Revisiting Marketing Myopia

"People don't want to buy a quarter-inch drill; they want a quarter-inch hole." - Theodore Levitt

Have you ever taken a marketing class? I remember taking quite a few in my college years, and I have never forgotten one of the foundations of modern marketing: Marketing Myopia.

So, what is Marketing Myopia anyway? It is a concept introduced by Theodore Levitt in the 1960s that describes the ill-fated business practice of being too focused on selling products and services rather than seeing the "big picture" of what consumers really want. As Levitt wrote, "the history of every dead and dying 'growth' industry shows a self-deceiving cycle of bountiful expansion and undetected decay." This is because the emphasis in these companies is on selling, not on marketing, and it often leads to their demise. This is because selling focuses on the seller's needs, while marketing concentrates on the buyer's needs.

I am sure that you can immediately think of a few examples of companies that exhibit myopic thinking; Blockbuster, Kodak, or Nokia come to mind for me. Levitt used the railroad industry's failure to grow to illustrate his point. The industry failed because the leading companies thought they were in the railroad business rather than the transportation business. They were product-focused instead of customer-focused.

To continue to evolve, companies must define their industries broadly to take advantage of growth opportunities. They have to understand their customers' needs and desires and not maniacally focus on their products. If you want to be an effective leader in your company and your industry, you have to continue to ask: What business are we really in?

This reminds me of a coaching tool that I often use with my clients: Expand your vision, Narrow your focus. Think beyond what you are currently seeing, and then take action based on that new insight.

Maybe you have been stuck in some myopic thinking in your professional career or life, and you didn't even realize it. So how can you get yourself out of this nearsighted or myopic thinking and see the bigger picture? Perhaps, you can start by embracing a learning mindset and thinking about what else could be possible.


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