“What business are you in?” This is the central question asked by Theodore Levitt, the father of modern marketing in his book, Marketing Myopia. The advice that Levitt shares in this book is timeless and highly relevant today.
Myopia is nearsightedness. In the rush of hitting quotas, dealing with customer problems, and building our businesses we tend to get near-sighted, not able to see the big picture. Even worse, we fall in love with our success, our industry, our company, and our product. As the wisdom of Proverbs says, “Pride comes before destruction and a haughty spirit before a fall.” In Marketing Myopia, Levitt catalogs huge industries that have fallen.
Levitt encourages us to zoom out and ask the big questions that will allow us to see the big picture, lest pride clouds our judgment and we lose our way in the details. Here are some of my key takeaways from this great book.
The Most Important Question
The most important question business leaders should ask themselves on a regular basis is this: “What business am I in?” This simple question is revealing and critical to our success.
Levitt tells the story of the railroad industry. Enamored with their success, the titans of the rails thought that they were in the railroad business. What they failed to recognize is that trains enabled them to do their actual business: moving people and products. Thus, when trucks, cars, and planes came along, offering more convenient and cost-effective ways to move people and products, the railroads suffered a decline.
Had railroad companies recognized they were in the transportation business, they might have dominated the roads and the air as well. Instead, they became a shadow of what they could have been.
What business are you in? A good way to answer this question is to consider what your clients are buying from you. As I say in Revenue Growth Engine, buyers don’t buy products, they buy outcomes. Had the railroads understood that their clients were buying the ability to move people and products, they might have looked at their business differently.
A Nearsighted Company Tends To Emphasize Sales Over Marketing
“Mass production does indeed generate great pressure to move the product. But what usually gets emphasized is selling, not marketing.” When a company becomes focused on the product and not the client, selling leads the way. When a company is focused on the outcomes their clients want, marketing needs a seat at the table.
The role of marketing is to work together with sales to truly understand the outcomes that clients want. “A truly marketing-minded firm tries to create value-satisfying goods and services that consumers will want to buy.” Levitt continues: “Most importantly, what it offers for sale is determined not by the seller, but by the buyer.” In this, the product becomes a consequence of the marketing effort.
This client perspective zooms us out, giving insight into two things. First, it lets us know how to position and sell our current offerings. Second, it opens our eyes to new opportunities. We begin to see other things we could create to help our clients get the outcomes. We begin to reengineer our client experience to help our clients get what they want. This ultimately creates a competitive advantage and sustainability.
The Client Is the Focus
“The view that an industry is a customer-satisfying process, not a goods-producing process, is vital for all business people to understand.” We must intentionally work to see our business through the eyes of our clients. Levitt offers good counsel here: “If management lets itself drift, it invariably drifts in the direction of thinking of itself as producing goods and services, not customer satisfaction.”
We must talk to our clients. Marketing people need to get out in the field (or on Zoom calls) and talk to clients. Executives need to engage with clients. Otherwise, we risk sliding into decline. “The historic fate of one growth industry after another has been its suicidal product provincialism.”
I highly recommend Marketing Myopia by Theodore Levitt. This short book is like a cold glass of water in the face that will shake you out of nearsightedness and help you see the big picture. Otherwise, you risk becoming irrelevant.
Originally Published on Revenue Growth Engine.