Thursday, April 16, 2009

Even Philip Kotler makes mistakes!

If you know anything about marketing, you know that Philip Kotler is THE MAN! I recommend any book he has ever written on marketing, especially the popular press books. His "Marketing Insights from "A-Z," "Kotler on Marketing" and "According to Kotler" will help anyone, even hardened marketing professionals, understand marketing better. (And, he has a new one coming out: "Chaotics"! I can't wait for it!)

As I say, I own, and have read, the first three, as well as most of Kotler's books; and, I have enjoyed them and learned from them. For that reason I was surprised when I was looking at text books to use in my marketing class and came across this passage in a Kotler text book on non-profit marketing:

"Individual behaviors that a marketer can influence require consumers to decide to act. Decisions about actions vary in two important dimensions: involvement and complexity.

While it is obviously a continuum, consumer behavior theorists make a distinction between low involvement and high involvement exchanges. They believe this difference affects the amount of cognition or problem solving a consumer will undertake during and after the exchange process. As defined by Engel and Blackwell, with respect to products and services,

“Involvement is the activation of extended problem solving behavior when the act of purchase or consumption is seen by the decision maker as having high personal involvement or relevance.”

That is one obtuse piece of writing, isn't it? If you read it a few times, you will hardly understand its meaning. But, if you look at how the sentences are crafted, you will see the errors; you will see why the passage fails: it uses too many nominals (verbs that have been turned into nouns).

So, let's translate. We begin by turning the nominals back into verbs. "Behavior" becomes "behave." "Decisions" becomes "decide." "Actions" becomes "act." "Involvement" becomes "involve." And, if you keep looking, you will find other such nominals that need to be turned back into verbs: exchanges, activation, purchase, consumption, and so forth.

When you begin to simplify the piece, that is, use shorter words and fewer nominals, and when you think about writing the passage conversationally, you start to make sense of it. Someone is behaving in a certain way. Someone is buying something after thinking about it a lot or a little. Marketers understand the ways people behave and the extent to which they become involved when they decide to purchase something. Right!?

Of course! With a little editing (re-crafting) we now know what Kotler was saying. Marketers know that when we buy chewing gum we don't think a lot about it. We don't involve ourselves too much; but, when we buy a new BMW, we think a lot about it. It's a little bit more complex! Smart marketers who know this use it to help us buy their products. Simple!

Why should Kotler and others write with simplicity? Remember: the New York Times said that literacy is falling among college graduates and corporate America can't build a sentence. In other words, not many people out there read well and fewer have the time to try to read a complicated passage. Any person or company that wants to achieve its objectives cannot communicate in a style that makes the same errors that Kotler made in that passage.

But, we forgive you, Phil. The rest of your writing is swell!


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. You should probably write a book which explains what some books try to say and are unsuccessful!
    I will buy it! We can call it "Complicated and useful ideas....simplified"