Review of "Marketing Myopia" by Theodore Levitt


Dilanka Wickramasinghe


Theodore Levitt's "Marketing Myopia," published in 1960 in the Harvard Business Review, revolutionized the way businesses looked at their operations and strategies. This fundamental study won the McKinsey Award and it introduced the famous question, "What business are you really in?". Levitt's perception resulted in a fundamental shift in business strategy, encouraging companies to focus on customer needs rather than just selling their products.

Levitt mainly stressed that the reason for the failure of a business is not due to market saturation, but because of a lack of foresight and understanding of customer needs by management. He also emphasized that having a broad idea about the business scope and accurately measuring customer needs is very important. He mentioned that if a company fails to adapt to changing market conditions, it can lead to a decline in the industry.

Levitt illustrated his points by using compelling case studies. He set a prime example about the decline of the railroad industry to explore his points. His line of reasoning was that the reason for the railroad industry's downfall was its failure to see itself as part of the broader transportation sector rather than a decrease in the need for transportation. This failure caused missed opportunities in emerging transportation modes such as automobiles and airplanes sectors.

He also explored other industries like petroleum which is an older growth industry. The lack of innovation, research and development of existing product lines and the inability to adjust accordingly to the changes in marketing demands caused a huge impact on the petroleum industry.

Levitt criticized the application of the mass production model in the automobile industry by highlighting the lack of customer focus that led to the industry's decline. This model prioritizes maximizing production over adapting to customer preferences. As a result, it created a disconnection between product offerings and market needs due to the overshadowing of marketing by production.

Similarly, he presented an argument suggesting that overindulgent focus on technical research and development can lead to a disconnect between product offerings and market needs. Levitt's article remains applicable even today’s context because it emphasizes the importance of vigilance in business strategy. His work underscores the necessity of being customer-centric in businesses, not just in their marketing activities but in overall strategic outlook, which can lead to an increase in the industry.

Levitt's theory can be applied beyond traditional product-based industries. His arguments are based on principles of customer focus and market adaptation. These theories are relevant to various kinds of industries, such as service-oriented industries. The overall idea is to understand the core need that a business fulfills and to be aware of the changes in these needs evolve over time.

Levitt's insights expand significantly within the framework of the digital age. The evolution of e-commerce, digital marketing, and social media has revolutionized how businesses engage with their customers. Failure to adapt to these digital channels set down companies at risk of becoming obsolete and compromise their relevance. He consistently emphasized the importance of aligning with market dynamics and making necessary adjustments to remain competitive and responsive to changing consumer needs.

Levitt's theory has gained broader applicability and relevance due to the impact of globalization. Companies have expanded their businesses from local markets to a global stage. This emphasizes the significance of being more observant to the diversity of customer needs and preferences, which can vary across cultures and regions, further emphasizing a customer-centric approach.

Levitt's principles seamlessly synchronize with the sustainability within the realm of business. In an era where companies aim for long-term success through sustainable practices, it's no longer solely about fulfilling immediate customer demands but also paying more attention to bringing up practices that actively contribute to the betterment of society and the preservation of our environment.

The relevancy of Theodore Levitt's "Marketing Myopia" set its place as a foundational mark in marketing and business strategy. Its core is centering on customer focus, and market adaptability. The importance of strategic foresight remains as relevant today as it was over six decades ago. Levitt's legacy underscores the importance of understanding and adapting to customer needs, a fundamental principle vital to the success of any business, regardless of its scale, industry, or market presence.

It's crystal clear that Levitt's ideas aren't just based on historical observations, they're also applicable to today's business concepts. Levitt's original ideas, centered on customer-centric business models, prioritizing user experience in product design, and emphasizing customer satisfaction metrics in measuring business performance, reflect modern trends. These current practices trace their roots back to the foundational concepts Levitt proposed, showcasing the enduring relevance and influence of his insights on modern business practices. We can see most of the successful businesses have followed Levitt's concepts by deeply understanding their customers and making adjustments according to their needs.

In conclusion, Levitt's "Marketing Myopia" remains an invaluable asset for businesses aiming for enduring growth and significance. It serves as a guiding light that takes in and meets the ever-changing needs of customers, and these principles are not limited by temporary boundaries or technological advancements.