What is Marketing Myopia and How Marketers Can Avoid It

The simplest way to understand marketing myopia is to look at why 42% of startups failed: No product-market fit.

Those startups focused too much on developing and selling products or services without doing enough research on if what they were selling was what customers really wanted.

Look deeper into marketing campaign failures at established companies, from small startups to large organizations, and you’ll also see a common reason: Not doing thorough research on the target market.

But marketing myopia isn’t just simple as that.

What is marketing myopia?

Coined by Theodore Levitt in 1960, marketing myopia refers to a lack of insights into what a business is doing for its customers.

He warned that organizations invest so many resources in what they currently do that they’re often blind to the future.

They get lulled into thinking consumers will be crazy to have their product, which turns out to be wrong. That shortsightedness distorts their strategic vision: defining their business narrowly in terms of products, not broadly in terms of consumers’ needs.

“When you’re an early-stage startup founder, your job is clear  —  find “product-market fit.” 

—  Rand Fishkin, author of Lost and Founder: A Painfully Honest Field Guide to the Startup World.

That said, we have to admit that today’s marketers have learned about marketing myopia. We’ve watched more successful product launches and marketing campaigns. We’ve seen more problems have had solutions, and customers have been much happier than before.

The question is why 42% of startups still failed due to marketing myopia.

Why in the latest survey of 83 failed startups, Failory still found these shocking statistics:

  • 29 out of 83 projects essentially created something that they later found out no one needed.
  • Out of 46 startups mentioning a marketing problem as the main reason for the failure of the project, 29 said: “what boils down to lack of product-market fit.”
  • The most commonly mentioned lesson by far was that businesses need to validate if the market actually needs what they’re offering. 

Luckily, three researchers from INSEAD, the University of Texas, and Babson College helped us find the answer to those questions.

In an article published in the Journal of Public Policy and Marketing, they pointed out that:

“… marketers have learned this lesson [Levitt’s marketing myopia] too well, resulting today in a new form of marketing myopia.”

According to their arguments, “new marketing myopia” stems from three related phenomena:

  • A single-minded focus on the customer to the exclusion of other stakeholders
  • A failure to recognize the changed societal context of business that necessitates addressing multiple stakeholders
  • An overly narrow definition of the customer and his or her needs

To simplify, think this way:

Today’s customer behaviors are changing. They’re no longer those seeking to satisfy short-term and basic needs. They now care more about their shopping experience, their relationships with brands they’re buying from, and their impact on society and the environment they’re living in.

IBM makes it clearer by dividing 2020 consumers into four groups:

  • Value-driven consumers (41%) want good value, convenience, and products/services to simplify life and are willing to pay for those benefits. They don’t intend to switch habits to reduce negative environmental impacts.
  • Purpose-driven consumers (40%) seek products and brands that align with their lifestyle and those with health/wellness benefits. They’re willing to change their shopping habits to reduce environmental impact and care about issues like sustainability and recycling.
  • Brand-driven consumers (13%) trust brands, and brand is a major factor in their purchasing decisions. They’re willing to pay a premium for assortments that fit their lifestyle.
  • Product-driven consumers (6%) focus on product functionality. They rely on research for nearly any new product purchase. Price and product authenticity both matter.

Marketers suffering from the new marketing myopia don’t see these changes in consumers. Their views are much narrower.

They view a consumer only as “a consumer”  —  a commercial entity always being concerned with getting their money’s worth and selecting brands based on price.

They don’t view the consumer as a citizen, a parent, an employee, or a member of a community with a long-term stake in the future of the planet.

They miss out that personalities, preferences, hobbies, and the like can change across the lifespan, which leads to shifts in human beings’ expectations and behaviors.

“The successful brands of the future will be those that satisfy both the functional needs of consumers and address their concerns as citizens including concerns about the environment and social justice.“ 

—  Unilever

Despite Levitt’s warning, marketing myopia hasn’t disappeared. It’s still here, under different forms.

What marketers should do to avoid marketing myopia

There is a cure for marketing myopia. Here it is:

1. Do the “soulsearching” for your business

How much do you know about your target customers? What are your customers looking for? Which problem does your problem solve? Does it make your customers’ lives easier? Does it make them happier? Does it align with their life philosophy?

By concentrating on meeting customers’ needs rather than selling products, you’ll do better in the end.

Dave Gerhardt, CMO at Privy, said:

“Product/market fit takes care of a lot of meaningless marketing optimizations.”

And, if you have watched Shark Tank much enough (like me), you’ll notice how quickly Lori Greiner can determine if an idea is a hero (or zero).

“The idea is to create something that people can’t live without once they start using it. You want your product to be seen as a must-have necessity, something that makes people feel good and that they’ll still want to buy, even in hard times.”

2. Ensure your marketing is data-driven

Marketing must be data-driven, not based on hypotheses and past experience.

Why?

Because data analytics help marketers learn about their customers with target precision, from the emails they read to the movies they watch on Netflix to their payday.

“The companies that are going to win are the ones who are using data, not guessing.” 

—  Neil Hoyne

But that doesn’t mean you should collect a sea of data because by doing that, you’ll be overwhelmed and not know where to start. Even worse, you may suffer from mental fatigue and tend to revert to assumption-based decision-making.

To get back on track, focus on data that helps you achieve specific marketing goals and use dedicated marketing analytic tools to collect it.

For example, if you need to build customer loyalty, try to gather data from post-purchase touchpoints like customer service logs, social media engagement, reviews, or responses to promotional emails.

Also, think about conducting these analyses:

  • Consumer behavior analysis: Personality traits, psychological responses, social trends.
  • Brand analysis: Brand resonances, brand equity, brand awareness, brand identity, etc.
  • Marketing campaign analysis: Conversion rate, click-through rate, level of engagement, feedback, review, responses, etc.
  • Competitive analysis: Their strengths and weakness, product categories, target audience, etc. What your competitor is doing that you have done and haven’t done.

Marketing myopia happens in businesses of all sizes and types. Any founders, CEOs, or marketers can suffer from it without them being noticed.

To end this post, let’s read one of Jeff Bezos’ famous quotes about building for customers. So much we can learn from him.

“There are many ways to center a business. You can be competitor focused, you can be product focused, you can be technology-focused, you can be business model focused, and there are more. But in my view, obsessive customer focus is by far the most protective of Day 1 vitality.

“Why? There are many advantages to a customer-centric approach, but here’s the big one: customers are always beautifully, wonderfully dissatisfied, even when they report being happy and business is great. 

 — Jeff Bezos, CEO @Amazon 

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