Marketing Myopia: What is It? How Does It Affect Your Business?

by Josh Barney

Marketing myopia can be the cause of businesses failing, marketing campaigns nosediving and products failing to sell.

And despite its potential threat, marketing myopia is not something that many marketers, entrepreneurs and business owners know much about.

If you’ve ever managed a campaign that’s massively underwhelmed, expected big things from a product launch that’s fallen flat on its face or had a failed business idea that felt like a sure thing, this article will be worth your while.

This is everything you need to know about marketing myopia…

What is Marketing Myopia?

Marketing myopia is a business’s short-sighted approach to marketing.

When a brand bases its decisions on what it wants and expects, rather than what the target customer wants and expects, marketing myopia strikes.

Where did Marketing Myopia Originate?

The term ‘marketing myopia’ was coined by Theodore Levitt in a 1960 article first published in the Havard Business Review.

The article, written under the title ‘marketing myopia’ goes on to argue that many business’s fail because they focus on producing the product that they think their customer wants, rather than the product their customer actually wants.

theodore levitt marketing myopia

The theory was hugely influential at its time of publication and is thought by some to be the beginning of modern marketing.

Levitt also famously said,

“People don’t want a quarter-inch drill. They want a quarter-inch hole!”

And when you understand marketing myopia, you can see how this quote fits into that umbrella of thinking.

When Does Marketing Myopia Happen?

Levitt argued that marketing myopia occurs in a few different instances.

A Growth Industry?

The first is when businesses assume that they’re in a ‘growth industry’.

The simple truth is that no business is guaranteed to grow, even if they are the first comer to a booming market, a business will only grow if the correct decisions and opportunities are seized.

growth hacking strategies

When growth is assumed, actions are taken that put the business’s needs ahead of anybody else’s, including the customer’s.

This might mean things like adapting processes, altering marketing messages and scaling up production (without the market being ready).

Who’s Knowledge?

Marketing myopia also occurs when business decision makers falsely assume that their knowledge of the industry should be held in greater regard than their customer’s.

Industries are dynamic, as are customer’s needs – this means acting in a way that continually listens and adjusts to a customer’s desires.

No matter how much experience you have in a specific niche, you should never assume that you know what your customer wants without speaking to them first.

Product/Sales Focus

Marketing myopia also happens when businesses place too much emphasis on sales and forget about the user’s experience.

This point is particularly relevant in a digital age where websites are littered with offers and marketing materials.

It can be much more valuable for a business to understand how the prospect interacts with a business’s content, products and marketing materials, in order to successfully build a long-term relationship.

Short term sales is a short-sighted approach to business.

Marketing Myopia Key Lessons 

It’s easy to read an article like this, take on-board the lessons and then forget about them an hour later, but it’s another to understand and implement the key takeaways.

These are the key lessons of marketing myopia, so you can ensure it never happens to you:

The Marketing Myopia Questions

Levitt, the inventor of marketing myopia, suggests that the easiest cure for this business failing is for decision makers to ask themselves, what business am I really in?

And the best way to answer that question is by asking, what am I really doing for the customer? 

Do customers want a drill, or do they actually want to hang a family photo on the wall?

Look back to the example of Nokia, once a huge market leader in the portable phone industry, who were unable to adapt to the dynamic needs of their customers.

nokia example marketing myopia

In the 2010’s smart phones advanced and grew in popularity, and as much as anything else, they became a massive status symbol.

Nokia’s phones had failed to advance and their brand became a symbol for everything out-dated and old.

If Nokia had understood what they were really doing for their customers 10 years after they’d initially figured this out (by ‘connecting people’) they might have retained much more of their market share.

Step-Child Treatment

A typical mistake that leads to marketing myopia is the misalignment of a business’s focus – this can be explained by something known as the ‘step child treatment’.

This treatment is based on the idea that businesses treat their products as their own child and their customers as their ‘step-child’.

The symptoms of this treatment can be spotted in companies that spend the vast majority of their resources on product development, and very little on helping or understanding their customers in greater depth.

Step-child treatment can be avoided by investing more in content marketing that helps prospective customers (which in turn can help movement into a content marketing funnel), as well as trying harder to engage and hold conversations with prospective customers.

If your strategy is purely product and sales focussed, it’s likely that you’ll run into low conversions and poor campaigns because you simply aren’t doing enough to build trust and understand your customers.

Vision Outranks Goals

A business should act as a customer satisfying institution according to Levitt, this means thinking about the future of a business in terms of a business vision, rather than definitive goals (e.g. sales figures).

Marketing myopia can be avoided by having a vision of where the business is going to be, not how much money the business is going to make (or how much it will grow).

Causation Versus Correlation in Marketing Strategy

A vision means understanding how you can greater impact and improve the lives of your customers, analysing the market and competitors and never focussing on sales alone.

Your vision should always outrank your goals.

This is also known as the self-deceiving cycle. If you think too much in terms of growth and sales, you start to believe it will happen without any thought for future problems.

Remember, demand dictates supply, every business has a competitor (in some shape or other) and growth is never ‘destined’ for any business.

Think about your vision and align it with what you really do for your customers.

Marketing Myopia: A Theory Understood

The ideas and principles around marketing myopia have come on a lot in the 60 years since its creation by Theodore Levitt.

Marketing myopia is something that should be understood by all modern business owners and entrepreneurs, particularly in the fast-moving digital world.

It demands a constant understanding of the customer – something that is too often forgotten.

If you’re aiming for long-term growth in your industry, don’t become short-sighted, avoid marketing myopia.

Want more marketing strategies and advice? Check out: 

Josh is the Founder of We Imagine Media, an award-winning content marketer, best selling author and creator of the He creates and strategises content, sharing the most successful tactics with his lovely audience. He hates writing in the third person, follow him on the social links so he can get back to writing as himself.

7 Responses

  1. The step-child part is so true and resonates with most of the startups that fail.
    Great post, by the way.
    Keep it up!

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