Stakeholder Marketing: Theoretical Foundations and Consequences for Marketing Capabilities



The growing literature on stakeholder marketing has sensitized marketers to look beyond the customer as the focal stakeholder. However, despite these important contributions on stakeholder marketing, marketing literature does not fully reflect the problems that marketing managers experience in a complex environment of interrelated stakeholders. Building on multiplicity theory, this conceptual paper presents a revised theoretical perspective on the marketing discipline, contrasts it with the prevailing perspective on marketing, and shows why the revised perspective better fits the current reality. This paper argues that the core of stakeholder marketing consists of viewing stakeholder environments as continuous multiplicities rather than discrete multiplicities. The revised perspective explains three transitions in marketing practice: (1) exchange becomes complex rather than being dyadic, (2) tension between stakeholder interests becomes explicit rather than staying implicit, and (3) control over marketing activities becomes dispersed rather than centralized. The paper conceptualizes specific capabilities that are required for each transition: systems thinking, paradoxical thinking, and democratic thinking. The paper discusses implications for organizational performance, marketing theory, empirical research, and marketing practice.