What Are the Dangers of Marketing Myopia?

Maggie Worth

Myopia is the medical term for nearsightedness. Marketing myopia, then, refers to marketing practices that are short-sighted or turned in toward the self rather than being forward-looking or created with outside factors in view. This type of marketing is generally considered undesirable. It inclines a business to focus on what it wants rather than what the client wants and tends to create a culture that is resistant to change. Both often result in a loss of reputation, a loss of business, and inefficient business practices.

Businesswoman talking on a mobile phone
Businesswoman talking on a mobile phone

The term "marketing myopia" may have been coined by Harvard Business School emeritus professor of marketing, Theodore C. Levitt, who wrote an article called "Marketing Myopia" for a 1960 issue of the Harvard Business Review. In this article, he proposed that businesses develop marketing myopia because they fail to question themselves frequently and often assume they know the answers to such vital questions as "what business are we in?" The philosophy of the time was that the answer to such questions was self-evident. Levitt suggested that these answers were not obvious, and that by exploring them, a business could more adequately serve its customers, thereby growing its business.

For example, a company that has traditionally manufactured springs used in retractable pens might say that it is in the business of manufacturing pen springs and will probably market itself as a pen spring manufacturer. By doing so, it limits itself and its market. Worse, it has trained potential clients to think of the business only in terms of pen springs. The company has developed marketing myopia. It is looking only at its past and is assuming that its current business market will sustain it in the future.

This type of thinking is extremely dangerous. Should retractable pens suddenly become obsolete, this company would have nothing left to sell. It is, after all, a pen spring manufacturer. This is how it thinks of itself and how its clients think of it. Now that the pen spring market has dried up, there are no more clients.

If that same company had not had such a short-sighted, narrow view of its purpose, two things would have happened. First, they would have been carefully watching factors outside their business, such as market trends and consumer preferences. They would have seen the downfall of pen springs coming and would have prepared a contingency plan so that the business would continue to thrive despite the market shift.

Second, they would have asked themselves what business they were in and would probably have realized that they were actually in the business of making coiled wire. This would have allowed them to consider what other types of products might use their coiled wire and to diversify their client base. When the pen spring market crashed, their company would have had other markets to turn to for business.

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