Getting it practically all wrong, Sally Logan

The New Zealand Marketing Book
Guenther Mueller‑Heumann and Michael Duffy
Dunmore Press, $84.95

New Zealand’s future prosperity will be based, in large part, on its ability to market itself, its expertise, its products and its services to a sceptical world. A much greater understanding of marketing is needed throughout New Zealand society, and urgently. It is no longer good enough to have lawyers, accountants and MBAs who manage businesses and marketing people who “sell things”. People in all management disciplines will need sound basic marketing skills, including those in government departments, service delivery agencies and charitable organisations.

You can’t judge a book by its cover ‑ but this one neatly sets itself up to be judged in just that way ‑ against the stated objectives on the cover. The authors tell us their book is designed to deliver two things ‑ “first to give non‑marketing readers the skills they need should they work with marketers or become marketing practitioners themselves; second to provide current marketing practitioners with additional skills they can use”.

Hallelujah! At last, perhaps, a practical book, with a New Zealand flavour, I can recommend to people who want an introduction to marketing ‑ what it is, how it works and how to approach marketing issues. I’ve been asked to recommend a good book on marketing more often than on any other management topic. It’s not been easy to find a suitable suggestion.

This offering from one of New Zealand’s well regarded marketing professors, Guenther Mueller‑Heumann of Otago University and his associate professor, Michael Duffy, promised to fill that much needed gap.

Sadly, The New Zealand Marketing Book quickly disappoints. It suffers from a case of confused identity ‑ leaping from simple, clear summaries in lay language to academic complexity to linguistic flight of fancy. It seems thrown together with no clear editorial vision or audience in mind ‑ a hodge‑podge of styles and levels of language designed not to satisfy any of its possible audiences.

Is it a book for the layperson wanting an introduction to marketing or is it a textbook?

Its cover claims it is written for non‑marketing readers with an emphasis on “real‑world applications”. And they’ve sent it for review to New Zealand Books. The chapter endings tell another story, with a set of questions at the end of each, of a clearly introductory academic nature. The confused identity is clarified on the flysheet which tells us, despite the cover claim, that this book is “textbook development. A student edition for use in 1994. A revised edition will be published for 1995″.

One deduces that students of marketing at Otago University and perhaps other learned institutions will have this textbook set as required reading ‑ at $84.95. Should we instead judge it against criteria appropriate to a stage one text? The authors should make up their mind about the market segment they are aiming for. I refer them to their chapter 6 on “Target Market Analysis” and the discussion of market segmentation:

Compared to the shotgun approach, concentrating on one selected submarket (“selected marketing”) is a much more effective way of exploiting the market. It requires consideration of the needs and wants of customers in the one chosen submarket.

Professor Mueller‑Heumann is an expert in segmentation and no doubt he would respond that some market segments are too small for individual products and I concur. The problem here is that the product is clearly one thing ‑ a textbook primarily ‑ and yet its packaging claims it to be another, a book for non‑marketing readers or marketing practitioners.

The book would disappoint managers and others who want a general introduction to the subject. Too little effort has been made to simplify issues and remove jargon. The book slips quickly into academise:

Demands are directed wants that can be turned into actual exchange because the potential buyer or barterer in question has something of value which can be exchanged for what is wanted. The exchange of values between two parties is often referred to as a “transaction” which ideally involves parties trading products or services of equal value.

The authors say “[t]he book is written with a New Zealand audience in mind. However this does not mean the rest of the world is ignored. On the contrary New Zealand is part of an integrated world economy, and this book reflects this with a global, albeit New Zealand flavoured, orientation.”

In fact, scant attention is paid to giving the book a real New Zealandness and the New Zealand case studies and excerpts are more like tack‑ons than seamless and relevant parts of the whole. Chapters typically begin with a standalone excerpt or superficial case study drawn from New Zealand source material. Many are excerpts from media stories about particular companies, brands or product successes. But the cases generally stop there. No effort is made to weave them into the chapter, to relate the subject matter to the example or to explain their relevance. If they are illustrations of a point made in the chapter, the reader is left to make that connection alone.

The historical section glares as an area where a little effort could have resulted in a real New Zealand feel for the book. The section might well have been lifted entirely from a text published for readers in Athens or Milan or Bristol. Discussion of early Phoenician city states and their merchant trading, the late nineteenth-century spice and silk trade and the impact of marketing on the industrial revolution form key themes for this first section of the book, as they have done in universities in Europe for decades. No one has questioned the basic assumption that they are acceptable and require no relevance test.

The opportunity to use examples from pre‑European New Zealand intertribal trade or to describe the activities of northern tribes in market garden supply to New South Wales in early European times have slipped these writers by. In many instances, New Zealand examples are just as relevant as the Eurocentric ones used.

No study of marketing from a New Zealand perspective can be inward-looking and narrow ‑ it must recognise the essentially outward-looking nature of New Zealand’s trading activities. However, they have a distinct heritage and some distinctive features. Where these are relevant and useful, they should be the basis of our learning.

The illustrations appear to have been placed as an afterthought, with insufficient attention to their usefulness and relevance. Most are drawn from the archives of the Otago Daily Times, presumably a handy place to nip into if you have a few holes to fill in a book and you work at Otago University ‑ but not the place to find photographs of real relevance and added value. We find a photograph of the plate glass frontage and door of a New Zealand company captioned: “National Head Office”; a man in a suit holding up a thread bobbin in front of some sort of spinning machine captioned ‘Production Line”; five men in shirt sleeves sitting in a posed shot around a map captioned: “Board Meeting”, and an out-of-focus photograph of the signage outside a Chinese restaurant captioned “Retail Market Segmentation” ‑ not the sort of illustrations that add much to the sum total of knowledge of marketing.

With a little thought, the section on retail market segmentation could have been illustrated with contrasting photographs of restaurant signage that compared contrasting restaurant markets. This photograph tells the reader little or nothing ‑ except that the Shanghai Café sells “Chinese English Meals, Dine In, Dine Out”.

Take another perspective: women marketing students will have to look hard for role models in the illustrations. With the odd exception, women are portrayed as teachers, shoppers, shelf stockers, sales staff and check‑out operators. Men are scientists, managers, researchers, board members, architects, pilots and exporters.

As public relations consultants, we work as part of a greater marketing team with many client companies and organisations. We play our role in the modern marketing mix alongside professionals from all the other disciplines involved. We “walk the talk” every day of our working lives and select, employ and develop people to add expertise to client companies and their work. Some staff are marketing graduates, as are some clients. Yet this book seems to be fitting out the student for a different real world from the one that we and our clients inhabit.

Certainly, the basics of product, price and place are critical, as is an understanding of needs hierarchies and purchase decision-making. But the world of marketing is ever‑changing. If transaction marketing was the thing of the 1980s, relationship marketing is the thing of the 90s. The base concept is that a marketer is building a relationship with consumers of their products or services. The focus is not on making a single sale but building a lasting relationship with the customer. The international edition of Business Week in its September 5 cover story on database marketing explains the evolution of marketing well:

First came the mass market, that vast undifferentiated body of consumers who received identical, mass‑produced products and messages ‑ any colour of car they wanted so long as it was black. Then came market segmentation, which divided still‑anonymous consumers into smaller groups with common demographic or psychographic characteristics. Now new generations of faster, more powerful computers are enabling marketers to zero in on ever smaller niches of the population, ultimately aiming for the smallest consumer segment of all, the individual.

Relationships with individual consumers are the basis of many marketing programmes ‑ for marketers of products as diverse as cars, banking products, magazines and life insurance. Direct marketing is a huge growth industry of experts and expertise in developing, maintaining and recording the relationship between a marketer and an individual. Yet this book spends very little time on issues relevant to relationship marketing. The only directly relevant section is called “Direct Mail” ‑ a phrase that would raise the strong ire of those working in the field today.

To my own field ‑ public relations and promotions ‑ the book makes only fleeting passing reference, while dwelling in considerable detail on the older, more traditional elements of the marketing mix.

The book is something from the past, more useful for a lesson on historic marketing than to prepare a graduate for the practical marketing world in New Zealand today.

Sally Logan is managing director of Logos Public Relations.

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