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Marketing | Peer-Reviewed Research

Accidental Editor

Three Years Behind The Scenes At A Leading Academic Journal

Based on research by Wagner Kamakura 

What happens when a veteran academic edits a scholarly journal?

I was editor of Journal of Marketing Research (JMR) between 2000 and 2003, something I had never imagined even as a vague possibility. The first time the notion of editing this prestigious journal came to mind was in 1999, when I was contacted as one of the finalists for the job and asked to prepare a position statement describing my views of marketing as a discipline and the role of JMR in it.

Contrary to most marketing academics at that time, I did not (and still do not) view marketing as a “science.” (A scientist friend told me that you know you are a scientist from the journals you read; if these journals use a qualifier such as “Transportation,” “Political” or “Psychological” before the word “Science” in their titles, then you are not one. According to this friend, scientists read journals named, e.g., Cells, Nature or simply Science).

In the same way that engineering uses physics, math and so on to solve real and practical physical problems, I view marketing as a technology that relies on the social sciences to solve real and practical market and consumer-related problems. In other words, rather than viewing our discipline as a science, I consider it a scientific applied discipline, or “technology.”

This perspective seems to have prevailed among my predecessors in our field, but probably only among a minority in my generation of marketing PhDs. Many marketing Ph.D.s before my cohort were professionals who had a “real job” for a few years, attained an MBA when they realized they were morphing into managers and in the process fell in love with marketing, leading them to pursue a doctorate in the field. Some in my generation, including myself, also followed this path. I believe this evolution from professional to MBA and then marketing PhD (sometimes without the MBA in the middle) led to a bias in favor of “technology” rather than “science” and an emphasis on implementable solutions rather than elegant but sometimes impractical “theories.”

Soon after taking the position at JMR, in any case, I realized that editors are like traffic cops; at best, they can direct (and sometimes control) traffic flow, but drivers (authors) eventually will get to the destination (research topics) of their choice.

As a conscientious traffic controller, I was especially concerned with finding best reviewers for each submitted manuscript. After all, reviewers are the true experts in a manuscript’s subject and methods; they are in the best position to assess the rigor of the research and its contributions.

After working as editor at JMR and associate editor at other marketing journals I’ve come to see anonymous reviewers as the unsung heroes of any academic journal because they, along with authors, are the ones who really set the collective direction of the journal.

Many authors view the editor as the main barrier blocking their papers from publication when, in fact, reviewers are the ones who produce the expert opinions supporting the editor’s decision. Editors have a not-so-flexible quota of articles to publish in each issue. They want to make sure they select the best manuscripts to fill that quota because what gets published during their tenure becomes part of their legacy as editors. Many reviewers take a devil’s advocate view, seeking reasons to reject a manuscript; editors know that their job is to fill each and every issue of their journal with the best possible content.

This experience clarified my views on where I see our discipline heading — and what it needs to continue in the right direction. In my view, academic research in our field is becoming more closely linked to the basic disciplines it usually relies on and less concerned with real and practical marketing problems. My hunch (some might call it an untested “theory”) is that this has something to do with the way our scholars are educated and trained.

It is not uncommon nowadays for marketing doctoral students to come directly from an undergraduate program in psychology or economics without any prior education, training or experience in business or marketing. Another popular route is postdoctoral study immediately after earning a doctorate in the social sciences, also without any prior exposure to marketing.

Because this trend has been in place for more than a decade, authors now have a stronger “science” bias, centered on the basic disciplines they studied in their academic education. Consequently, reviewers and associate editors now tend to have more of a purist view of the basic disciplines. They are more familiar with elegant, stylized theories derived conceptually or mathematically and tested in a student lab; they tend to dislike the ugliness of the real marketplace and the ungainliness of real consumer/market data.

In light of this bias against what is derisively labeled as “empirical” and “applied” research, marketing academics unfortunately have fallen behind other, more pragmatic, disciplines such as computer science, data science and operations management, as well as industry practitioners on many important practical aspects of marketing, such as direct marketing, database marketing, supply chain management, search engine optimization, social network marketing and (shockingly!) marketing analytics, to name just a few.

My fear is that this trend will continue, with marketing scholars becoming more committed to the basic disciplines they come from and viewing marketing only as a field to apply and test theories developed elsewhere, leading to what one could call the “Balkanization of marketing.” The consequence of this Balkanization is that other fields, such as business analytics, are already taking over the more pragmatic (and profitable!) aspects of marketing while our “scientists” get distracted away from our discipline.

We must ensure that marketing does not break into isolated subfields of psychology, economics, statistics and so forth, the same way Yugoslavia broke into its many independent (and sometimes antagonistic) parts. To counter this possibility, I hope that JMR and similar publications will continue prioritizing articles that mix the rigor of academic research with true relevance to the realities of the marketplace.

Wagner A. Kamakura is the Jesse H. Jones Professor of Marketing at Jones Graduate School of Business at Rice University.

To learn more, please see: Kamakura, W. A. (2014). Reflections on my editorship of JMR and beyond. Journal of Marketing Research, 51(1), 131–132.

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