Decisions in business are supposed to be rational and follow science. Easier said than done! That would require that scientific studies address high-impact issues that are relevant to business. In a new Journal of Marketing article, our research team found that academic marketing articles are often detached from marketing practice. Academics live in their own world, what we call an “academic island,” and are obsessed with their own topics and methods, many of which are barely related to marketing practice.
Using a new cutting-edge method called “topic modeling,” our research team created a “dictionary” of over 1000 marketing terms based on 55,000 marketing articles in practitioner and academic journals from 1982 to 2019. From this, we constructed an index of relevance, called “R2M” (relevance to marketing). The index is a simple, reliable, and dynamic tool that measures the relevance of academic marketing articles to marketing practice, both in terms of topical and timely relevance.
We found a profound disconnect between marketing scholars and practitioners. Academics tend to publish papers focused on detailed analytical models or highly abstract, theoretical constructs with no practical relevance and of little interest to managers. In contrast, marketers care about substantive topics such as advertising and entertainment marketing. Still, the picture is not entirely bleak; there are a few areas of joint interest, such as branding and salesforce management, where academics and practitioners can meet.
To analyze this gap deeper, we classified topics into four quadrants based on their low/high popularity in academia and practice — “Desert,” “Academic Island,” “Executive Fields,” and “Highlands”— and scored academic articles and journals. We found that about 45% of published articles are relevant only to marketing scholars and are of lower interest to practitioners while only 24% of articles are relevant to both. We also found a growing overlap in common interests. Most importantly, the overall relevance of marketing articles has increased since the early 1980s, though only very slightly.
In the long term, we hope that the R2M index will change the bleak status quo. We view our measurement instrument as a tool for change because it will put pressure on academics to conduct more relevant research. We encourage authors to adopt the index to assess the topical and timely relevance of their papers and better market their work to other scholars, businesses, and media outlets. Journal editors can use the index as an editorial and tracking tool to assess submitted manuscripts, make suggestions during the review process, and evaluate the journal’s evolution over time. Additionally, academic administrators can use this tool as part of their promotion and tenure decisions.
We also want to ignite a stronger connection with practitioners. Indeed, marketing practitioners can use the index to find research relevant to their jobs and consultants and business advisors can curate reading lists relevant to their clients. Finally, we hope that the marketing field as a whole can spearhead a discussion around relevance and encourage scholars from other fields to start similar initiatives.
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