November 11, 2013

Changing technology and market context: Theoretical (and Practical) Issues for further research

As someone trying to follow the developments in the field I often wonder whether some of the old wisdom and time honored theories are still valid today and whether it is responsible nowadays to teach some of these theories to our students. In my domain, the Marketing, I clearly see (together with others)  the dramatic shift in marketing power that makes the old and trusted traditional approaches less and less effective. Marketing is in an identity crisis at the moment as already many ofus realize that the customer empowerment has drastically and for ever changed the rules of the game.

There are however other management domains that there is less attention and criticism. Take for example the area of Industry structure where the 5-forces theory of M. Porter dominates the thought and practice since the 70’s. Looking a bit closer to this classic management holy grail one can wonder how relevant are the 5 forces today for defining the industry attractiveness and structure: In many of the globalised, online and 24/7 industries most analysts would have a great difficulty to identify who are the customers exactly let alone assess their relative strength to the business. Most industries, mainly (but not exclusively) in the information-based domain, are not any more able to keep track of competitive threats and even follow substitute products that can be produced and offered online outside any established and controlled channels. Next to inability to effectively protect products and intellectual property in some industries it is very difficult if not impossible to predict new entrants or identify even strategies that secure competitive advantages. In the era of the social media and customer empowerment only very clear mono-strategies like low price are giving a (temporary) competitive advantage before a cheaper competitor appears. All other claims and operations of businesses are under continuous scrutiny and review by customers who do not accept any more anything that they perceive as unethical, secret or push.
Another area that conventional academic wisdom seems to ignore is the area of innovation. The good old theory of Evert Rogers (first proposed in 1962) on innovation diffusion is still a standard element of every marketing management handbooks. But is in 2013 innovation following this curve in its diffusion? The increasing customer participation in the innovation process (often described as co-creation or crowdsourcing) and the often hyped adoption of innovations have substantially disrupted the innovation diffusion, making it a short and intensive process rather than a S-shaped process that reaches various segments in different time intervals. Innovation adoption depends to a great extend today on (social media ) influencers and user networks: Having the right influencers talking (not pitching) your product to the right networks or social media communicators will produce quick and low cost results in introducing a new product or service.
There can be more areas where a critical review of the theory is necessary offering quite a few opportunities for open-minded researchers. Hopefully we will hear about them more in the future.