Mind the Gap
There are plenty of marketing textbooks, journals and courses around, all of which are jam packed with theory, models and normative-practical advice. But is this what practitioners actually do when they do marketing work? What actions and activities do they engage in and what knowledge do they hold about marketing? Scholars understand that marketing’s models and theories need social relations, institutionalised practices, technological instruments and, of course, tacit knowledge to seep into practice and become reality. At the same time they often forget about the practitioners’ central role as ‘interpreter’ or ‘sensemaker’ of marketing work. In our 40 week long ethnographic study, we engaged with messy and time-consuming side of marketing work to better understand how marketing is done out there “in the wild” by practitioners.
As practice, marketing recognizes that situated knowledge, whether derived from marketing theories or not, is subject to complex processes of cultural, social and political constructions. Accessing the mind of the practitioner is through exploratory micro-analysis of daily marketing work; their practices gauge what they know about marketing to illustrate their professional knowing so to speak.
13 Knowledge Constructs
Interestingly, many practitioners did not see themselves as having ‘a marketing hat on’ even though they were clearly involved in the social practice of marketing through their daily actions, activities and conduct. Over the course of the fieldwork, we studied a small Irish high-tech company, observing the practitioners’ activities, actions and use of artefacts. We participated in daily marketing work, attended 39 meetings, went to events and seminars, collected 767 emails and archived 163 documents. Through our analysis, we were able to identify 13 knowledge constructs which were held and shared by practitioners. Using vignettes illustrated how in the everyday, marketers engaged with sussing out competitors, keeping an eye on industry trends, developing a vision about the future, developing new customer value propositions, conducting market research and marketing communication, amongst others, to practice marketing work and generate practical knowledge of marketing. The knowledge constructs came alive when staff engaged in management, sales and customer meetings, attended trade events, send emails, spoke on the phone, published on their website, created and shared documents, and advertised in trade magazines, for instance.
What we have learned
Marketing practice is a complicated, diverse and messy phenomenon, much more so than the normative textbook ideas would let us believe. Elaborating the knowledgeable practice of marketing work allows an engagement with this disjunction between academia and the real world–the marketing theory-practice gap. Connecting with the practitioners can dereify the ontological status of practice of marketing work and our research shows that it is important to shine the light on the marketing practitioner in order to better understand what is involved in marketing work. Undoubtedly, textbook knowledge seeps into practice but it is socially situated and becomes adapted to suit context, time and space. Practitioners’ professional knowledge seeps into their daily actions and activities, and, perhaps through institutional education mechanisms, they could both reflect on the scope and nature of their shared competencies and build on their professional knowledge to unlock the power of marketing further. Finally, marketing knowledge is no island: not only are constructs deeply intertwined with one another but they are also touching on ideas from management and entrepreneurship.
Scholars be Aware…
Professional knowing in marketing constructs marketing’s institutional landscape as a discipline and practice. Yet, professional knowing is not reserved to scholarly knowledge claims alone: indeed, the practitioner of marketing is a currently undervalued expert who holds significant knowledge about marketing. Only if scholars stay in touch with practice, knowledge can flow both ways and the gap between marketing theory and practice can be kept to a minimum. Educators should help practitioners to reflect on their everyday knowledge and tactical involvement in marketing, and help to nurture a wide and diverse span of practitioner competencies. Finally, realising that marketing knowledge is blended helps to be mindful to overspills from other disciplines and perhaps even invite them.
Read the original research article: Gross, N. & Laamanen, M. (2018). ‘The knowledgeable marketing practitioner’: practice and professional knowing in marketing work. Journal of Marketing Management, 34(13-14), 1172-1195. https://doi.org/10.1080/0267257X.2018.1542412
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