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Evolving Marketing Eras

Phillip Kotler categorized the five major marketing eras that have evolved throughout time. Some of the concepts developed in each era are still around today, and marketing concept remnants from each era compete with each other as organizations conduct their marketing activities.

The Production Era

One of the oldest concept eras, it holds that consumers will favor those products that are widely available and low in cost. Managers of production-oriented organizations concentrate on achieving high production efficiency and wide distribution.

The Product Era

This era brought about marketing beliefs that consumers will favor those products that offer the most quality, performance or innovative features. Marketing managers focus on making superior products and improving them over time.

Although both production and product are important in the overall mix of healthy marketing, there can be a problem with the remnants of both the production and product era, as they can lead to a symptom called marketing myopia. Production- or product-oriented companies tend to design their product with little or no customer input, as with some car manufacturers and many insurance and financial products providers. No wonder they are such a hard sell. There is a danger with developing a love affair with your production efficiency or product and not realizing that the marketplace may be less turned on. Marketing managers become victims of the “better mouse trap” fallacy, believing that a better mouse trap will lead people to their door.

The Selling/Sales Era

During this era, the primary marketing concept belief held that consumers if left alone would not buy enough of the organization’s products; therefore, the organization must undertake an aggressive selling and promotion effort. The selling concept assumes that the consumer must be coaxed into buying. It also assumes that the organization has effective selling and promotional tools to stimulate more buying. Today, this concept is still practiced most aggressively with unsought goods, such as insurance, funeral plots and even fundraising activity by non-profit groups. These industries have perfected various sales techniques to locate prospects and hard sell them on their product benefits. Most firms practice the selling concept when their aim (knowingly or unknowingly) is to sell what they make rather than make what the market wants.

In today’s competitive environment, most markets are buyer markets and sellers have to scramble hard for customers. Prospects are bombarded with commercials, print ads, direct mail, telemarketing and sales calls. At every turn, someone is trying to sell you something. Unfortunately, as a result, the public often identifies marketing with hard selling and advertising. Marketing based on hard selling is unhealthy and carries high risks, especially customer dissatisfaction.

It is a surprise to most people when they learn that selling is not the most important part of healthy marketing. Selling is only one part, be it an integral part, of the marketing mix. As management and marketing guru Peter Drucker states: “There will always, one can assume, be a need for some selling. But the aim of marketing is to make selling superfluous. The aim of marketing is to know and understand the customer so well that the product or service fits him and sells itself. Ideally, marketing should result in a customer who is ready to buy. All that should be needed then is to make the product or service available.”

The Marketing Era

Evolving from and challenging the first three concept eras of marketing, this era holds that the key to achieving organizational goals consists of being more effective than your competitors in integrating and coordinating marketing activities toward determining and satisfying the needs and wants of your target markets.

Marketing guru and Professor Theodore Levitt states, “Selling focuses on the needs of the seller, marketing on the needs of the buyer. Selling is preoccupied with the seller’s need to convert his product into cash; marketing with the idea of satisfying the needs of the customer by means of the product and the whole cluster of things associated with creating, delivering and finally consumering it.”

The marketing concept is the foundation of healthy marketing and rests on four pillars: target market, customer needs, integrated marketing and profitability. The selling era concept takes an inside-out perspective. It starts with the factory, focuses on the company’s existing products or services and calls for heavy hitting selling and promotion to produce profitable sales. Unlike the selling concept, the healthier modern era marketing concept takes an outside-in perspective. Starting with a well-defined market, it focuses on customer needs, integrates all the activities that will affect customers and produces profits by satisfying customers

The Societal Marketing Era

The newest to evolve, it holds that the organization’s task is to determine the needs, wants and interests of target markets and to deliver the desired satisfaction more effectively and efficiently than competitors in a way that preserves or enhances the consumers’ and the society’s well being.

Cause-related marketing is a version of the societal marketing concept. A growing number of companies are using cause-related marketing. Organizations run cause- related marketing campaigns for several purposes: to enhance their corporate image, thwart negative publicity, pacify consumer groups, launch a new product or brand, broaden their customer base and/or generate incremental sales.

This concept calls for marketers to really balance three considerations: company profits, consumer want and satisfaction, and public interest.