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Foreword . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . ix
Introduction . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1
Chapter 1 Marketing . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3
Chapter 2 Thinking and Difference . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 15
Chapter 3 Working Within Difference: The Parameters . . . . . . . . 35
Chapter 4 The Questioning Difference in Play (Action):
Questioning Techniques . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 47
Notes. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 63
References . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 65
Index . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 67
When you pick up a book, you may ask yourself whether it is really
worthwhile to read. After all, we all live very busy lives, and if we are
going to devote time to reading, we want it to be pleasurable and infor-
mative. The title might have caught your eye as something interesting,
or perhaps it was something in the table of contents. You might read
the foreword to get a better sense of what is inside, which is where we
are here. Who would be interested in this book and what does it have to
offer? I’ll start with the first question.
“Marketing Strategy in Play : Questioning to Create Difference” is for
anyone interested in marketing, whether you are just starting out or have
been in the field for many years. Those in the industry who are interested in
developing new ways of thinking in order to stay on the cutting edge and to
be a leader in the marketplace will find it to help guide this type of pursuit.
It defines marketing in a very different way so as to create the opportunity
to rethink marketing and its roles and hopefully clear a path to success.
In any case, you will find this book to be different because it is about
difference—and creating marketing differences that matter. But don’t be
caught off guard by its brevity. While it may appear to be a short read, it
is meant to be one that will stay with you for a while in terms of the ideas
within, and there are many—some of which I hope you find provocative.
What does the book have to offer? First, it sets the stage for under-
standing marketing’s place and its role within a business enterprise and
the challenges it faces daily. It is within the context of the marketing chal-
lenge that the issue of creating differences on behalf of an organization
appears and leads into redefining marketing and the marketer in the pro-
cess. From this reinterpretation, the marketer is viewed as the organiza-
tion’s marketplace differentiator. The better the marketer is at creating
the differences in the marketplace on behalf of the organization, the more
successful he or she will be.
Second, it brings into focus a clearer view of what marketing thinking
looks like and its various facets. If we bring marketing thinking front and

center at the discussion table, we are in a better position to know what

it is, to develop it, and to view it as a necessary resource to be cultivated.
For the successful businesses of tomorrow, thinking is a prerequisite.
Through the process of developing an understanding of thinking, we are
able to see how the differences that matter in the marketplace are devel-
oped. Then stepping further back from the marketing thinking aspect we
are able to view the marketplace differently through an understanding
of difference to identify some of the parameters that all marketers face.
The parameters of difference are recognized as limitations that the mar-
keter works within; at the same time, strategies are suggested for how to
maneuver around them more effectively.
Finally, questioning techniques are offered to illustrate how marketers
can create differences on behalf of their organization by putting market-
ing into play. In this context, play refers to the competitive arena in which
marketing takes place and obtains its purpose. Also, there is a dynamic
and interactional aspect to the concept of play. It is italicized to empha-
size this dynamic characteristic. Whenever something is introduced into
the marketplace by the marketer, it is put into play and is subject to the
scrutiny of consumers and competitors.
In the end, all things are about difference; it’s just a matter of how
good you are at playing the game of difference.
“Marketing Strategy in Play : Questioning to Create Difference” begins
by explaining the significant role that marketing plays within an orga-
nization. This explanation leads into a discussion of what the marketer
confronts in attempting to carry out his or her responsibilities, while rec-
ognizing that what is confronted on a daily basis is formative. Through
this discussion, we reveal a better understanding of what marketing is
actually about, and in the process, a new definition is offered.
Why another definition? We need to challenge how we think about mar-
keting to expand upon this view—or to change it all together—so as to be
more competitive. How we view marketing affects how we practice it and
the means we consider to compete effectively in the marketplace. A narrow
view of marketing constricts the options for consideration. An ambiguous
view of marketing loses its utility to guide effective strategy development.
A new definition is meant to facilitate a clearer understanding of marketing
so as to improve our position to develop our marketing capabilities and to
focus on that which matters: creating meaningful differences.
Chapter 2 takes the concept further by providing an in-depth explo-
ration into what marketing thinking involves for the purposes of know-
ing what it is and its multiple dimensions to be able to develop this vital
capability. It is this capability that creates the differences that matter for
an organization in today’s rapidly advancing marketplaces. The discus-
sion then leads into what difference is and how to create the differences
for tomorrow, marketing or otherwise.
Chapter 3 expands the discussion even further by identifying some of
the parameters associated with the process of difference. This discussion
is important for a deeper understanding of what marketers confront. It is
also a way to identify strategies for maneuvering around the parameters
to be more effective.
Chapter 4 provides questioning techniques for developing ways for
creating marketing differences as an ongoing practice, all the while chal-
lenging existing beliefs about marketing.

Why difference? The concept seems to be too abstract to be appli-

cable to marketing, which tends to operate at a more concrete level.
But this is precisely the problem. At the concrete level, things tend to
become routine and too familiar; hence less thinking, if any, is involved
when more thinking is what’s needed. The abstraction itself is character-
ized by a degree of ambiguity and unfamiliarity that opens up the doors
to rethink marketing. For example, what is difference? By asking per-
tinent questions about marketing, the marketer is once again engaging
in marketing thinking. Furthermore, looking at marketing from a dif-
ference perspective, we can ask the following questions: Where do the
differences marketers attempt to create come from (e.g., innovations)?
How do the differences in the marketplace take hold (e.g., preferences)?
How can marketers stay abreast of the continued changes in differences
representing the marketplace (e.g., competition)? Also, in what ways does
a difference perspective challenge how we currently practice marketing,
and what benefits could potentially come from calling marketing into
question in this way? The following chapters address these questions. To
understand more fundamentally what marketing is about, the context in
which marketing finds itself is discussed first.

Marketing represents a unique position in a business enterprise in that it
is responsible for revenue generation. Without the capacity to generate
revenue, an organization would cease to exist. This is a hefty and relent-
less responsibility. While there may be periods of success, the need to
continuously generate revenue is a daily pursuit—some may even say a
moment-by-moment pursuit.

Figure 1.1. The moment by moment pursuit of revenue through

According to the American Marketing Association, “Marketing is an
organizational function and a set of processes for creating, communicating,
and delivering value to customers and for managing customer relationships
in ways that benefit the organization and its stakeholders” (marketingpower.
com). This functional view of marketing is rather vague in its abstraction in
terms of the process involved, the meaning of value, and the types of relation-
ships suggested. Its ambiguity obscures what calls for marketing or why mar-
keting is needed in the first place. Hence we are left with the feeling that we

don’t actually know what marketing is or what leads to being effective. Such
views of marketing don’t characterize what marketing is actually attempting
to do in a marketplace of difference. Hence the value of marketing gets lost
in the mix of things, which is an issue for marketing these days. More nar-
row views of marketing have primarily focused on the acts of difference (e.g.,
generating sales through a sales force or placing ads through the advertis-
ing department). This limited focus obstructs those adhering to such views
from seeing the broader picture of what it is they are really involved with
and the possibilities for alternative paths. Consequentially, some have even
questioned whether marketing is even needed anymore or if it should simply
have a minor role in the operations of an organization.i However, stepping
back further and viewing marketing from the perspective of a marketplace of
difference will not only reveal what marketing is able to do but also reveal its
value to an organization. By understanding the broader picture, an organiza-
tion would potentially be in a better position to participate more effectively
in the process of difference within the marketplace and hence could develop
a more competitive footing from which to compete. What is at stake is devel-
oping a better understanding of difference because ultimately it is the mar-
keter who has the role of the marketplace differentiator within an organization
in its revenue generating pursuits. Without such an understanding, the orga-
nization is subject to the ways of difference within the marketplace and can
quickly be cast into a disadvantageous position.

Viewed from a marketplace of difference

perspective, what is marketing?

It is a particular way of thinking through

difference, to create differences through
others for the benefit of an organization.

Figure 1.2. A new definition of marketing.


At first glance, the new definition may appear to be just as vague as

the American Marketing Association (AMA) definition of marketing pre-
viously critiqued. Given the newness in perspective, development of its
meaning is required to understand its full significance and utility.
As an expression of difference, the organization is vying to maintain
a viable position of difference within an advancing marketplace of differ-
ence. This is why it is critical to understand more fundamentally the role
of the organization’s marketing plays within this process and the nature of
difference, of which both are a function.

Figure 1.3. The organization as a composite of differences.

An organization is a composition of differences that are in play

while participating in the game of difference, which is more commonly
referred to as business. An organization’s composition of differences is
constantly changing—sometimes it’s for the good, other times not—as
it vies for a temporary beneficial hold in the marketplace. This is where
the need for marketing thinking comes into view, to assist in obtaining
a particular competitive footing in the marketplace, a point of difference
from which to compete.

Figure 1.4. Marketplace footing.

Marketing is a competitive activity. But what are marketers compet-

ing for? Generally speaking, they are competing for the purchasing votes
cast by consumers, whether they are people or businesses.

Figure 1.5. Shopping for purchasing votes.


Another way of looking at the competition issue is from a perspective

of potential. A recognizable potential associated with a particular target
market will also draw the attention of other marketers, and as such, the
framework for competition is established.
This perspective can be conceptually thought of as the sensing of
difference—anything of worth or value will draw the attention of others.
The understanding of worth or value for consumers is based on having a
choice. For marketers, worth, value, or potential stems from the process
of creating options within the marketplace from which choices are made.
Both are predicated upon an understanding of difference in having (con-
sumers) and creating (marketers) choices (options).

Figure 1.6. The sensing of difference.

By recognizing the competitive nature of marketing, its challenge

begins to come into view.

How Do Marketers Compete?

Marketers compete through those they target. The battles between mar-
keters are won and lost by the purchasing votes of consumers. The mar-
keter’s job is to move consumers along to cast their purchasing votes for

their products, services, or both and to continually get them to vote in

this manner. There are a number of choices consumers have, from not
purchasing, to making a purchase among available alternatives, to repeat
purchasing. And to make a decision requires an understanding of the dif-
ferences to be decided upon. While this seems obvious, the underlying
process of difference is less understood.
The marketer must recognize three different yet related considerations:

1. What the actual competition consists of

2. The nature of the medium in which competition takes place
3. The various means available to rise above the competition

A targeted market can be thought of as a medium with unique

characteristics and qualities. One such characteristic or tendency is its
nature to be on the move, searching for the new and different. It is also
changing, and in the process becoming an enigmatic moving target.
For example, when you buy something, the process of the purchase and
the consumption of the purchased item will affect you in one way or
another. You don’t stay the same. Say you bought an HD flat screen TV.
The purchase process would typically involve conducting some form of
research, which in turn changes what you know about the alternatives
as well as your expectations of what to anticipate with the consump-
tion experience after the purchase. Through the consumption process
of your new HD TV, you’ll compare the actual experience with your
expectations formed during the purchasing process. This comparison in
turn sets the stage for an evaluation or judgment to be made of whether
or not you are satisfied with the new HD TV. The determination of
satisfaction is another form of difference. All along the way, you are
changing and affecting how you’ll view the marketplace next time.
What this means to the marketer is that the target market is constantly
in the process of change. So who you think your target market is today
may be different in the very near future.

Figure 1.7. The moving target.

This tendency on a larger scale is also a characteristic of the market-

place as a whole, which can be described as an advancing marketplace
of difference, moving in all directions. This backdrop sets the stage for
understanding what confronts the marketer—the marketing challenge.
The marketing challenge boils down to this: Can the marketer cre-
ate meaningful differences in an advancing marketplace through targeted
markets and do so continually?
Creating a meaningful difference through a targeted market means that
the difference, if it is to occur, take place, or root, is to be determined by
and within the target market itself (i.e., within its constantly changing per-
spective). It is a difference that consumers must see; understand; use; and
be willing to assimilate, embody, and hopefully value. If not, then it’s really
not a meaningful difference, and the marketers have failed in this round of
the game—they have been sidelined or benched for the time being, so to
speak, until they get a better understanding of their competition.
Are there different ways of creating meaningful differences through a
targeted market? Yes.
For example, if a brand is viewed as the prototype of a product category
(i.e., as a point of difference), then all other brands are evaluated from the
prototypical brand position. One classic example is Q-tips. The differences

among the competing brands will be established from this pivotal point of
difference created in the minds of the targeted market through, in part, the
marketer’s efforts via the brand’s positioning (e.g., through the advertising
of the Q-tips brand). Within the Q-tips product category, all other cot-
ton swabs are assessed relative to the prototype’s position. The established
prototypical position as a point of difference is active through its centering
function of difference from which all other such differences are created and
understood. The competitive advantage that the prototypical position rep-
resents is an envied one to be sought after and one that is sustainable for a
certain duration (e.g., until the product category goes out of existence via
a new succeeding innovation). Other prototypical brand examples include
Coke (soft drinks), Xerox (photo copies), Kleenex (facial tissue), Clorox
(bleach), and iPhone (smartphones).

Figure 1.8. The centering of difference.

Another example of creating a meaningful difference through a tar-

geted market involves creating differences in familiarity for the brands
through different degrees of advertising exposure. In this case, the point
of difference is based on familiarity, and the brand may not be as estab-
lished to characterize a product category as in the previous example. For
a low-involvement consumer situation, familiarity could be the heuristic
used in making the decision. Hence the brand that is most familiar could
simply be winning out due to its heightened level of familiarity compared

with the other brands. This advantage suggests that the medium in which
competition takes place, the target market, is malleable yet fragile in that
familiarity can be developed, while too much familiarity can also lead
to a negative effect in irritation through tedium and boredom. Positive
differences can quickly turn into negative ones. To avoid such effects,
marketers typically change the executions of their advertisements while
maintaining exposure levels. While these are only two examples, there
are many, many more ways to create differences through a target market,
forming the basis for competition. Common ones include perceived dif-
ferences in costs, quality, benefits, and convenience. For those looking
for new ways to compete, there is a frontier to be explored for those yet
to be created or revealed. The main point is that the marketer’s job is
to think through and facilitate (create) particular differences within the
target market to compete with an understanding that such differences are
constantly in play where the outcomes aren’t necessarily predetermined.
Implicit in this characterization of the world of difference in which
marketing takes place are certain limitations for understanding what
marketing can and cannot do. Nonetheless, marketing does play an
important role in business in its revenue generating responsibilities. But
a realistic view of marketing is also called for at the same time in order to
get the most out of what it is able to do.
Philosophically, it can be said that all things are of difference. Since we
too are made up of difference, what we know is of difference. This means
each of us represents a unique expression of difference wishing to continue in
time, which is itself a form of difference. We seek what we know: difference.

Figure 1.9. All things are of difference.


So each of us is vying to maintain his or her unique form of difference

(commonly referred to as the self), which is integrally cast among all other
forms of difference. Yet we are also a part of the transformative process of dif-
ference in that we all are changing as we move through time (e.g., growing,
aging), as we participate in difference. Yet we are not separate entities but
instead are aspects of a changing medium that appears to possess no bound-
aries other than it must continue in the way of difference for it to exist.
As previously discussed, an organization is also an expression of dif-
ference wishing to continue in time as an ongoing entity while recogniz-
ing that it is not entirely separate from other organizations but instead is
actually a function of itself (its composition of differences, e.g., its people,
capabilities, technologies, processes, structures) and of the other forms
of differences that it interacts through, directly and indirectly (e.g., its
competition, its consumers, and the various media that it communicates
through). Following this line of thought, it can be said that all things are
related in one way or another and hence coconstitute each other, recip-
rocally. This thought also alludes to the idea that the marketer doesn’t
control as much as one might think, which adds to the difficulty of the
challenge. However, by understanding how marketers can create effective
differences on behalf of their organizations would allow us to be in a bet-
ter position to hedge our bets. To this end, we turn our attention to what
marketing thinking is.

In Summary
By understanding the challenge marketing faces, the stage is set for
understanding what is needed to be able to be more effective in address-
ing it head on. Marketers are constantly put into the position of creat-
ing differences through others in the marketplace to take up a viable
position while others are also engaging in this very task daily. As such,
marketing is a particular way of thinking through difference in order
to create differences through others for the benefit of an organization.
This view of marketing highlights the need to focus on creating differ-
ences in the marketplace that matter while recognizing that the market-
place as a marketplace of difference is advancing of its own accord. And

the better we understand the nature of difference the better we can be

at marketing.
In chapter 2, the concept of the marketer as a differentiator through
an understanding of his or her thinking capabilities will be developed
further—which leads into the questioning difference perspective devel-
oped throughout the next three chapters.