What is marketing myopia and how can you avoid it?

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The marketing industry is full of buzzwords; some fluffy and downright unnecessary, and others useful but perhaps not so easy to understand. ‘Marketing myopia’ is an example of the latter.

Coined in 1960 by Harvard economist and professor Theodore Levitt, it addresses the way companies market themselves and their product and how those actions appeal to the people who may be likely to buy from them.

Though the term has been around for a number of decades, you may never have heard about it, even if you are falling victim to marketing myopia yourself. So, what exactly is Marketing myopia and how can you avoid it?

Understanding Marketing Myopia

Marketing myopia refers to a short-sighted approach to marketing that focuses more on the business and the product than the customer. When he wrote his piece, Levitt was thinking specifically of businesses in ‘high-growth industries’, who can become stuck in the belief that their industry will always be ‘high-growth’ and therefore never falter. Of course, that complacency is the reason they do.

Using the historical example of railroads, Levitt notes that "even after the advent of automobiles, trucks, and airplanes, the railroad tycoons remained imperturbably self-confident. If you had told them… that they would be flat on their backs, broke, and pleading for government subsidies, they would have thought you totally demented..."

History is littered with similar examples, and perhaps the most notable recent instance is the video rental store Blockbuster. Having ruled the roost in the time of physical media and survived consumers’ switch from VHS to DVD, Blockbuster were unconcerned by the rise of Netflix, which first opened its doors in 1998 as a rental-by-mail service.

Suddenly, movie fans no longer needed to travel to their nearest Blockbuster and queue up to rent their favourite film; they simply booked it online and got it in the post. Keen on convenience, consumers’ heads were turned and by 2005 the company announced it was shipping 1 million DVDs to customers each and every day.

With YouTube growing substantially at the same time, it was becoming clear that another major shift in consumer behaviour was about to take place. In 2007, the same year it delivered its 1 billionth DVD, Netflix launched a streaming service and set itself on the path to becoming the entertainment giant we know today.

As this was happening, Blockbuster tried to adapt (even attempting a buy-out of Netflix as it struggled in its early years), but failed at every turn. Having boasted over 9,000 stores worldwide at its peak, the company’s fortunes steadily declined and it now has just one, which can be found in Bend, Oregon.

What went wrong? A classic case of marketing myopia: Blockbuster simply failed to understand its customers and the technology that was empowering a change in their habits.

How to avoid Marketing Myopia

Just as the cause of Blockbuster’s demise is simple, so too is the solution. Avoiding marketing myopia, Levitt argued, is all about shifting your perspective and focusing on the customer rather than just yourself and your product.

“Corporation(s),” he wrote, “must be viewed as a customer-creating and customer-satisfying organism. Management must think of itself not as producing products but as providing customer-creating value satisfactions… the organisation must learn to think of itself not as producing goods or serving but as buying customers, as doing the things that will make people want to do business with it.”

So how does this work in practice? There are three core considerations to take into account.

Make sure you’re providing value

This seems like an obvious one, but it’s something many companies overlook. Bringing a product or service to market can be so exciting that it’s easy to get carried away and forget that it needs to be useful to people. If it’s not useful, why would people buy it?

Even the likes of Google have stumbled here. When launching their wearable tech offering Google Glass, the tech giant failed to understand the product’s value to the consumer. Ugly to look at and complicated to comprehend, it’s only clear benefit was that it freed up the user’s hands.

Launched in 2013 and pulled from production just two years later, Glass became a rare Google failure, and has only recently re-emerged as an aid for factory workers, surgeons and other workers who need to keep their hands free.

After a long and bumpy road, Google Glass is now enjoying a measure of success because it has a clear value proposition. Make sure you have one too.

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Develop buyer personas

You can’t build your business around the customer unless you know who the customer is. This is where target personas come into play.

Buyer personas are semi-fictional representations of a company's ideal customer. They offer a sketched view of their needs, goals and obstacles, so you can understand them in more detail and identify how to reach them.

When drawing them up, think about demographic and geographic data such as gender, age and location. Also, consider their lifestyle and behaviour; what social channels they use and to what end?

Are they tech-savvy or likely to shop online? What are their goals, needs and challenges? And, more importantly, how can you or your services help them achieve, fulfil and overcome them? If your business is B2B you will also need to consider firmographics like job title, company size, industry, etc.

Knowing these things allows you to shape your marketing strategy. From the messaging you’re putting across to the tone of voice you’re taking and the channels you’re using, everything about your marketing must revolve around these personas.

Keep an eye on the future

The world changes quickly, especially in our digital age. What works for your audience today may not work tomorrow.

Keeping up with broader changes in your industry and the world as a whole is critical. No matter how good your offering is, if something faster, better, or more convenient comes along, customers are likely to favour that.

This is where it went wrong for Blockbuster and for the railroads Levitt mentioned. Yes, everyone will always want to watch movies and travel, but the way they do those things is likely to change.

Digital means disruption, and every year is sure to bring fresh changes: different ways of banking, of ordering food, of learning new skills. Those who adapt are the ones who’ll succeed; those suffering a myopic focus on themselves are destined to fail.

Don’t fall into the second group. Establish your value, understand your audience and grow alongside their needs. By doing so, you’ll avoid the kind of thinking that’s helped make even a titan like Blockbuster a thing of the past.

Keeping your marketing innovative and adaptable is important to avoid marketing myopia. Get in touch to see how Fast Web Media can help future-proof your marketing strategy.

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