Marketing Myopia Revisited

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(The following is a post I published more than six years ago. Given the recent focus on marketing’s responsibility for managing customer experiences and driving growth, the topic is as relevant and timely today as it was in the fall of 2012.)

The Original Post

In 1960, Theodore Levitt wrote a landmark article for the Harvard Business Review titled “Marketing Myopia.” When it was republished in 2004, HBR editors said the article “introduced the most influential marketing idea of the past half century.”

Levitt’s central argument was that companies will cease to grow if they define their business too narrowly – in terms of specific products or services, rather than in terms of customer needs. In a quintessential passage from the article, Levitt explained the decline of railroads in terms that have become part of the business lexicon:

“The railroads did not stop growing because the need for passenger and freight transportation declined. That grew. The railroads are in trouble today not because that need was filled by others (cars, trucks, airplanes, and even telephones), but because it was not filled by the railroads themselves. They let others take customers away from them because they assumed themselves to be in the railroad business rather than in the transportation business.”



The “disease” that Levitt wrote about is still with us, but now, some marketers are also afflicted with another kind of myopia. This new strain of marketing myopia is characterized by an almost exclusive focus on marketing communications and the technologies that support them. As practiced in many companies today, marketing means marketing communications and not much more.

Marketing communications are certainly important, but marketing also has other responsibilities that are essential for business success.

For more than four decades, the term marketing mix has been used to describe the operational aspects of the marketing function. The term became popular in the 1960’s after Neil H. Borden published an article in the Journal of Advertising Research titled “The Concept of the Marketing Mix.” Borden’s marketing mix included product planning, pricing, branding, distribution channels, personal selling, advertising, promotion, packaging, display, servicing, physical handling, and fact finding and analysis. E. Jerome McCarthy later grouped these ingredients into the four categories that we know today as the 4P’s of marketing – product, price, place, and promotion.

The point of this brief history lesson is that marketing has long had a mandate that is broader than marketing communications (promotion). Companies can suffer when marketing ignores these broader responsibilities because, of all the major business functions, marketing is (or should be) the best suited to relate a company to its external competitive environment.

So, if you’re a marketer, give these ideas some thought:

  • Marketing is about communicating your company’s value proposition, but it must also be about determining what those value propositions will be.
  • Marketing is about communicating the important features and attributes of your company’s products or services, but it must also be about determining what features and attributes your products/services need in order to be attractive to buyers.
  • Marketing is about communicating your company’s price-value equation, but it must also be about determining what your company’s pricing strategy will be.


Marketing communications will always be a critical part of the marketing function. But marketers need to keep the other aspects of marketing in mind in order to avoid a bad case of marketing myopia.

A Brief Update

Since my original post was published in 2012, numerous research studies have reported that many marketing leaders believe they are (or soon will be) primarily responsible for managing end-to-end customer experiences. Recent studies have also shown that a growing number of marketing leaders now believe they are primarily responsible for driving business growth, and that other senior executives largely agree with that view.

It seems clear, therefore, that marketing leaders recognize that the scope of marketing’s responsibilities needs to expand. It’s also clear, however, that this particular transformation in marketing is still a work in progress. For example, in the February 2019 edition of The CMO Survey, only 42.4% of respondents said that marketing is leading customer experience efforts in their organization, and only 43.4% reported that marketing is leading revenue growth efforts.

Earlier this year, I published a series of posts discussing the growth challenge facing marketers, and exploring what marketers need to do to effectively drive growth. You can read more about this vital topic here:

Marketing myopia may be less prevalent today than it was six years ago. The big challenge now is to translate the improved “vision” into tangible actions.



Image courtesy of Rob via Flickr CC.

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