Marketing Authorities and Economists Think Differently: How They View– Market Structure Vs. Market Segmentation…

Market structure: Many companies look to market structure and market segmentation to better understand the composition of markets and to identify and profile groups of people (i.e., potential customers) to grow their business… but is  ‘market structure’ the same as ‘market segmentation’ or do they differ?

Market structure is often defined as interconnected characteristics of a market, such as; relative strength of buyers and sellers, degree of collusion, types of competition, differentiation, barriers of entry… Whereas, market segmentation is defined as process of subdividing, targeting a mostly homogenous market into clearly identifiable segments having similar need, want, characteristic, demand… In segmentation the objective is to design a market mix that precisely matches the expectations of the customers…

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According to Jeanne Grunert; economists and marketing people each define the terms a bit differently: Economists look at the overall market structure with the goal of defining and predicting consumer behavior… Whereas, marketing professionals seek to define the market structure to create competitive strategies as part of their overall marketing plan…

Economists examine market structure to help with decision-making and they seek to analyze broad trends in order to better understand consumer motivation… While marketers also look at trends, but they defer in that economists tend to focus more on the big picture… The economist want to know more about how this information affects large segments of various populations. Whereas, marketing is keen to understand the information, but apply it to their company’s specific marketing strategy…

Economist define market structure according to how an industry– that’s serving a market– is organized, and these structures typically include:

  • Monopolistic competition: Type of imperfect competition such that companies sell products, services… that are not identical with each other, but competitive… they are differentiated from each other by branding, pricing, quality… hence, they are not perfect substitutes…
  • Oligopoly: Market is controlled by small number of companies that together have the majority of market share… Duopoly: Special case of oligopoly with only two controlling the market.
  • Monopsony: Only one buyer in a market…
  • Oligopsony: Many sellers but meet only a few buyers…
  • Monopoly: Only one seller of a product, service…  Natural monopoly: Serves the entire market demand, typically at lower cost than any combination of two or smaller, and more specialized companies…
  • Perfect competition: No barriers to entry, an unlimited number of sellers and buyers, and a perfectly elastic demand curve…

Marketing, in contrast, defines market structure a little differently, when they know that an industry is organized as describe as one of the above restructures, i.e.,  oligopoly, perfect competitive… typically they will dig deeper into industry, searching to better understand other factors, such as; nature of competition, vulnerability, customer behavior, price sensitivity… Understanding the market structure and landscape helps marketers develop relevant and effective marketing strategies… Hence, defining a structure from marketing perspective tends to seek answers to questions, such as:

  • What are the key motivational drivers that determine how, why, what… consumers buy?
  • How do product, service… packaging, features, brand, pricing… and other factors play into the consumer decision to buy?
  • What and where are the opportunities for growth in an industry through major innovation?
  • What are the key market differentiators and competitive factors?
  • Where are the key market opportunities, threats, risks?

Defining market structure isn’t always easy. Definitions remain fluid and subject to change even among various functions-groups within a company…  and it’s common that different companies view the same market structure differently… As may be observed, both marketing and economists confuse the terms; segments and structures, so much so that the line between the two is nearly obliterated. You can have a conversation with some of these people and, at the end, not only will you not know what they are talking about, but you feel completely confused about both subjects…

In the article What Can Economics Learn From Marketing Market Structure Analysis?  by Charles Fischer writes: The concept of market structure is central to both economics and marketing. The problem for economists and marketing professionals is that a meaningful operational definition of market structure is elusive… Each discipline takes a different methodological approach toward the definition… and each has its own strengths, limitations.

Economics is concerned with broad socio-economic,  micro-economic issues, e.g., competitive fairness, predatory pricing… Whereas, marketing is more concerned about the managerial aspects of market structure… Although, each discipline touches on the primary domain of the other, the primary distinction between the two is just a matter of relative emphasis… 

In economics, markets are classified according to the structure of the industry serving the market… Industry structure is categorized on the basis of market structure variables which are believed to determine the extent and characteristics of competition… In the traditional framework, these structural variables are distilled into the following taxonomy of market structures:

  • Perfect Competition: Many sellers of a standardized product, service…
  • Monopolistic Competition: Many sellers of a differentiated product, service…
  • Oligopoly: Few sellers of a standardized or differentiated product, service…
  • Monopoly: Single seller of a product, service… for which there is no close substitute…

These four market structures each represent an abstract (generic) characterization of a type of real market… Market structure is very important because it affects business outcome through its impact on the– motivations, opportunities and decisions of economic players participating in the market… A key element of the economic market structure is product substitutability, which is strategically linked to market definition… however, this also complicated by the fact that consumers have their own perceptions of product substitutability…

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In the article Market Structure Analysis by Steven Struhl writes: Some of the confusion surrounding market structures arises from the fact that two contrasting traditions of– marketing and economics– have embraced it… Comparing and contrasting the marketing vs. economic methods are briefly summarized as:

  • Marketing approach: Basic elements– analyze the relationships among– target markets and segmentation, potential customers, competing brands, risks, opportunities, business strengths and weaknesses, pricing strategy…
  • Economic approach: Basic elements– analyze the trends of buyers and sellers, extent to which products, services… are substitutable, analysis of comparative costs, market barriers to entry, extent of mutual interdependence– extent to which buyers and sellers depend on each other…

One important point that the economists have in common with marketers is that they include demand elasticity and cross-demand elasticity (or words meaning the same thing) in market structures. Also, how economists get to their answers is usually very different from marketing practices, for example; economists can do much of their work without ever talking to an actual person, and some even act as if asking people what they do or think is, in fact, superfluous to understanding what is happening in a marketplace.

This may seem slightly ridiculous, but we should remember that these people win ‘Nobel’ prizes, while humble marketers and market researchers do not, but perhaps they are onto something… The basic consideration in market analyses is reaching a definition of exactly what constitutes the market… Traditionally this is done by focusing on these factors:

  • Degree to which products, services… can substitute for each other, based on consumer perceptions…
  • Extent to which products, services… are intended to serve similar purposes…
  • Impact of products, services… on each other and as measured by elasticity of demand and its effects on each other, as well as cross-elasticity

In typical marketing approaches, it always start with the consumers… but, to reach an overall market structure, the needs of each consumer must be aggregated… This is an aggregated list of each consumer’s– behaviors, perceptions… The  two main aggregation methods are:

  • Behavioral aggregation; (linked to studying market impact)…
  • Subjective aggregation; (linked to the extent to which products, services… can substitute for each other, ratings, opinions, and perceptions)…

Aggregation is problematic: One question often asked is– what happens when aggregation consists of many idiosyncratic consumer opinions; in other words, how do you meaningfully aggregate all the individual consumer choices or opinions when these often reflect great diversity?  Since most marketing authorities do not consider market structures to be the same as market segments, hence finding segments almost always is taken to mean looking for groups that fit these following criteria:

  • Defined product, service… related needs different from those of all other groups…
  • Characterized or identified specific customer– needs, wants…
  • Reachable selectively (or targeted) through communications and marketing efforts…

Different segments of a market, may structure a market differently, since their needs are different… A clear understanding of a market’s structure and segmentation is paramount to understanding it’s– needs, buying processes, preferences, value perceptions, revenue potential… but then, as important, translating these insights into an actionable strategy is precursor to developing a successful business…