Marketing myopia is an easy organizational illness to contract. It begins with symptoms such as lack of vision and narrow profit margins. As the sickness spreads, companies forget the customer, focus solely on selling, and forget about tomorrow in favor of surviving today. The cure is widely available – yet few organizations want the treatment.
Does this ailment sound familiar to you? Business owners and marketers need to safeguard their organizations against adopting this dangerous syndrome. Whether you’re looking for inoculation or a cure, adopting these five strategies can keep your business in good marketing shape now and in the future.
What is Marketing Myopia?
Marketing myopia is a concept first introduced in a research paper written in 1960. The author, Theodore Levitt, was a prominent American economist and professor at Harvard Business School. In his essay, Levitt sought to give a name to a prevailing mindset he saw developing in companies he studied. His work is hailed by many as bringing about the birth of the modern marketing movement!
This mindset, which he dubbed “marketing myopia,” refers to when companies become complacent and lose vision of what their customer really wants. This inevitably leads to a halt in growth and a decline in profits – often leading to the eventual death of the company.
To combat marketing myopia and maintain a healthy growth culture, Levitt proposed the following:
- Never accept that your product/service will remain in demand forever.
- Listen to the customer’s needs and wants continually.
- Act on giving the customers what they want.
Levitt also stated that marketing myopia is almost always brought on not by a lack of effort from employees, but from a lack of leadership and vision from management.
Examples of Marketing Myopia
History contains several examples of companies that fell victim to a lack of vision and a false sense of product/service immortality. Examining these stories and understanding where things went wrong can keep your organization from adopting the same mindset!
The king of video rentals began in 1978 with a revolutionary idea: allow customers to rent videos of popular movies instead of purchasing them. The plan had succeeded on a smaller scale up to this point, but founders Dave and Sandy Cook went all-in on the idea, opening a new store every 24 hours less than a decade later.
Thanks to a firm conviction to monitoring industry trends, Blockbuster continued to innovate by expanding its rental selection to include video games, music, and pop culture memorabilia. The company even explored opening a theme park and purchasing movie studios to create and provide exclusive content to customers.
As chains were absorbed and competition disappeared, Blockbuster began adopting symptoms of myopia. They correctly identified growing threats to their continued growth but did little to evolve.
- Cable television continued to grow throughout the 1990s, allowing viewers to consume content without taking a trip to the store. The company decided against investing in its own cable company to diversify.
- The rise of DVDs didn’t stop Blockbuster from turning down an opportunity to hold exclusive rights to their distribution. Up-and-coming chain Walmart stepped in instead and reaped the immense profits.
- In 2000, the founder of Netflix approached Blockbuster’s CEO and offered to sell his DVD-on-demand and eventual streaming service for $50 million. Sticking with the outdated idea that it was a “very small niche business,” Blockbuster turned down his offer.
A company that held almost monopolistic control over the video rental industry failed to adapt their business model. They ignored the changing social and technological trends until it was too late. What’s left of Blockbuster? Some outdated cultural references in older movies and one store in Bend, Oregon.
In 1994, two Stanford University grads launched a new digital service entitled Jerry and David’s Guide to the World Wide Web. It was later renamed Yahoo. In the early days of the Internet, finding content was difficult, and the innovative idea of establishing an online directory and search engine took off immediately.
Yahoo had no shortage of competitors throughout the next decade and adjusted its business model to reflect new areas of growth based on customer feedback and market trends.
- They invested heavily in their search engine’s abilities and became the most popular starting point for web users by 1998.
- In October 1997, Yahoo purchased a small startup called RocketMail and soon after unveiled a new free email service – a new concept at the time.
- The company got into web hosting by purchasing GeoCities in 1999. Why? To encourage and support the creation of more user-generated websites.
- A purchase of startup Broadcast.com positioned Yahoo as the leader in the emerging internet radio space.
By the early 2000s, Yahoo was THE tech giant, with a valuation of $100 billion. That empire soon began to crumble, as they became complacent and lost vision of what their customer really wanted.
- To focus on emerging trends more closely, Yahoo turned over management of their primary money maker, their search engine services, to an emerging company named Google. They had the opportunity to purchase the company for just $1 million but decided not to.
- With declining user shares and an unfocused business plan, Yahoo had the chance to absorb into another tech giant, Microsoft. The company rejected its offer, instead deciding to continue on its own.
- The company tried to get into the social media space well after other platforms were well-established, wasting $1.1 billion on purchasing Tumblr.
An industry giant during the Internet’s coming of age; Yahoo has dropped from a $100 billion valuation in 2000 to just under $5 billion. Verizon now owns the company. Google beat them at their own game due to a failure to focus and listen to their customer base.
RadioShack began in 1921 because two brothers wanted to supply parts for the emerging ham radio hobby market. The company grew, identifying the high fidelity music and ship communications industries as prime growth areas. Their early expansion efforts embraced “customer first” ideas, including:
- Offering mail-order catalogs.
- Creating high-quality private label products for enthusiasts.
- Providing individual components for people to fix and improve existing devices instead of purchasing new ones.
- Opening stores across the country for easy access to inventory.
- Offering new, exciting products such as the home telephone and short-wave radios.
The company embraced its designation as “America’s technology store” and took the responsibility seriously until complacency led to a lack of vision for the company.
Radioshack found itself in a tough situation as the 21st century rolled in. Demand for individual electronics parts was on the decline as the “throw-away” culture took hold. The company made some decisions that ultimately led to its demise by halting their attentiveness to today’s profits over tomorrow’s survival.
- The company sold off all its manufacturing plants and stopped producing their own branded components.
- RadioShack entered into exclusivity deals with companies to only sell one brand of product, including agreements with Verizon and Dish Network.
- They failed to establish a reliable online store until well after Amazon and eBay were industry leaders.
- An abandonment of the “do-it-yourselfer” audience that made them a household name.
The electronic parts giant had 7,000 stores across the U.S. by 1970 but didn’t adapt to changing consumer behavior until it was too late to stop the company’s freefall. They filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2016.
A former “king of the hill” company, Kodak was known for its cutting-edge products and industry-pushing technology. At their peak, they employed 145,000 people. But some vast missteps in embracing the evolution of digital and diversifying their product has brought the once-proud king to its knees.
The company is a vintage photograph of its former self. The company sold its valuable patents, shuttered buildings and sold property, and looked for a quick fix to stay atop of a declining industry. They filed for bankruptcy in 2012 and are attempting a comeback by creating a cryptocurrency for photographers to have more control of their image rights. Unfortunately, no one wants to hop on a sinking ship.
Subway is still the world’s largest restaurant chain, but the warning signs have been going off for the past 2-3 years. The company’s explosive growth and monopolistic hold on the fast-food sub must have lured their visioning people into a myopic state because people are looking elsewhere for healthier, fresher, better-tasting food.
Recent evidence of unhealthy chemicals and a rise in better food choices forced Subway to close almost 1,000 stores in 2017. That number continued in 2018. Will leadership be able to wake up and change course in time?
Preventing Marketing Myopia
When mapping out your company’s tomorrow, filter every decision through the lens of who it’s meant to serve. If the company isn’t at the center, rethink the value of the idea. If you’re looking for an inspirational example of a company that fought off the onset of marketing myopia, look no further than the fast-food chain Wendy’s.
The company had no social media or digital presence as of 2012. As more and more modern-minded chains began crowding the industry, their sales and reputation were dipping year over year. That’s when the company re-focused by hiring and enabling inbound marketing to guide their brand forward.
Brandon Rhoten, vice president for digital and social media for Wendy’s, stated, “We had a lot of banner ads and a few thousand followers, but there was no one to lead. We were never mentioned in the same breath as anyone who knew what they were doing.”
In the span of fewer than five years, Wendy’s Twitter account went from a few thousand followers to more than three million. More importantly, their customer conversations went from a few hundred a week to thousands a day!
Examining former industry giants is a beneficial exercise in that we see what NOT to do when planning a future roadmap. While budgets, circumstances, and industry trends may differ in these examples, one common thread does remain: a focus on the customer’s needs and wants.
If you can consistently ensure your customers are satisfied, your organization will experience consistent sales growth, both in the short and long-term. Anchor your growth in a satisfied customer and inoculate yourself against marketing myopia!