[Excerpt from an article published in The Australian on 17th March, 2010, titled Ivory tower myopia ails marketing]
And when it comes to research, few scholars appear to put themselves in the position of marketing practitioners. Instead they focus on theory supported by quantification, and lots of it.
November traces this back to the 1960s, "when marketing became an academic rather than an applied skill".
According to British researcher Alan Tapp, it was the result of "physics envy", which took hold throughout the social sciences as scholars in new university disciplines sought to establish their intellectual credentials.
They tried to turn academic marketing into a science, heavy on mathematical rigour used to test abstract concepts.
"The type of research that is viewed by academics as being of the highest quality is the type of research that is viewed by managers as being of the least interest," warns Ross Brennan, a professor at London's Middlesex University.
Gabbott says this is because marketing has been colonised by academics from disciplines where jobs are scarce. "Mathematicians, statisticians and economic modellers moved into marketing because it was an open discipline dealing with real-world issues where they could make a significant contribution quickly," he says.
And their approach has taken over the journals, pretty much without anybody noticing. "I have never heard anybody say they want more theory. There was not a deliberate decision, it just became the new norm in a slow creep over five or so years," says Danaher, who sits on the boards of three of the top marketing journals.
But however it happened, it shapes what academics value.
And as research funding is based on publishing articles in journals that other academics cite, sensible scholars, especially ambitious ones, conform to the established order.
"Rewards go to people who can write highly esoteric papers, which may or may not have much to do with what happens in reality," says Louviere.
November says: "What I say to PhD students is: don't rock the boat, comply with the paradigm. You will not get through if you try to be different."
Gabbott makes no apologies for an emphasis on quantitative research: "An evidentiary approach based on hard data is what business wants." But he admits it can go beyond what the market can use. "Three years ago a top journal had an issue that was all pure maths. Most marketers would not have understood any of it."
It can't go on, all agree. "There is a groundswell of concern in the US that there is so much theory that businesspeople cannot understand, but it will be a slow turnaround," Danaher says. As long as it takes the journals to broaden their publishing criteria.
Meanwhile, not all research papers involve algebra or puzzle practitioners. Nor is qualitative research always used in the service of abstractions. Research that shapes public policy or corporate strategy inevitably involves complex models and requires high-level quantitative skills.
Louviere's Centre for the Study of Choice works on methodologies to model choice and applies them to practical problems, in areas from consumer choice in health through to environmental economics and on to investigations of the way people pick products as diverse as wine and superannuation.
"Most of the stuff we do has enormous applications potential," he says, pointing to companies he and his colleagues work with, including Motorola, Pepsico and Pacific Equity.
"We say it is very important to have a real-world lab to ground work in. I don't know why academics will not talk to business," Louviere adds.
To read the full article, click here.