the Digital Economy

Darwin at Work: The State of Marketing & Resistance to Marketers’ Influence

When it comes to organizational cost-cutting, I’ve often heard that the marketing budget is commonly among the first to be cut. Until now, I didn’t know why exactly. However, the preview section of Does Marketing Need Reform? Fresh Perspectives on the Future clarified the factors contributing to the current state of marketing. This book was authored by Jagdish N. Sheth and Rajendra S. Sisodia, and was published in 2006. So, it’s dated but the major themes are still relevant as they are echoed in the 2011 video below.

The following historical facts and figures, as cited by Sheth and Sisodia, put the past and present situation in perspective:

  • “In an age when the mantra of business has been ‘do more with less,’ the marketing function has for too long been ‘doing less with more.’ In most industries today, the marketing function consumes over 50 percent of corporate resources, up from less than 25 percent around 1950. At a macro level, marketing represents a tremendous waste of resources that could be better utilized elsewhere.” (p. 20)

  • Within organizations however, this is how perception of marketing stacked up:

“[M]arketing has a serious and deepening image problem with most of its constituents, external as well as internal. These include customers, the public at large, public watchdog groups, other internal business functions (e.g., R&D, engineering, finance, legal, senior management), chief executive officers, and boards of directors.” (p. 49)

“Both marketing and nonmarketing professionals regard sales to be the most important business function of all. Marketing professionals view marketing to be the next most vital function (only slightly less important than sales), while nonmarketing professionals ranked it eighth! In terms of productivity (efficiency and effectiveness), marketing professionals had a significantly more positive view of marketing’s performance than did nonmarketers.” (p. 60)

  • “Marketers have a different opinion about the state of marketing than consumers. There is little concurrence. Consumers see a need for change whereas marketers see a need to be persistent and unwavering in their tactics of saturation and intrusiveness.” (p. 41)
  • “’If marketing is ever to gain a measure of credibility, the phrase ‘truthful marketing’ cannot be an oxymoron anymore.” (p. 24)
  • “Advertising executive David Ogilvy wrote, ‘The customer is not an idiot, she is your wife.’ [M]arketers have indeed been guilty of treating their customers as idiots.” (p. 24)


The Internet Changes the Playing Field: Resistance to Marketing Rises

Does Marketing Need Reform? also explained the Internet’s role in transforming consumer behavior. It enabled people to become smarter and more resourceful when shopping for products and services. Specifically, they could conduct research and rely on word-of-mouth from others and review sites extensively so that the manner in which marketing disseminates information (through saturation and intrusiveness) became less necessary. In fact, at the time of the book’s writing, customer resistance to marketing efforts had heightened.

Customers have evolved these defense mechanisms as a natural reaction to decades of marketing manipulation, noise, and sheer excess. Through long experience with never-ending sales gimmicks and marketing’s history of overpromising and underdelivering, customers have become trained to be highly deal-prone and deeply cynical about marketing claims. Offensive marketing creates defensive, suspicious customers with low and declining brand loyalty, and little tolerance for underperformance. Such customers switch suppliers at the smallest provocation, as evidenced by high churn rates in many industries.

Customers today also have more knowledge, and thus power, than they ever did in the past. In part, this is due to the sheer availability of objective information, which simply did not exist even in the recent past. Lacking any trust in marketers to tell them the truth, customers increasingly feel the need to arm themselves with as much unbiased information as possible. Through the Internet, customers today are also engaged in a never-ending dialogue with each other, answering each other’s questions, and guiding each other toward better purchasing decisions, entirely independent of marketers’ efforts. (pp. 49-50)

Traits and Habits of Those Most Resistant to Influence

If you’re vigilant about staying vigilant as I am, here’s potentially helpful information on traits and habits of people who’re most resistant to social and emotional influence. Research on personality characteristics is scarce as past studies have focused on contextual factors (e.g. impact of inoculation, etc.). However, Exploring Consumer’s Propensity to Resist Marketers’ Influences by Annie Stéphanie, an exploratory interview-based study regarding individual variation, is a starting point (and hopefully a robust experimental study is forthcoming). Three characteristics were named (and explained on p. 5):

1. The Need for Uniqueness
2. Skepticism
3. The Need for Cognition

This makes sense, right? In addition, Amy Morin’s advice from Study Shows The Power Of Social Influence: 5 Ways To Avoid The Herd Mentality overlaps with the points above:

1. Stop Being on Auto-Pilot

Instead of conducting our own research, we [tend to] look around at what others are doing and simply copy what we see. Once you’re aware of the natural tendency to go with the “social default,” you can begin making more conscious decisions for yourself.

2. Make a Conscious Effort to Form Your Own Opinion

3. Take Time to Make Decisions

4. Be Aware of Ways in Which Stress Affects Your Decision Making

5. Be Willing to Stand Out

Recommendation for Marketing Professionals

To conclude, a recommendation for marketing professionals from Does Marketing Need Reform? follows:

This mix of problems and opportunities is not as much of a paradox as it sounds. As smart marketers know, problems always create opportunities for companies willing to break the mold and do something different. The best time to secure enduring competitive advantage is when the marketplace is in turmoil. Now is that time.

Simply put, consumers are fed up with marketing saturation and intrusiveness. As a result, consumer resistance to marketing is growing rapidly. So, marketers have the chance, indeed, the necessity, to create competitive advantage for their brands through their marketing practices. Looking ahead, the best marketing won’t simply be a better way of promoting a brand and its benefits. The best marketing will actually be a brand benefit itself.

The marketers who prevail will be those who respond to consumer resistance with precision and relevance as well as power and reciprocity… instead of more marketing saturation and intrusiveness. This requires true customer-centricity, not the process-centricity that characterizes most marketing organizations. (pp. 31-32)

By and large, I think the concept of permission marketing is a long way off from being realized in a significant way. Permission marketing is defined as “the privilege (not the right) of delivering anticipated, personal and relevant messages to people who actually want to get them. It recognizes the new power of the best consumers to ignore marketing. It realizes that treating people with respect is the best way to earn their attention” (Source: Seth’s Blog: Permission Marketing). What are your thoughts on the current state of marketing? Is it better or worse in terms of saturation and intrusiveness now than it was several years to a decade ago?

3 responses to “Darwin at Work: The State of Marketing & Resistance to Marketers’ Influence

  1. Thomas July 24, 2016 at 8:45 pm

    I am an extreme skeptic when it comes to buying things. I buy what I need, not what I see advertised. And if I’m buying something for the first time, I always check it out. Ratings on sites such as are helpful, but if the item cost more than, say, $100 I’ll dig deeper. When it came to buying new PCs earlier this year, it took me at least a month of off-and-on research before I made my final choice. And I’m quite happy with it.

    My skeptical approach is aided considerably by the easy availability of information on the internet. I’m confident that has a lot to do with growing consumer resistance. Even people who are more impulsive have learned that it doesn’t take a lot of effort to check out an advertiser’s claims and compare products.

    • L. P. July 25, 2016 at 1:58 am

      Thanks for commenting. My approach to purchasing things I need is the same.

      Incidentally, Amazon exemplifies personalized customer-centered marketing and advertising. I don’t know if you’ve experience this, however when I show enough interest in an item on Amazon to click on it and then visit some other websites, I’ve found that the item I last clicked on is displayed on other webpages in their advertising spaces. On the one hand, this acts as a reminder when I need to purchase parrot food (as I buy a particular kind that Amazon has a great deal on). However, work still needs to be done to differentiate between items I regularly buy for myself and gift items (one-time purchases) for others. For example, this leaves those same webpages cluttered with pictures of diapers after I bought a box for my sister’s baby shower gift once.

  2. Pingback: The Price of Attention & How Demand for it has Outpaced Supply | Work-Life Strategies & Solutions

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