Marketing entails all those activities that precipitate the knowledge on the availability of certain products and services so that appropriate levels of production can be attained in accordance to the movements in demand and supply. It also features the strategic movement of finished goods and services to various points of sale as dictated by demand (Uhl & Khols, 1980). Therefore, quality control, grading, wastage reduction, packing, processing, transport and physical handling are all processes involved in marketing. Consequently, there is a need for concerted effort in the examination of ethical implications of differentiated marketing and market segmentation by marketers targeting consumers of diverse groups. Research studies indicate that marketing ethics is one area where consumers and marketers often differ in terms of perception (Amatulli, Caputo & Guido, 2011). Understanding the ethical complexities of the market exchange requires that factors such as market selection, consumer characteristics and nature of the products be understood and also integrated in the framework. Public policy makers and marketers will be faced with different ethical implications from contingencies when the aforementioned factors interact (Liu & Ko, 2011).Therefore, emphasis is laid on the need to understand that before implementation, ethics of marketing programs and consumer interests should be assessed. It is imperative to stick to various approved marketing ethics even as competition for significant market share remains to be a daunting task among competing organisations.
How can marketing be improved to consider consumer interests? Are the marketers today observing the established codes of ethics?
This research proposal will be seeking to attain the following objectives by the end of the study;
- Identify present marketing practices in different market segments.
- Identify ethical problems affecting marketing functionalities.
- Offer suggestions on how appropriate ethics in marketing can lead to consumer retention by fill the common marketing gaps.
Assessment of marketing situation
In any business set up, marketing plays an important role in facilitating exchange between marketers and consumers. Marketing targets meeting and fulfilling the needs of customers in various market segments as well as caring for the needs of the shareholders by maximizing returns on investments (Amatulli, Caputo & Guido, 2011; Pridmore & Zwick, 2011). Therefore, the marketing practices continue to display a continuum of conflicts on ethics and its different positions. There is a need to balance the practise of marketing with the interests of the consumers so that as marketers are making profits, the interests of the consumers are also considered (Ghouri et al., 2011). In this sense, the simplicity of the ethics continuum is played by the different interests and may form conflicts in the market practices (Liu & Ko, 2011; Anon, 2011). There are areas in the market segment where an agreement on marketing practice, if ideal and adhering to the established rules and codes of ethics, can be struck between consumers and marketers (The codes of ethical conducts in marketing demands that all manner of fairness in business dealings and justice in marketing practices be applied (Manzerolle & Smeltzer, 2011; Amatulli, Caputo & Guido, 2011). For instance, both consumers and marketers would agree that beneficial products that don’t infringe on others copyright are responsible, desirable and ethical.
Additionally, on issues related to ethical evaluation and philosophies, researchers have noted that there have been gaps between marketing activities and the consumers. Quite often, the marketing ideas and perceptions results into problems and conflicts caused by public perception of the products being marketed and this may cause boycotts, protests and other disapproving behaviors by the public (Ghouri et al., 2011; Amatulli, Caputo & Guido, 2011; Anon, 2011). Even though to the marketers seeking to gain from the services or products this may be ethical and laudable, the public, though not all may consider it to be unethical, unacceptable and exploitative. On the other hand, marketers basing their concern under the First Amendment may consider it infringement of their legal rights if their freedom to market is restricted (Chevalier, 2011).
Products and their nature
In the contemporary market scenario, the different moral priorities of a marketer’s perception on a particular marketing situation may be positive and different from the consumers (Chevalier, 2011; Anon, 2011). In most markets, nature of products presents a huge social problem. Normally, most products exhibit a continuum of harms and benefits thereby making them inherently harmful, due to misuse or generally beneficial (Liu & Ko, 2011; Manzerolle & Smeltzer, 2011; Amatulli, Caputo & Guido, 2011). Consumers derive benefits from the products and services offered by many companies as seen in social, emotional, functional and physical benefits. It is important to note that there is need for awareness of psychological effects and economic impact to be created to deal with social censure and consumer discontent due to unethical marketing practices (Manzerolle & Smeltzer, 2011).
Characteristics of consumers
Ethical evaluations of marketing activities are guided by a contingency approach. The nature of a company’s products and services, characteristics of its customers and market selection are important in evaluating marketing activities. This will ensure that there are no products, services and investment schemes that are defective as well as check other fraudulent and irresponsible market practices (Balim & Dogerlioglu, 2011; Amatulli, Caputo & Guido, 2011). Through bad products and services consumers have suffered from economic harm and felt a sense of powerlessness, humiliation and disrespect. However, the ethicality of the marketing situation depends on the interaction of the company’s products, customer characteristics and market selection (Anon, 2011). Complex and specific marketing situations require moral judgment enabled through a normative framework of marketing ethics (Chevalier, 2011). Sometimes the overwhelming need for companies to meet consumer needs and wants according to the contemporary marketing concept gets misplaced (Balim & Dogerlioglu, 2011; Chevalier, 2011; Anon, 2011). The result is that neither the society nor the customers benefit and their interests fail to be met. These problems are caused by lack of understanding of market segmentation and selection.
Selection of market
Differentiation of marketing mix and market segmentation in the marketing field has become important to marketers due to their prevalence (Anon, 2011). The fact that it is targeted marketing even though the products or services may cause harm to the product users or welcome by consumers and is largely ethical makes it theoretically good. In this sense, marketers target a beneficial group of consumers (Jayashankar & Goedegebuure, 2011). Many marketers have several options with respect to consumer group. Marketers may choose to apply either target or integrated mass marketing. It is important to underscore the fact that both of the options works well to the advantage and benefit of the company (Manzerolle & Smeltzer, 2011; Amatulli, Caputo & Guido, 2011). Comparing target marketing with integrated mass marketing, even though the latter is a popular strategy, the former is more effective. Companies use target marketing to gain competitive advantage in the market (Chevalier, 2011; Anon, 2011). Customers face limited choices when marketing choices exclude them and so moving to other service providers may result into incurring higher switching costs.
Ethical evaluations of marketing practices lie in the salient factor of consumer capability (Balim & Dogerlioglu, 2011; Manzerolle & Smeltzer, 2011; Amatulli, Caputo & Guido, 2011). Marketers need to understand the consumers in terms of what they can do, take or achieve as well as their inabilities when making marketing programs. In most cases, consumer interests are normally not considered in company’s marketing strategies and due to this, most marketing practices have left consumers feeling vulnerable. In this sense, the consumers cannot make informed decisions about the products marketed to them whether they are beneficial or not (Pridmore & Zwick, 2011).
There are categories of customers and these include those who are vulnerable, those at risk and customers who are sophisticated (Anon, 2011). The latter are so because of professional background, prior experience, education or maturity. Those at a risk suffer from behavioural patterns they are not able to control probably due to addiction. These groups which vary from teenagers to adults and the aged have different tastes, preferences and perceptions of the products and services that are marketed to them and some, like the teenagers, are susceptible to addictions from the marketed materials (Chevalier, 2011; Anon, 2011).
In carrying out research on marketing and ethics, primary and secondary data will be collected from consumption areas, production sites, market intermediaries and market surveys. One of the methods that will be used to collect data will be purposive stratified random sampling. Bearing in mind that the research is going to cover a wide scope of the market; getting firsthand information is needed through carrying out an informal survey. A prior preparation of questionnaires will be done before conducting a formal survey. The questionnaires will be developed to carry several steps of the research process. This is meant to make it easier for the researchers to understand the study area of marketing, the prevailing marketing trends, and existing ethical issues. Questionnaires will be refined from the information received from the respondents following preliminary sampling.
Additionally, following the samples, formal interviews will be conducted among different groups. These groups will be made up of 100 retailers, 200 wholesalers, 99 consumers, 30 commission agents and 400 producers. The consumers will be classified as either vulnerable, high risk or sensitive groups while the retailers and wholesalers will be classified as more or less experienced groups. Furthermore, to efficiently analyse data on marketing practices, an analyses on reverse discrimination, de-marketing, redlining, predatory marketing, integration and segmentation will be conducted.
Research challenges and opportunities
This research study on marketing ethics will inevitable encounter quite a number of limitations as well as arising opportunities. Most of the study limitations will revolve around the process of gathering primary data and measurements. For example, honesty and shrewdness of the answers in the questionnaires will be an area of concern. Some responses given by the participants may not be coherent or sound enough. On the same note, the live interviews to be carried out will also pose yet another challenge especially if not handled well. It may be difficult to access the right calibre of personalities who will be fit for the interview process since no training is usually carried out before respondents in a survey are interviewed. For the second level research methodology, it will be prudent to access the most updated sources of information owing to the fact that some sources may not be recent and relevant while there may be need to go through the challenge of confidentiality of certain reference materials that needs to be authenticated.
Importance of the research study
This research study will provide a benchmark for ethical practices in organisational marketing against the needs and interests of consumers. It will be an important starting point for business organisations and enterprises to appreciate the relative importance of adhering to codes of ethics that have been established and approved. On the same note, the research study will also unearth some of the ethical behaviours which ought to be observed on external audits, consumer ombudsman and self regulation as far as marketing is concerned. The research findings will be used to enlighten marketers in general on how and why they should be active in making their actions ethical as well as consider the interest of their customers as a priority. Interestingly, the study findings will also give an insight into the process of decision making in an organization and its relationship to marketing ethics whereby the latter can be systematically incorporated through a pre-emptive approach facilitated by a contingency framework. In a nutshell, the evident and growing gap between marketing and ethics will be thoroughly addressed as part and parcel of the research objectives.
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