Rethinking Marketing

By Vikas Mittal

As scholars, if we stretch our minds and our thinking about what marketing is, we can engage organizations and scholars from nontraditional fields. My belief is that if we want to really contribute these new areas, we need to look outside in, not inside out. A better world is out there looking for marketing to become more relevant. Here are some projects I am working on that adopt this perspective.

First, hospitals have ethics committees to provide consultation to patients, physicians, and administrators with difficult issues.  When ethics committees are utilized, compliance is higher and outcomes improve. This research utilizes scenario-based surveys to understand when health service providers are more or less likely to utilize an ethics committee. This project includes physicians, ethics scholars, and professors from strategy and operations management. Hospitals don’t see this project as marketing because it’s not selling—but it’s helping improve clinical outcomes, patient compliance, and provider satisfaction.

Second, providing internet access to students is a common marketing practice among schools, especially in public schools. Schools raise money to do this, but then have no way of knowing if internet access helps or harms student success. So the question is, what is the effect of a marketing intervention on the outcome people care about?  The most fascinating finding (using data from more than 5,000 schools in Texas) is that internet access does increase SAT scores, but also leads to more disciplinary problems, and these are greater in more racially integrated schools. We need further research to understand why this occurs.

Finally, a project on liver cancer outcomes. If a liver condition is detected on one screening, then there is a second screening critical for determining risk for cancer. But many patients never go to the second screening, even when it is paid for by insurance. The doctors asked us, can you help us market this? We created three random groups from the patient database (control, postcard only, and postcard plus a phone follow-up). We found that postcard and phone follow-up saved more lives and lowered the total cost of healthcare.

By becoming more ingrained and relevant to the teams—hospitals, schools, and cancer clinic—we not only improved marketing, but also used marketing knowledge to improve the world.

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