In 1960, the Harvard Business Review published Theodore Levitt’s paper on marketing myopia. The world has changed a lot since then, but Levitt’s fundamental idea has stood the test of time. With the rise of ubiquitous online publishing and content marketing, the principles defined roughly 60 years ago may be as relevant as ever.
Myopia itself is defined as a nearsighted lack of intellectual insight or imagination. Marketing myopia, then, is a failure to understand how a business or product can solve a customer’s needs. Instead of focusing on evolving desires in the market or audience, myopic marketing only considers short-term business goals like sales.
As a result, companies lose sight of the future and get passed by their competition. Successful businesses look far forward and consider where their customers will need them in along their future journeys.
The root cause of marketing myopia is that companies believe they’re in a growth industry, or that their products are inherently desirable. No business is simply destined for growth– brands must constantly identify and capitalize on opportunities for success by seeking to fill a need. More specifically, business leaders find trouble because of one of the five following reasons for marketing myopia:
This kind of thinking relies on the assumption that the industry will always remain as relevant as it is today. Other innovations are bound to make a product or service less useful unless it continues to evolve alongside people’s needs, and market penetration won’t necessarily remain constant. Leading watch repair companies will go out of business unless they adapt their services to smartwatches.
This is a sort of functional fixedness– people think there’s only one way to do a certain thing. A product may have unique capabilities, but that doesn’t mean something else can’t help customers achieve the same end goal. Owning the world’s greatest record press won’t prevent a company’s customers from switching to MP3 music.
Cranking up production doesn’t always mean the enlarged inventory will sell. Instead of an “if you build it, they will come” mentality, it’s important to think about what keeps customers coming. The Detroit auto industry experienced explosive growth thanks to mass production capabilities, but eventually collapsed when better options became accessible.
Most people don’t care much about the technical specs of any product they buy, or even care how it works. They only care that it works, and how quickly, and how effectively. Just think about how people flocked to intuitive, easy-to-use iPhones instead of BlackBerry phones with state-of-the-art technology.
Nearsightedness is a textbook definition of myopia, and increasingly hard to see the future in the digital age as innovation occurs at breakneck speed. In 1995, Clifford Stoll famously told Newsweek that the internet would be a fad, and online shopping could never replace physical stores. Salespeople and in-person spending are far more trustworthy, he said, and many people agreed with him. Jeff Bezos had already started a small online bookstore called Amazon by that time.
The simplest way to avoid marketing myopia is by focusing on what the market really wants. As Theodore Levitt himself said, “people don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill, they want a quarter-inch hole.” There are more than a few exercises that can help with that:
Of all the ways to avoid marketing myopia, a clear vision for the future is especially relevant to inbound marketing. Define success, then be patient and build a funnel to the desired outcomes.
Content marketing, for example, can be measured with different metrics like the following:
Just creating content for the sake of it (or with a myopic strategy) isn’t likely to help anything at all. There are lots of social updates and blog posts that don’t get any clicks, and there’s a reason for that: people have infinite options online, and attention must be earned.
What content marketing metrics are you focusing on? Now, why would your audience want to take the actions required to produce those results? If you want to generate more leads, start a newsletter or use gated content that makes it worth giving out an email address. If you want return visits to your site, make a good impression on the first one.
No one cares about helping you hit your digital marketing metrics, because it’s not about you– it’s about the market. Take the time and do the research to figure out what the target audience wants, and then give it to them. Provide the insights, images, or information people want, and they’ll reward you with their attention.
Content marketing isn’t about selling. If you’re looking for immediate results, you can try paid social ads or pay-per-click search engine marketing. Don’t start a blog and expect your revenue to respond overnight. Winning content marketing strategies start with the research to find your target market, the empathy to understand its needs, and the agility to keep up over time.