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Relationship Marketing In Emerging Economies: Some Lessons For The Future

Sabine Flambard-Ruaud
Published 2005 · Business

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Relationship marketing as a philosophy and a set of practices is now widely accepted by both academics and practitioners. At the centre of the relationship marketing paradigm is the notion that making the most out of existing clients is essential for long-term profitability. Retaining clients by developing relationships with them is crucial to establishing and maintaining a competitive advantage in the market. But, moving away from an analysis of needs to an analysis of the customer, from management of the transaction to management of the relationship marks a fundamental shift which positions relationship marketing as a double innovation: conceptual innovation (it has evolved into an entirely new and separate concept) and organizational innovation (it imposes transformation on organizations that are not limited to the marketing function but require the participation of all components of the firm). But, perceptions on what exactly constitutes relationship marketing may differ in various cultural settings. Indeed, the theoretical domains that relationship marketing has traditionally drawn upon have been Western theories developed in economics, psychology, and management. Having largely exhausted these sources, it is now perhaps time to look more widely and consider less traditional paradigms from a broader range of cultures. The author suggests looking at Eastern cultures where relationships have provided the foundations for business activity for thousands of years. This article is an initial attempt to bridge the gap in existing literature as no adequate conceptual framework exists as yet. It aims to contribute to the knowledge of the reasons for the emergence of relationship marketing in Western economies and makes a brief comparison of the study of relationships in Western and Eastern literature so as to identify how culturally-based relationships are formed. In particular, the focus is on the Chinese complex concept of guanxi (loosely translated as ‘connections’ though ‘relationships’ might be better) and its importance in relationship development. This framework is the starting point for a set of criteria to be taken into account before transferring relationship marketing in emerging economies. In conclusion, this exploratory paper highlights the following: Theory transgresses economies whether they are emerging or not. Marketing has always studied relationships between institutions (B2B) and between institutions and customers (B2C). The basic rules of marketing, therefore, remain the same whatever the economy. What changes is the context. The environment is and remains multi-cultural. In that sense, the dangers of ethnocentrism must be avoided and, on the contrary, the phenomena of acculturation and local appropriation must be embraced. To be successfully implemented, relationship marketing should reflect the value system of the population to which it is targeted.
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