Are marketing managers and academics on the same page, regarding digital?

Digital, social media and mobile technologies have transformed what we buy, how we buy, and even why we buy. Hence, it is no surprise that both marketing practitioners and academics have turned their attention to these technologies, researching and writing about their impact on both buyers and markets.

Do the research efforts of practitioners and academics converge? Or do they diverge, instead?


The paper “A Thematic Exploration of Digital, Social Media, and Mobile Marketing Research’s Evolution from 2000 to 2015 and an Agenda for Future Research” reports on this issue. Professors Cait Lamberton and Andrew T Stephen examined articles published in 5 top marketing journals: Journal of Marketing, Journal of Marketing Research, Journal of Consumer Research, Marketing Science and Management Science, between 2000 and 2015. They also analysed articles published in reputable practitioner outlets such as Marketing Magazine, CMO or Advertising Age. In other words, they looked at general interest marketing publications, as opposed to publications specialised on digital. This approach makes sense because it focuses on the general perception and reflects the research interest of mainstream marketers, as opposed to early adopters.

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The paper was published in the Journal of Marketing and is available here. You can also read a snapshot here, and a video about a related presentation here.

The authors concluded that…

  1. There is a disconnect between the topics preoccupying marketing academics and those preoccupying marketing practitioners.

Marketing academics tend to focus on psychological and behavioural topics such as how consumers use the technologies to express themselves via user generated content, etc. In turn, practitioners tend to emphasise managerial issues such as the effectiveness of different online advertising techniques.


  1. Academics are more enthusiastic than practitioners about the potential of this group of technologies for marketing, particularly as sources of marketing insight.

For instance, the authors noticed that, in the early 2000s:

‘while academics were applauding the potential of the Internet as a means of deriving insights about and selling to consumers, marketers remained concerned about the wisdom of relying on digital methods for data collection, which seemed particularly vulnerable to spam, privacy, and fraud (…) Thus, although consumers might have been forming active brand communities and sharing [word of mouth] online, as academic research had addressed, marketers did not seem to have a strong sense that these actions offered reliable routes for communication or long-term growth.’ (p. 155)


  1. Academics tend to focus on legacy technologies, while practitioners are curious about new ones.

Here is one example:

‘(T)he rise of Facebook led most firms to focus heavily on generating user engagement with brand posts in the form of “likes,” assuming that this type of engagement might translate into outcomes such as increased awareness or even sales. Only a few academic pieces were exploring these actions and assumptions by the end of [2014].

During [this period], research also focused disproportionately on a few “legacy” forms of online [word of mouth] and [user generated content] (e.g., product ratings and reviews) while paying less attention to newer forms such as the engagement actions taken in relation to content on social media platforms (e.g., likes, comments, shares, retweets, favorites)’. (p. 162)


The authors go on to say that, because of these differences and because academic journal articles tend to focus on unique cases and datasets (i.e., are fragmented), marketing practitioners do not feel well informed about why or how to use digital, social media and mobile technologies for their businesses.


I would add that, academics too, are not well informed about key developments in marketing practice, such as new techniques and protocols to collect, manage, analyse, and distribute digital data. And I would also add another reason for this gap between academics and practitioners (more here): Even the most determined marketing researchers face major difficulties in accessing each other’s work. Academics ignore high-quality, industry-based research because it lacks quality signals that are deemed equivalent to the academic peer-review system. In turn, managers ignore the latest academic research because it tends to be published behind (very high) pay walls.


How do you access and use research done by the ‘other side’? 


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