How to Avoid Content Marketing Myopia

Content Marketing, General Marketing

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.

Marketing Myopia Defined

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.

It takes good vision to plan a customer journey.

Marketing Myopia Causes

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:

1) They believe a growing population and greater wealth will automatically lead to more sales.

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.

2) They believe there is no substitute for a given product, making theirs the only option.

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.

3) They overestimate the importance of their ability to produce more products faster.

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.

4) They focus on ways to improve a product as defined by any metric other than how well it can solve the customer’s needs.

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.

5) They focus on the past, ignoring the future.

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.

Know the causes of marketing myopia, diagnose it early, and treat it immediately.

How to Avoid Marketing Myopia

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:

  • Have a clear vision. How can this product or service make a difference now and in the future?
  • Put the customer before the product. Customer- or market-oriented companies describe the problems their products solve, not the features they possess.
  • Do the marketing first. People all throughout history have found a way to make a product, then figure out how to sell it later. Snake oil salesmen are a great example. More successful companies determine what people want ahead of time, then produce that.
  • Don’t stop the marketing. It’s important to continue the market research even after a product launch. Find out what people like, dislike, and want to see in the next iteration.
  • Watch the competition. Competing brands represent some of the most relevant expertise in an industry, which makes them both a threat and a resource. Learn from their failure and success, all while working to stay a step ahead.
  • Diversify your products or services. Don’t just meet one need– find ways to address related customer desires, and your offering will become more complete.
  • Experiment. Disruptive innovation is risky, but it’s also the only way to fill a need in a new way. As Sally Hogshead said, “it’s good to be better, but it’s better to be different.”
It's hard to get a perfect perspective of your target market, but the right tools (and a little bit of effort) go a long way.

Marketing Myopia and Content Marketing Metrics

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:

  • Lead Generation
  • Traffic Volume
  • Revenue
  • Engagements
  • Return Visits

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.

Envision a Content Marketing Strategy

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.

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