Last updated November 11, 2019

I have a confession.

I suffer from a condition known as myopia.

If anything is more than ten feet away from me I have trouble seeing it. It’s also known as nearsightedness.

It’s the same way some people look at marketing.

Many businesses have had to close their doors because they were, without their knowledge, practicing marketing myopia.

In this article, we’ll look at what marketing myopia is and the impact it can have on your business. More importantly, I’ll share a way to move beyond marketing myopia and build what your customers love to achieve lasting success.

What is marketing myopia?

The phrase was coined in 1960 by Theodore C. Levitt. It’s a theory that states companies focus on their needs and short term growth strategies. They neglect the needs and wants of their customers and fail as a result.

In short, businesses are busy selling what they have instead of improving it based on what their customers tell them. The market votes with its wallet and will force anyone out of business who doesn’t meet its needs.  

The perfect example of this is Blockbuster. People were leaving the video rental service behind and instead of making the painful changes needed to survive, they buckled under the pressure.

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There are countless examples just like this. Huge as well as small businesses were doing well for a period but failed to adapt to changing times and were left in the past. A few examples:

  • Circuit City
  • Nokia (Microsoft bailed them out)
  • JCPenny
  • Kodak

These are just the notable ones. There are countless small businesses that’ve failed under similar circumstances.

What causes it when people should know better?

What causes marketing myopia in the first place

There are many reasons. Some say hubris and some say it’s naiveté. In reality, it’s a mix of both. One of the most common causes is the business landscape.

Growth industries

In the mid to late ninety’s the internet was the only place to be. If you opened a website and got a few people to visit it then investors would be throwing millions of dollars your way.

It didn’t last long.

Almost overnight, the bubble burst and billions of dollars in value were wiped out. It’s not that the companies weren’t innovating – they were. It was innovation in the wrong direction. They created products people didn’t truly want or were too far ahead of their time.

source

Webvan tried to pioneer online grocery delivery and was valued at over a billion dollars with 4,500 employees. They couldn’t get their business model or message right and went bust in two years.

In 2010, Bitcoin was worth $100. At the beginning of 2018, it peaked at nearly $20,000 a pop. If you would’ve invested $20,000 in 2014 and sold at the peak, you’d be a millionaire many times over.

Bitcoin is a bit abstract and it’s not technically a business. The Dot Com Bubble was almost two decades ago. We’ve learned from our mistakes right?

Not exactly.

Just a few years ago, Juicero received millions of dollars from investors and was considered a Silicon Valley darling. It produced an expensive juicing machine with expensive refill packs. It said the packs needed to be squeezed under high pressure only the juicing machine could produce.

Those claims were proven wrong by two reporters from Bloomberg who squeezed the packs by hand.

https://youtu.be/5lutHF5HhVA

It suffered from marketing myopia because it fooled their customers in the hopes of short term gain. Did it believe no one would ever try to squeeze the packs by hand?

I wouldn’t buy a $500+ juicing machine that didn’t juice fruit, but if I did, my son would be the first one to squeeze the things by hand when I wasn’t looking.

The mystery would’ve been solved and millions of dollars saved.

Oh well.

Lack of competition

Innovation is expensive because you invest a lot of money for products and services that may not catch on.

If no one can challenge you and people are patronizing you, there’s no incentive to innovate. You can get by doing what you’ve always done.

Eventually, competition will come out of the woodworks and even though they may not be as cheap as you, they can compete on different aspects.

An example of competition is Google and DuckDuckGo. While it’s not hurting Google’s revenue, it’s a viable option if people don’t want to be tracked while using search engines.

A more serious example would be Standard Oil or the railroads in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. John D. Rockefeller created one of the most successful companies to have existed up until that time.

They controlled the entire value chain from production to distribution and the competition simply couldn’t stay afloat. The ones who tried were bought or run into the ground.

Source

Eventually, the Supreme Court stepped in and disbanded the company in 1911.

During its most successful years, oil was cheap but there was no incentive to develop products that meet the needs of its customers or deliver top tier service. Either you bought what it produced or you didn’t. End of story.

It felt it was untouchable and its marketing myopia combined with the public outcry was its downfall.

Even if there’s no competition, continually innovate so when you do encounter competitors, you’ll be lightyears ahead of them.

Shifting consumer trends

They say the only constant in the world is change. In the 20’s women were required to wear skirts that were a certain length.

Now, well, that’s not the case.

People change. Things go in and out of style. Technology improves. In the early 2000s we were using AOL in my house. Now, I’m streaming Netflix on my LED TV.

As long as we have the ability to make decisions and change our minds, no product will last forever.

Do you remember fidget spinners? They were all the rage a few years ago.

https://youtu.be/Ge_22K0UTIY

Now, it’s part of a niche movement and most people can’t be bothered.

If you don’t keep an eye on the pulse of your industry and where people are headed, you’ll be left behind. It doesn’t matter if you’re doing a hundred dollars a year in revenue or a hundred million a year in revenue.

Implications of marketing myopia

You go out of business.

That made me chuckle.

The reality is that marketing myopia can eventually cause your business to fail. It doesn’t happen overnight.

First, customers become dissatisfied with an aspect of the product or service delivery. They’ll reach out, complain on social media, and a few will leave.

Over time, it compounds. Reviews turn negative, it’s harder to acquire new customers, and business gets worse.

That’s the tail end of it all. A business that fails to evolve fails. It’s pretty simple. Let’s say you used to solve the need of getting from point A to point B. At first, you did it with horses. After a while, you started to do it with trains. Finally, you adopted busses.

Now, your customers want planes. They’re expensive and you’re not interested so you ignore them. For a while, people will continue to use the trains and buses but more and more will leave you because they don’t want to use a bus to cross the country.

How to move beyond marketing myopia

In a word, customer development.

As far as marketing myopia is concerned, this is the universal panacea. The reason why marketing myopia affects businesses is that they lose touch with their customers.

Customer development makes sure you’re always abreast of the wants and needs of your customers.

There’s one note about customer development though, you can’t truly innovate if you only follow what they say.

Before there were cars, if you asked someone what they needed to get from point A to point B with more comfort and speed, they would’ve told you to breed faster horses.

When cars came along, horses were replaced in short order.

Understand the job your customer needs to get done but also think of novel ways to achieve the end goal. It’s a difficult road to tread but no one said your business would be easy.

Look at and understand their jobs to be done

We each have a job we want to get done when we buy a product or service.

You buy a pair of jeans to clothe you when you’re going out to the park as well as a night on the town. The jeans you wear for each occasion are different.

You may wear a suit to an important meeting.

Someone signs up for KyLeads to finish a different job. There are a few, segmenting their audience, capturing leads, and understanding their wants. It’s an intermediate step between interacting with their brand and becoming a customer.

People stop by Starbucks in the morning to drink coffee but the job they’re getting done is filling their stomach. If there’s a better or more convenient way to do that same job then they’ll ignore Starbucks.

I recommend the insightful book When Coffee and Kale Compete by Alan Klement to better understand the Jobs To Be Done Theory.

Only one solution can fulfill a job at once. Make sure it’s yours.

Customer development surveys

A great way to find out what people want from you is to run customer development surveys. There’s a lot of information about it around the internet so I won’t go too deep.

Here’s the basic premise.

You ask your existing and potential customers a series of questions about your products and services to better understand how they’re using it and how they feel about it.

Don’t send it to your entire customer base at once. Rather, segment them into different groups based on demographic qualities, psychographic qualities, or even behavioral markers. The choice is yours but make sure you’re tracking who’s getting the survey and why.

  • Optimize for the most engaged users, not the largest group
  • Ask open-ended questions that lead your survey takers
  • Request a phone follow up after the survey
  • Don’t put too much explanatory text or you’ll risk leading your customers
  • Keep them short and to the point. You can get more detail in the follow up call.

Conclusion

Marketing myopia has real implications in your business. If you’re not aware of it then a slow decline can set in right under your nose.

Knowing it exists isn’t enough though. It’s important to take action to prevent it from affecting your bottom line.

There’s a simple two-step process you can employ:

  1. Understand your customer’s Jobs To Be Done
  2. Send out regular customer development surveys and have conversations

Let me know what you think about marketing myopia in the comments and don’t forget to share.