From Markets to Stakeholders: The Evolving Paradigm
This article is one in a series of reports about the Spring 2010 Journal of Public Policy and Marketing special edition on Stakeholder Marketing. See an introduction to and a summary of our coverage of this edition here.
By Kathleen Hosfeld
In an article called “The New Marketing Myopia,” authors N. Craig Smith, Minette E. Drumwright, and Mary C. Gentile suggest that a stakeholder perspective is the next step in a progression that began with “product orientation” and evolved to “market orientation.” Building on the insights of Theodore Levitt’s landmark essay “Marketing Myopia,” originally published in 1960 in Harvard Business Review, the authors say that a stakeholders orientation in marketing will help prevent companies from relying too heavily on products or services that may come under regulatory or other scrutiny, or fall out of step with mainstream values. Another article in the Journal’s special edition, “From Market Orientation to Stakeholder Orientation,” by O.C. Ferrell, Tracy L Gonzalez-Padron, G. Tomas M. Hult, and Isabelle Maignan, further develops the this idea.
A product orientation is internally focused on selling what one can/wants to make. A market orientation shifts to an external assessment of what customers need/want, and what competitors provide. A stakeholder orientation would also be externally focused, including other voices beyond customers and competitors, those advocating for longer-term, ethical, social, environmental or cultural issues.
The New Marketing Myopia article provides examples of food manufacturers and retailers who trade on the short-term desires of children for junk and fast food, and US automakers catering to the desire for gas-guzzling SUVs while disregarding signs of increasing regulatory pressure for more fuel-efficient vehicles. Stakeholders have lobbied both industries for years. Automakers in particular have paid a price for ignoring stakeholder concerns.
The authors make the point that a market orientation, because it looks outward, has the potential to more easily evolve into a stakeholder perspective. The chief difference is that market orientation tends to ultimately prioritize customers and competitors over other stakeholders, whereas stakeholder orientation seeks to manage to all stakeholder interests simultaneously.
The original “Marketing Myopia” offered inspirational examples of how a market orientation expanded possibilities for long-term organizational evolution – reframing the core business from specific products which may only have a market for a decade or two to a customer need that might be reinterpreted over many decades. It expanded trains to transportation, or silent films to film and video entertainment.
The authors suggest that stakeholder orientation can help companies “develop foresight regarding the markets of the future.” However, they provide no examples of how companies have thrived by doing so. Rather the stakeholder orientation as described here serves as a constraint – what one should not or cannot do – rather than something that broadens strategic options. This does an injustice, I believe, to the stakeholder concept, which by way of its expanded systems view and the latent creativity present in the stakeholder system itself should similarly explode strategic options.
I wanted the authors, particularly of the New Marketing Myopia article, to cite examples of the generativity fostered by the stakeholder perspective. In some situations the stakeholder perspective might offer an expanded view of customer needs—from junk food to youth nutrition, or from SUVs to transportation solutions. In others, it might show how companies and customers can create new benefit for other stakeholders while enhancing value creation for themselves. Or, it may simply mean meeting the same customer need but from within a business model or operational system that has been redesigned to respond to issues of ethics and sustainability.
Significant change is motivated by a compelling future. I believe there is a compelling business case for adopting a stakeholder orientation in marketing. The authors of both these articles have not made that case.