Marketing myopia is the nearsighted focus on selling goods and services at the expense of consumer needs. Marketing myopia was coined by Harvard Business School professor Theodore Levitt in 1960. Originally, Levitt described the concept in the context of organizations in high-growth industries that become complacent in their belief that such industries never fail.
Understanding marketing myopia
Theodore Levitt used the American railroad industry to illustrate his point. Despite the booming popularity of cars, trucks, and planes in the 1960s, rail tycoons remained resolutely confident in their industry. However, the railroad industry soon fell into decline because these companies believed they were in the train business and not in the transportation business.
Indeed, myopic businesses are those that believe that their product is their business. They either neglect consumer needs over time or fail to create a buyer persona in the first place.
The primary causes of marketing myopia
Growth industry assumptions
Growth industries have caused some of the more famous stories of marketing myopia. Successful businesses in growth industries are often lulled into a false sense of security. In other words, they assume that whatever they produce will meet consumer needs.
While this may be true for a time, consumer needs invariably change. Blockbuster believed that its VHS and DVD movie rentals were immune to the rising presence of Netflix, who provided a cheaper and more convenient for consumers to access their favorite titles.
A belief that there are no competitive substitutes
A business that operates as the sole producer in a market can become complacent. With no impetus to continually improve, it stops investing in research and development and product quality suffers as a result.
Levitt’s initial example of marketing myopia in the railroad industry is a prime example of a belief in no competitive substitutes.
Shifting consumer trends
The only constant in the world is change, and consumer trends are no different. Technology in particular is a volatile industry where only the most adaptable businesses survive.
Nokia’s marketing myopia meant that it failed to identify the future needs of its consumers. The company was quickly overtaken by Apple and Samsung, who had correctly predicted that consumers wanted more functional and aesthetically pleasing smart devices.
A belief in mass production
The belief in mass production and its ability to drive down manufacturing costs is also a form of marketing myopia. Here, businesses become obsessive about reducing product costs at the expense of determining whether the consumer wants to buy the product.
American car companies assumed that if they manufactured a certain amount of cars per year, they would sell. While this held true for a while, the focus on mass production blinded the American car industry to new cars released by Mazda and Toyota that were better suited to consumer needs.
Avoiding marketing myopia
Avoid marketing myopia is perhaps easier said than done. However, all businesses should:
- Provide value. A product or service must provide value, particularly if it is going to be successful long term.
- Create buyer personas. These are semi-fictional representations of an ideal buyer. Importantly, they guide product creation that keeps the consumer’s best interests at heart.
- Anticipate future changes. While some consumer needs remain constant, they will likely want these needs in a faster, higher quality, or more convenient fashion in the future. Businesses must refrain from insular myopic marketing and instead look externally to changing trends and consumer preferences.
- A business with marketing myopia is more concerned with its own needs than it is with the needs of its target audience.
- The primary causes of marketing myopia include shifting consumer trends and an obsessive focus on mass production. Myopia can also set in when a business that enjoys dominant market share becomes complacent and fails to innovate.
- Marketing myopia can be avoided by understanding the consumer and then providing value to them as consumer preferences evolve.