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European Journal of Marketing

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This paper seeks to gain an understanding of how different consumer conceptualisations in marketing may lead to negative outcomes. Every profession has its grand vision. The guiding vision for most marketing professionals is customer orientation. Of course, reality is more complex and nuanced than a single unified vision. Organisations tout their consumer-centric marketing decisions, in that they use consumer research to make operational decisions about products, prices, distribution and the like. However, marketers’ treatment of consumers is often far from the customer’s best interests. It is proposed that by understanding the different conceptualisations of the consumer over time, we can explore their implications for putting authentic consumer-centric marketing into practise.


A thematic analysis of marketing thought as reflected in the marketing literature.


This review of the history of marketing thought bears out a diversity of opinions concerning the role of consumers in aiding marketing efficiency and effectiveness. Not all views of the customer are nurturing of the marketing concept nor predicated on a solicitous relationship with consumers. A demonstrable lack of consumer orientation can lead to a distrust of marketers as well as the extant marketing system. Often additional regulation of marketers and markets is a compensating result and sometimes the structure of the marketing system itself may require adjustment.


This paper is intended to nudge marketing academics to more thoughtfully examine the pragmatic implications of how marketing managers conceive of the typical consumer. After conducting a thematic analysis of marketing thought, a normative ethical argument is then put forward concerning why an adherence to this fragile grand vision of marketing – genuine customer concern – is important for prudential marketing and the overall health of the marketing system.


Accepted version. European Journal of Marketing, Vol. 50, No. 1/2 (February 2016): 166-188. DOI. © 2016 Emerald. Used with permission.

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