In 1960, a game-changing article appeared in Harvard Business Review entitled ‘Marketing Myopia’. More than half-a-century later, what the author Theodore Levitt said is as relevant as ever. He called, very simply, for marketing people to see their businesses through a new pair of glasses. He asked them to shed the myopia of looking inward and question what business they were really in.
One example Theodore Levitt gave was of the railroads experiencing a falling off in growth. They did not stop growing because the need for passenger and freight transportation declined, he pointed out. That need was growing and being filled by other modes of transportation such as cars, trucks and airplanes. Railroads let others take customers away from them because they thought of themselves as being in the railroads business rather than the transportation business. In another example he pointed out that people don’t buy petrol. What they buy is a right to keep driving their cars.
Or take Hollywood faced by the onslaught of television. The studios felt threatened and many closed down almost overnight. The problem was not the entry of television per se but the studios’ myopia. They were seeing themselves as being in the business of making movies while, in fact, they were in the entertainment business. Those who looked through the right pair of glasses saw television as an opportunity to expand their business to reach a larger home audience and undertook a major reorganization to meet that need.
What companies need is a new focus. They have to think of themselves not as providing this or that product or service but of meeting a customer need. An entirely different ball game. This means going beyond selling. It means a concerted effort to discover what the customer really wants and match your product or service to meet it.
With this focus, the entire organizational culture will undergo a change. The question will not just be how do we improve this product, how do we add new features, how do we make it cost efficient? The question will be, how do we create customer satisfactions? What new or hidden desires can we satisfy and how can we adapt our product to satisfy these needs? This kind of customer-oriented thinking needs to permeate through the organization. It should promote a new attitude within the organization, starting at the top and going down to the lowest employee.
It all boils down to the difference between marketing and selling. And, here again, Levitt clearly makes the distinction.”The difference between marketing and selling is more than semantic,” he says. “Selling focuses on the needs of the seller, marketing on the needs of the buyer.”
When we put on the right glasses, we see the company as a customer-satisfying business. This is far more exciting and challenging than perfecting the art of selling. With that bottle of perfume, you are selling romance and seduction. A diamond stops being a block of carbon with the promise “A diamond is forever.” When we deep-dive to discover the real need, a whole new world of opportunity opens up.