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The role of conflict in Marketing.

December 3, 2010

“A conflict exists when two people wish to carry out acts which are mutually inconsistent. They may both want to do the same thing, such as eat the same apple, or they may want to do different things where the different things are mutually incompatible, such as when they both want to stay together but one wants to go to the cinema and the other to stay at home. A conflict is resolved when some mutually compatible set of actions is worked out. The definition of conflict can be extended from individuals to groups (such as states or nations), and more than two parties can be involved in the conflict. The principles remain the same.“(M.Nicholson: Rationality and the Analysis of International Conflict. 1992:11)

A leading software company in Microsoft situated in USA has developed a new operating system called Plutonium. This operating system is being regarded as the future operating system of Microsoft Company to be installed in all its computers. It is light years ahead of its present operating system Windows in all respects like speed, user friendliness, and compatibility. It can be installed in all types of computers. It is considered to be few steps ahead in technology than its main rival Apple’s Macintosh and is sure to give it a run for its money. Since it has been passed and accepted by the R. & D. , finance and marketing department and now was in stage 2 of installation in all Microsoft computers all over the world. It has to be marketed in this installed form in the world market in countries like China, India, Japan, Korea, in European countries, in Africa, Australia, in South & North America.

The entire Marketing team of Microsoft is sitting in Redmond Bay, the headquarters of Microsoft discussing ways to launch and Market its leading software. The team consists of Marketing centre heads from different countries listed above where the product has to be sold. Each person has to place his view on how to market the software.  He has to come up with new ideas like bulbs at the conference hall. He has to define the problems, analyze them and solve them one by one together with other marketing heads. There are few Brain storming sessions in the hall. In between one can hear heated arguments and discussion on various marketing methods being presented by the persons? Discordant notes are being exchanged between the marketing experts with each trying to promote his way of marketing to the team. A few walk outs from the conference room, hooting and shout downs are common features in such kinds of meetings. One can easily see the signs of conflicts pouring out from the conference room which may take a lot of time to heal.

All the persons sitting in the meeting are experts in Marketing and Computers. They are here because they came from the best institutes of computer engineering and Marketing.They  have a brilliant track record in Academics and in their professional career. They have a long experience behind them and they are second to none in their field.  Together they form one of the best Marketing Management team that any company today would be proud of. Yet sitting here for a while is like sitting in a fish market. One can see an undercurrent of tension running beneath the faces of these best professionals. They are from different countries, different cultures and different school of thoughts. They have worked in different companies having different work environment before they came here to form a cohesive group. This may be one reason for the lack of communication between members of the group in today’s meeting. After all lack of communication is regarded as a one single major cause of conflict in any organization and in any discipline. Every member wants to force his point of view on the team. He wants his recommendation to be accepted by all. Some of the members have their personal interests too which they might try to put above the group’s interest. It might be resisted and obstructed by others which causes the Conflict in the group. After all Clash of interests between different groups or persons in yet another reason for conflict in a Society, or an organization. This applies in marketing too.

The above case in just an example to bring out the Definition of conflict in a more clear and simple way.

Gordon (1987) cites some reasons that justify conflict es­calation in organizations: (i) as departments grow, people lose contact with other departments, or yet, members of a depart­ment start to think differently from other areas; (ii) the increase of emphasis in the financial measures as a tool for motivation for managers and the establishment of different profit cent­ers inside an integrated business system end up creating many conflicts; (iii) the increasing rise of emphasis in functional spe­cialization, politics of promotion and recruiting reinforce the isolation of departments, generating conflicts; (iv) today there is more room for workers to show criticism among each other, while this freedom of speech can be beneficial for society as a whole, in organizational context can be transformed into con­flicts and; (v) consumers demand lower prices, better quality in products and services, creating pressures so that departments work more effectively which can result in conflicts among de­partments.

Organizational Conflict ( Conflict inside the organization):

Our main objective here is to understand the role of organizational conflict in marketing searching to answer the following questions:

(i)            Which other are­as marketing has more conflict with?

(ii)           What are the reasons of conflicts in mar­keting?

(iii)          What are the main problems that lead to conflicts in marketing area?

(iv)          What is the relation among functional areas and size and type of company?

In the conducted research in the Brazilian Companies, when asked about conflicts that occur above, below and in the same hierarchical level that they work, executives state that in general they occur more in high­er hierarchical level and less between subordinates, what is in accordance with Pondy’s (1966) observation that it should be expected that high status peers to perceive more conflict with each other than low status peers with each other because: (i) high status persons, more than low status persons, are engaged in more non-routine, policy-making type activities where the guides to action are less clear and the chance for disagreement higher and (ii) high status persons, more than low status persons, are probably less flexible in their views.

Regarding conflict frequency that the marketing executive has with other areas in the organization, it seems to occur with more intensity with Sales (38%), followed by Informatics, Fi­nance and Production/Operations. In the interviewee’s point of view, the most powerful area in the company is Sales (38% mentioned it). Marketing itself (24%), Finance (14%) and Production/Operations (13%) were also mentioned as a powerful area. Sales is cited as the one with more conflict (22%), followed by Finance (18%), Production/Operations (17%), Marketing (16%) and Informatics (11%). Therefore, marketing executives feel a greater degree of conflict with Sales and also cites it as the area with the greatest power, in accord­ance with Jung (2003) that state that conflict is clearly associ­ated with power. It is also noted that conflicts are more frequent in areas where contact with executives is more intense, that is, in the marketing area itself or where relationship is close, such as in Sales.

The highest average found refers to communication problems, which reiterates Maltz and Kohli’s (2000) statement that language barriers are basic sources of perceived conflict. Other important reasons are different expectations, problems with organization­al structure and power and status. It is worth mentioning that salary comparison, within the items listed, is the one that least generated conflicts.

Here are  the various reasons of conflicts given in 16 different variables which can further be reduced to 5 different factors below among the marketing executives in the Brazillian companies according to their strength:

Reasons of conflict Rotated Component Matrix (Factorial Analysis)

Factors Reasons

1.    Communication problems                                   1.            Administrative                      Salary Comparison

2.    Different expectations                                                          Problems                                   Power and status

3.    Problems with organizational structure                                                                     Problems with organizational structure

4.    Power and status                                                                                                                   Communication problems

5.    Lack of agility                                                                                                                         Policy of bonus and rewards

6.    Non-fulfillment of goals                                                                                                       Uncertainty

7.    Lack of cooperation

8.    Lack of resources                                                    2.     Lack of Synchrony                 Lack of cooperation

9.    Disagreement regarding goals                                                                                           Lack of agility

10.  Uncertainties                                                                                                                           Cultural differences

11.  Different experiences

12.  Cultural differences                                                3.      Problems of                              Non-fulfillment of goals

13.  Policy of bonus and rewards                                      goal achievement                     Disagreement regarding goals

14.  Environmental changes                                                                                                        Lack of resources

15.  Lack of adaptation to work

16.  Salary comparison

4.    Environmental                            Environmental changes

Adaptation                                    Lack of adaptation to work

5.      Individual                                      Different expectations

Differences                                      Different experience

Traditionally in marketing a great deal of attention is devot­ed to the consumer rather than to organizational issues (Jung 2003). However, this doesn’t seem to be the more appropriate approach because the attention to one aspect doesn’t eliminate or minimize the importance of the other one. The understand­ing of organizational environment and the relationship between the organization’s members is vital for the effective functioning of the areas, including marketing. Therefore, marketing studies that already enhance conflicts in distribution channels should also investigate conflicts that take place within organizations. According to field survey results, special emphasis should be given to communication problems, different expectations and problems with organizational structure. Internal conflicts that break out within the marketing area and within related areas such as sales should also be given attention.

Conflict resolution depends on a lot of factors such as types of companies, personalities of individuals and culture of an or­ganization. The influence of all these factors turns the manage­ment of this phenomenon still more complex. For this reason it is recommended to organizations to follow-up group inter­actions and activities so as to ensure a degree of functionality compatible to conflicts. Positive conflicts will only be possible if particularities of the organization are analyzed. This involves an awareness of the employees’ profile, as well as of the relationship between departments and hierarchical levels and of the rules shared that guide behavior.

Organizational conflict involves interpersonal conflicts with colleagues or supervisors, or intergroup conflicts within differ­ent sections of an organization (Imazai and Ohbuchi, 2002). There are two essential types of conflict in organizations: Verti­cal and Horizontal. Vertical conflict occurs in groups of different hierarchical levels, such as supervisors and salesmen, whereas horizontal conflict occurs between individuals of the same level, such as managers in the same organization. In the vertical con­flict, differences in status and power between groups are in gen­eral larger than in the horizontal conflict (Robins, 1983) because these aspects tend to equalize in equivalent hierarchical levels.

The reason of conflicts can also lay in relationship conflict that is the perception of animosities and personal incompability. According to Peterson and Behfar (2003), the negative impact of relationship conflict in the group performance occurs in three ways. First, it limits the ability to process information, because the group members spend their time and energy focusing on one another, rather than in group problems. Second, because it limits the cognitive functioning of the group members by in­creasing the level of stress and anxiety. Third, because it encour­ages accusations and antagonisms regarding the behavior of the other group which can create a predisposition to hostility and conflict escalation.

Individuals that manage conflicts effectively in organiza­tions are perceived as competent communicators and leaders whereas those individuals incapable of managing conflicts ef­fectively may have problems not only in reaching organizational goals, but also in keeping positive and consistent relationships and solving problems. Individuals that have difficulty in deal­ing with conflicts also have greater probability to be dissatisfied with work (Gross and Guerrero, 2000).

Conflict between the  State (Society)  and the Organization :

The organization’s definition of the role of the marketing manager and executive conflicts with that definition of the role which best meets the needs of society. As a result, a person who performs well in this role of marketing manager often harms society; a conflict exists between “Excellence in marketing” and the “Needs of society.” . They are marketing heroes. But riot society’s heroes. Rather than hero, the marketing man is usually a villain in novels; he is the butt of jokes; and respondents to surveys think poorly of him. Why does society reward the marketing manager well, yet scorn him? Marketing Executives are generally good people who do the dirty work for organizations. Furthermore, this dirty work is not necessary.

We  must understand  that a Marketing executive  is also a human being having his own ambition and desires which he wants to fulfill. To achieve this he has to act according to the whims of his shareholders which may be against the different interest groups like the consumers, Environmentalists, Public safety etc. For example selling the product of a chemical factory situated in the middle of a city, dangerous to the public and having a litigation filed against it in court. Selling a chocolate which contains a chemical harmful to the human body. Advertising for a movie which contais nude scenes and has a case filed against it in the court for violating public morality. In all these cases it would be immoral and unethical for a marketing executive to work for his shareholders. By doing so he is in direct conflict with the interest groups of Environmentalists in the first case and his Consumers in the second case and the general public in the third case. By hiding correct facts and cheating the society just to make his masters happy and seeking their favor is Unethical and unhealthy Marketing. Here the marketing executive faces the dilemma to choose between his conscience and the approved corporate policy.

The vision of the state or the society is broader than that of a company .  Whereas the company, no matter how big it may be aims to make profits the same cannot be said for a country. Economic and Social welfare , law and order , creating an egalitarian society , are main aim of any government of a country. Whereas the employees of a company work hard to create a balace sheet of their company showing greater  profits, the government employees have different role to play. Their main aim is to serve the state and its people. No doubt Deficit is a common feature in the balance sheet of a any country including U.S.A. which presently is running into deficit that is unheard of any country. The clash of the vision of the two may sometimes take place like labor problem, pollution, public immorality, bankruptcy, anti-trust law, consumer forum and so on where the two fight against each other in the court and in the street.

Other practices followed in unethical marketing are the strategies of the fox by working within the parameters of the society. They are Restricting  entry of producers, Collusion among the producers , Inadequate and misleading information and Forced choice by consumers. In the case of marketing strategy used by the Ox , the marketing executive attempts to increase profits regardless of society’s rules and regulations. He accepts the role  prescribed by the firm, the yoke, and proceeds directly toward the firm’s goal. He is willing to break the law when there is an advantage in doing so. In both these cases he comes in conflict with the society’s interests.

Role conflict manifests itself in two ways. One is the strategy of the Ox, who violates society’s laws to achieve the firm’s objectives; the solutions to this problem focus on punishment. The second strategy is that of the Fox, who asks society to pass laws beneficial to the firm; in this case, the solutions center on changing the objectives of the firm. In particular, the adoption of the stakeholder role would serve to reduce role conflict for the marketing manager.

It is common to understand organiza­tional conflict as opposition to cooperation, as an open discus­sion between two or more groups in an organization, reflecting cases in which negative manifestations disrupt cooperation by trust destruction and close communication channels (Hatch, 1997). However, in manifestations of positive behavior, conflict can provide benefits for innovations and teamwork and can, as a consequence, foster future cooperative acts and build value for diversity. Conflict and cooperation are just opposite when conflict is defined as destructive. When constructive aspects are in focus, conflict and cooperation are complementary process. (Robins, 1974). At first, conflict was considered highly dysfunctional, the antithesis of cooperation, and was interpreted as a sign of an imperfect or incomplete social structure (Rico, 1964). How­ever, Pondy’s theories (1967, 1969) showed that although un­pleasant, it is an inevitable part of an organization. For Pondy, conflict, although regarded as dysfunctional is a natural and in­evitable condition and should be accepted. This view deviated interests in studies about conflicts to their sources and funda­mental conditions. The view of conflict as something natural helps managers to understand it – not as result of poor man­agement, but as an inevitable aspect of the organization. Pondy further proposed a positive attitude in relation to conflict. This suggestion led to the understanding that this phenomenon can foster innovation and adaptability. This view formed the third variant of the theorization of conflicts and challenged the pre­cepts that organization should be cooperative systems arriving to the functional view of conflict. This perspective suggests that conflict is good for the organization because it provides higher quality decision-making due to differences in opinion. It must be pointed out that over time Pondy (1992) changed his view on organizational conflict. In 1967 he believed that organizations were cooperative, deliberate systems that occasionally experi­enced conflicts or cooperation breakdown. In 1992 he suggested that an organization was the opposite of a cooperative system: if conflict didn’t take place, then the organization had no reason to exist. Long-lasting companies were those who had institutional­ized conflicts and diversity in the organization’s structure. Organized labor & Trade unions are the offspring of this conflict, a symbol of democratic and modern capitalistic society.

Suggested   Readings:

1. Organized conflicts perceived by the Marketing Executives  by

A. Ana Akemi Ikeda

B. Tânia Modesto Veludo-de-Oliveira

C. Marcos Cortez Campomars


2. The Manager’s Dilemma: Role Conflict in Marketing  by

A. J. Scott Armstrong


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