The general/specific structure of marketing

Stephen Fanning


On social media I have read a number of comments [+ comments on comments] that indicate a general lack of understanding on the general V specific nature of marketing.

This post should help increase your understanding on the structure of marketing, help you to consider context when applying theories, and may help you avoid costly marketing mistakes.



Breadth, depth, and context

In a seminal article in the Harvard Business Review, Regis McKenna, a pioneer strategist of the digital era, stated that ‘marketing is everything and everything is marketing’This statement infers that marketing has considerable breadth and depth.

If we explore marketing in broad terms we are exploring the general theory of marketing and if we explore a specific area of marketing to a significant depth we are generally exploring a genre of marketing [wine marketing, services marketing retail marketing, sport marketing, destination marketing … etc].

Therefore, marketing could be considered as one broad discipline including a number of deep marketing genres. Moreover, the appropriate theory would depend on the context.

The marketing concept is a simple premise. Organisations that adopt the marketing concept consider their [unique] situational factors and then design, develop, and implement a marketing philosophy. In time and with consistency a marketing culture is nurtured. Marketing is considered a process – this means that there are a set to of steps to design and develop the strategies and tactics relevant to the organisation’s objectives . This process is the general theory of marketing and most medium to large organisations would be relatively consistent in the application.

Most organisations must manage a set of unique and dynamic situational factors and will employ the general theory of marketing to discover and explore the characteristics of their customers, organisation, market, and products [see COMP factors] and then look deeper into the theories of the appropriate genre[s] of marketing.

Whilst the general theories of marketing will apply across most marketing genres. A marketing genre is a category a classification – an area of marketing requiring specialisation; it will have a set of distinct characteristics [nuances] that require research and management attention.  Whilst there will be similarities with other marketing genres, there will also be differences. An understanding of the nuances of the genre will provide specific strategic and tactical guidance to marketing practitioners.

Marketing genres emerge and evolve as society and markets evolve.

When marketing students/academics first discover ‘marketing genres’ they are often surprised that they have missed this fundamental idea and then quickly realise that marketing journals focus on general marketing or a marketing genres – the breadth, depth, and context of marketing .

What can we learn from music?

Genres are not restricted to marketing – consider music and your playlists. Music genres help us to understand and build knowledge of the characteristics of a genre, to differentiate between genres  [e. g., jazz from heavy metal] and make  comparisons within the genre [e. g., jazz from jazz], and to establish principles and practices for musicians to communicate and to improve their craft. Just as music genres help make sense of the music world – marketing genres help make sense of the marketing world and are insightful when differentiating, comparing, communicating, and establishing principles and practices.

Strategically, marketing genres are important – what may be an effective marketing strategy, or tactic, in one genre may be unsuitable or less effective in another. With an awareness of marketing genres marketing practitioners are better equipped to move between genres. Understanding the similarities and difference in marketing genre characteristics is particularly important when considering the customer, the organisation, the market and the product during a marketing audit within the business-marketing planning process or when measuring performance through specific marketing metrics.

Within any marketing genre [e.g., the retail marketing genre] there will be particular situational factors that marketing practitioners must consider [e.g., grocery shopping and clothing shopping]. To better research their situational factors – marketing practitioners, generally, drill-down and create marketing sub-genres; a sub-genre will have similarities with the marketing genre, however, there are also factors that require special attention. There are also organisations that belong to a marketing genre and a marketing sub-genres, however, their situation is such that they could be considered as operating within a marketing niche.

Appropriate musical instruments may be employed across a number of music genres to achieve a desired outcome, similarly appropriate marketing tools can be applied across a number of marketing genres. For example, customer relationship management, is appropriate across a number of marketing genres where customer satisfaction will result in repeat business and this will improve revenue, reduce costs as a % of sales, and build the value of the business. However, keep in mind the costs associated with a CRM program may not provide benefits across all genres and organisations.

Music within a music genre may be communicated to consumers via a number of appropriate mediums. For example, some may listen to a favourite radio station, subscribe to a digital provider, have a playlist on their phone or USB, or listen and watch on YouTube, on the other hand some may own records, cassettes, and CDs, some may attend live concerts. Similarly, marketing practitioners will select the appropriate mediums. For example, marketing communications should also be broadcast via the most appropriate mediums to achieve reach and frequency objectives and just as in music an appropriate diversity of media is a consideration – the digital and traditional argument is pointless.



Are marketing practitioners mindful of marketing genres?

Whilst I hesitate to make blanket statements, comments on social media and the profiles of marketing practitioners would suggest that few marketing practitioners refer to marketing genres in their comments. For example, qualified marketing practitioners often state that they have worked across a number of industries and segments. What they are really saying is that they have a breadth and depth of marketing experience across a number of genres  and this experience enables them to design, develop, implement and evaluate the appropriate strategies and tactics for the genre and the selected customer segments. [BTW: segmentation may not be an appropriate methodology in some genres]

Unfortunately, a closer inspection of social media profiles and comments highlighting that some people are masquerading as ‘marketing’ practitioners with some totally ignorant of marketing principles and practices – in sum they don’t know and don’t know they don’t know. Often social media brings out the best and worst of behaviour. 

Are boundary spanners mindful of marketing genres?

Most boundary spanners [employees that span the boundary between the customer and the organisation] would be unaware of the nuances of marketing genres, some will have worked across different genres and may have picked up inappropriate genre habits. This is not blaming boundary spanners, but, rather to highlight the importance of managing the customer experience through internal marketing and channel marketing. A broad understanding of marketing genres and the opportunities and challenges may enable boundary spanner to undertake their job more effectively and assist the organisation to achieve their objectives. For example, the services marketing genre emphasises the 4 characteristics of services communicating these characteristics to boundary spanners is likely to improve customer service.

Are consumers mindful of marketing genres?

As you would expect, consumers are generally ambivalent towards marketing genres. This is understandable as in the course of any given day consumers may jump from genre to genre without realising or caring. A challenge for communication people would be to understand the characteristics of the genre and then communicate a message that enhances the unique product value proposition.

What is the difference between a marketing genre and a marketing tool?

Research into the composition of university marketing degrees [across different countries] reveals that there is a mix of general and genre marketing units and marketing tools to develop skills. Most universities have units that are applied marketing tools that can be applied across multiple genres. It would be impossible to make an accurate assessment simply from course descriptors and without experiencing each unit and degree. Nevertheless, the mix is there.

However, entry level online job advertisements would suggest that employers focus on evidence of applied marketing skills rather than knowledge of the genres of marketing, whereas, senior level online job advertisements want evidence of strategic and tactical skills to meet marketing objectives. I believe the takeaway is that a career in marketing requires a commitment to lifelong learning.



Similarities: The marketing concept, the mega-marketing concepts, the fundamentals of the business-marketing planning process apply to all genres, and many marketing applications [tools] are equally effective across a number of marketing genres.

Differences: Identifying the differences become assists marketing practitioners to drill-down to discover the uniqueness of their business. Understanding the unique genre characteristics assists marketing practitioners to learn from organisations with similar genre characteristics when considering the most appropriate strategies, tactics, and tools. Managing genre characteristics is important as this will more likely produce a better satisfying product.

There are some other important points:

  • Although it would be more efficient if the genres were distinct, it should be recognised that imbrication often occurs [there are often overlaps when classifying genres].
  • Sometimes it may appear as if it is a marketing genre, however, it would be better categorised as a marketing medium [e.g., social media marketing] .
  • Marketing genres are often broken down considerably and this is referred to as niche marketing, however, to avoid imbrication marketing practitioners need to avoid a proliferation of marketing niches.
  • Marketing bottled water is quite different to a builder marketing a new home. Nevertheless, an astute marketing and qualified practitioner should be able to adapt.
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