THE EVOLUTION OF RELATIONSHIP MARKETING
Relationship Marketing is emerging as a new phenomenon however, relationship oriented marketing practices date back to the pre-Industrial era. In this article, we trace the history of marketing practices and illustrate how the advent of mass production, the emergence of middlemen, and the separation of the producer from the consumer in the Industrial era led to a transactional focus of marketing. Now, due to technological advances, direct marketing is staging a comeback, leading to a relationship orientation.
The authors contend that with the evolution of Relationship Marketing, the hitherto prominent exchange paradigm of marketing will be insufficient to explain the growing marketing phenomena of collaborative involvement of customers in the production process. An alternate paradigm of marketing needs to be developed that is more process rather than outcome oriented, and emphasizes value creation rather than value distribution.
Although marketing practices can be traced back as far as 7000 B.C. (Carratu 1987), marketing thought as a distinct discipline was borne out of economics around the beginning of this century. As the discipline gained momentum, and developed through the first three quarters of the twentieth century, the primary focus was on transactions and exchanges. However, the development of marketing as a field of study and practice is undergoing a reconceptualization in its orientation from transactions to relationships (Kotler 1990; Webster 1992). The emphasis on relationships as opposed to transaction based exchanges is very likely to redefine the domain of marketing (Sheth, Gardener and Garett 1988). Indeed, the emergence of a relationship marketing school of thought is imminent given the growing interest of marketing scholars in the relational paradigm.
In this paper, we observe, that the paradigm shift from transactions to relationships is associated with the return of direct marketing both in business-to-business and business- to-consumer markets. As in the pre-industrial era (characterized by direct marketing practices of agricultural and artifact producers) once again direct marketing, albeit in a different form, is becoming popular, and consequently so is the relationship orientation of marketers. When producers and consumers directly deal with each other, there is a greater potential for emotional bonding that transcends economic exchange. They can understand and appreciate each others’ needs and constraints better, are more inclined to cooperate with one another, and thus, become more relationship oriented. This is in contrast to the exchange orientation of the middlemen (sellers and buyers). To the middlemen, especially the wholesalers, the economics of transactions are more important, and therefore, they are less emotionally attached to products. Indeed, many middlemen do not physically see, feel, touch products but simply act as agents and take title to the goods for financing and risk sharing.
The separation of the producers from the users was a natural outgrowth of the industrial era. On the one hand, mass production forced producers to sell through
middlemen, and on the other, industrial organizations, due to specialization of corporate functions, created specialist purchasing departments and buyer professionals, thus separating the users from the producers. However, today’s technological advancements that permit producers to interact directly with large numbers of users (for example, Levi’s making custom directly for the users), and because of a variety of organizational development processes, such as empowerment and total quality programs, direct interface between producers and users has returned in both consumer and industrial markets, leading to a greater relational orientation among marketers. Academic researchers are reflecting these trends in marketing practice, and searching for a new paradigm of the discipline that can better describe and explain it.
As with each new shift in the focus of marketing, there are advocates and critics of the relationship focus in marketing. However, in the same way as Kotler (1972, p. 46) observed about other shifts in marketing, we believe that the emergence of a relationship focus will provide a “refreshed and expanded self concept” to marketing. Our optimism stems from at least four observations: (i) relationship marketing has caught the fancy of scholars in many parts of the world, including North America, Europe, Australia and Asia, as is evident from the participation in some of the recent conferences held on this subject (Sheth and Parvatiyar 1994); (ii) its scope is wide enough to cover the entire spectrum of marketing’s subdisciplines, including channels, business-to-business marketing, services marketing, marketing research, customer behavior, marketing communication, marketing strategy, international marketing and direct marketing; (iii) like other sciences, marketing is an evolving discipline, and has developed a system of extension, revision and updating its fundamental knowledge (Bass 1993); and (iv) scholars who at one time were leading proponents of the exchange paradigm, such as Bagozzi (1974), Kotler (1972), and Hunt (1983), are now intrigued by the relational aspects of marketing (Bagozzi 1994; Kotler 1994; Morgan and Hunt 1994).
In the context of these developments, the purpose of this paper is to trace the evolution of relationship marketing and to identify its antecedents. We plan to demonstrate that while relationship focus in the post-industrial era is a clear paradigm shift from the exchange focus of the industrial era, it is really a rebirth of marketing practices of the pre-industrial age when the producers and users were also sellers and buyers and engaged in market behaviors that reduced the uncertainty of future supply and demand assurances which could not be otherwise guaranteed due to the unpredictability of weather, raw materials, and customers’ buying power. Our approach mirrors the activities recommended by Savitt (1980) as the appropriate methodology for conducting historical research.
Axioms And Purpose of Relationship Marketing
Relationship marketing attempts to involve and integrate customers, suppliers and other infrastructural partners into a firm’s developmental and marketing activities (McKenna 1991; Shani and Chalasani 1991). Such involvement results in close interactive relationships with suppliers, customers or other value chain partners of the firm. Interactive relationships between marketing actors are inherent as compared to the arm’s length relationships implied under the transactional orientation (Parvatiyar, Sheth and Whittington 1992). An integrative relationship assumes overlap in the plans and processes of the interacting parties and suggests close economic, emotional and structural bonds among them. It reflects interdependence rather than independence of choice among the parties; and it emphasizes cooperation rather than competition and consequent conflict among the marketing actors. Thus, development of relationship marketing points to a significant shift in the axioms of marketing: competition and conflict to mutual cooperation, and choice independence to mutual interdependence, as illustrated in figure 1.