Marketing Myopia: How to be Fearless and Responsive as a Business Owner

10 Minutes Read

Marketing myopia refers to the act of your business focusing on the production of your products and services that work at the moment, rather than on the true wants and needs of your customers.

Chances are you know of a business that closed during the pandemic. Might have been one of your own. Either way, it’s tough to think about.

If you’re still in business today, then you probably had to scramble to do things differently. Basically a forced change.


People who have had to change their business and strategy because of the pandemic can tell you that times of hardship tend to lead to new ideas. The change might have forced you to offer a new product or service that you might not otherwise have offered had it not been for COVID-19.

We’ve seen it here at Build Success™ with our customers in growth industries. In order to keep their businesses going, some small business owners had to adapt or die.

Now, conditions are changing again and slowly returning to what we used to call “normal.” And, this is producing an interesting development in how companies are rethinking their marketing production.

Let’s talk about marketing myopia and what every business owner needs to know.



In 1960, Theodore C. Levitt, a German American economist, a professor with Harvard Business School, and editor of the Harvard Business Review coined the phrase.

Marketing myopia refers to the act of your business focusing on the production of your products and services that work at the moment, rather than on the true wants and needs of your customers.

Levitt’s theory suggests that businesses guilty of marketing myopia focus on their short-term growth opportunities and profit while neglecting the wants and needs of their customers. It typically applies to mass production companies, but it certainly doesn’t have to.

The ultimate result of this short-sighted strategy is a failed business. Market forces compel businesses to focus on what customers want and value, and those who do not listen will be driven out.

The marketing myopia definition speaks to a lack of insight into what a business is doing related to its customers’ wants and needs.

Successful companies, on the other hand, continue to ask themselves: What are we really doing right for the customer? When hyper-focused on the needs of customer, businesses make smarter choices with their limited resources.

Whether it’s due to successful growth or as a reaction to the pandemic, marketing myopia causes you to lose sight of the bigger competitive picture of producing a product or service that consumers want and need in the long term.



You could say that marketing myopia is caused by a lack of strong leadership at the top of the organization that is focused on short-term metrics. And, you’d be correct and you could stop right there.

But, let’s try to define it a little more than that.

Since marketing myopia is the inability to see outside of a narrow view on what’s most important for a business, weak leadership will focus only on sales, or customers, or profits in the short term.

Furthermore, it causes business owners and entrepreneurs to make strategic decisions based solely on those short-term metrics without considering other factors that could have a positive impact years into the future.

A lot of times marketing myopia is hard to spot in privately helped companies. Publically traded companies, on the other hand, must report and release quarterly earnings, sales, and other financial metrics, well, to the public. Privately held companies get to hide their mistakes from the public.

Doing so every quarter can lead to mass production of CEOs and other corporate leaders being evaluated for effectiveness every quarter. This is no way to run a company long-term.

Plus, this immediate approach to business is self-deceiving and leads to inefficient use of money, technology, and resources.

In a private company, you might see marketing myopia in the form of a company constantly running a sale or has been going out of business and into bankruptcy for months, and “everything must go”.



What probably happened is at some point the business owner ran a sale and it was a huge success. This caused the business owner to do it again, and again, just to get another pop of revenue. And now consumers are used to and expect, the slim-margin pricing.

The poor owner who returned to the well one too many times is now trapped in this constant vicious cycle of having to run a sale in order to get any attention from the consumer.


Whether it’s your company or other businesses in your industry, you can now probably spot the disease that is marketing myopia.

But what is the main problem that businesses will have to address who face this?

What does marketing myopia do to a business?

To some degree, marketing myopia is a natural side effect of being so immersed in your industry that you’re now an expert in that industry. After all, you’ve been at it in that industry for a long enough time so you’re familiar with everything that’s going on within it.

This means that you know how to do things ‘the right way,’ because you’ve seen what doesn’t work first-hand.

But marketing myopia also has a downside. In order to do everything the ‘right way,’ you can’t try anything new, innovate or experiment with any ideas that might add value to your audience that changes over time.


Because you’re always doing things the way you’ve always done things, you start losing sight of the big picture. You end up being too close to the trees in order to see the forest.

When this happens, new technology, innovation, and new customer preferences escape you and what your company produces.

Marketing becomes stale and ineffective because it’s always following tried-and-true methods that have been put into place before your business was old enough to know better.

To really understand the dangers of marketing myopia, consider that there once was a CEO at a company called Blockbuster Video. You can guess where this story is going, can’t you?

The CEO of Blockbuster Video knew that they were in trouble early on when Netflix entered the market and released their DVD through the mail service.

All of sudden, consumers stopped coming into Blockbuster stores to rent movies. Simply because it was more convenient for the consumer to order DVDs online and have them show up in their mailbox a few days later.

Netflix provided the market with early value and it soon owned the future of digital movie rentals. Blockbuster had to fail. The way it had been selling to consumers was no longer the future or what the world wanted. Marketing myopia.

The main problem that business owners suffer from is adapt or die. It’s your job to recognize this.


According to renowned marketing theorist Theodore Levitt, successful and promising growth industries show a self-deceiving cycle of bountiful expansion and then decay.

But, he also warns that history is destined to repeat itself because our memories are short. We’ve already mentioned Blockbuster Video and Netflix as an example, so let’s talk about others.

For example, the railroad industry is an example of one that failed to grow due to a limited view of the market. Companies weren’t in the railroad indsutry, they were ultimately in the transportation business and missed this distinction.

To ensure a broad market share, companies should define their industries broadly upfront. Does the consumer want more railroads or ultimately cars? They must research and act on customers’ needs and desires for cars, not bank on the presumed belief and longevity of their existing products to sell.

Companies are also at risk of marketing myopia if they are not keeping up with the latest trends in social media and technology.

Technology is another example where only the most adaptable businesses survive.

Nokia’s marketing myopia means that it failed to identify the future needs of its consumers. The company was quickly overtaken by Apple and Samsung, which had correctly predicted that consumers wanted more functional and aesthetically pleasing digital smart devices.

This isn’t what Nokia was selling at that moment and once consumers got a taste of the new way, the way of the iPhone, Nokia lost its audience.



In the near term, you’ll spend your limited resources incorrectly which will accelerate your eventual organizational failure.

You’ll also start to lose talent to other industries or within your own industry because your employees will see the writing on the wall that you aren’t or won’t see.

As we’ve tried to make perfectly clear already, the eventual implication for a business that won’t listen to the consumer and change accordingly is a slow and painful death before you get the chance to sell the business for top money.


Having a better understanding now of what marketing myopia is, you can see from this article why you would want to avoid the condition in your own small business. After all, your limited resources are much more limited than a Blockbuster or a Nokia.

Again, we believe that it’s your job (the leader) to recognize and address this condition as early as possible in your own company.

Based on my own research, the key to staying strategic is shifting your perspective away from yourself and your product or service, and instead focus on the customer and his/her wants and needs.

Levitt backs this up when he wrote that management must think of itself as a customer-creating and customer-satisfying organism.

Here are a few examples that owners and entrepreneurs can take back to their own organizations to avoid marketing myopia.



Remember your Mission and Vision?

Those weren’t taking a short-term view of where you were taking your organization. Instead, those written documents spelled out your long-term game plan. Stick to those.

Yes, it’s important to be flexible and prepared enough to pivot when your research tells you that you need a new direction, but it’s just as crucial that you think about your business plan and development with a long-term vision in mind.

Search out and test new products and services where success is more likely, avoiding those with low odds for return on investment (ROI).



The first step to the development of a successful marketing strategy is knowing your target audience.

Levitt agreed that the more you understand your consumer throughout the entire customer lifecycle, the better equipped you’ll be to stay in tune with them and their needs and deliver an unforgettable customer experience.

For example, try monitoring your consumer churn rate. From your research, answer why your audience is leaving.


Trends can be your friend in the world of business.

If you haven’t done so already, search out and make a list of all your competitors.

What are the two to three companies related to yours that do the best job of marketing to your shared customer?

Now, create a list of what value you believe those companies are delivering with their products and services. Are there any examples of major competitive differences between them and you?

Is their product development and production more innovative than yours? How is their consumer marketing different? Do they spend more or manage their limited resources more conservatively or more aggressively for example?

You can either ignore your competitors and hope for the best, or you can spend some time observing and analyzing them so that you have a better idea of what trends are impacting customer behavior.


The larger, more impactful sources of change that a company will face tend to be from external sources, say, like a pandemic or shifting customers’ needs.

This doesn’t give you an excuse to ignore or discount internal changes that will need managing though.

Getting change management right in an organization is neither easy nor quick. It takes leadership that isn’t afraid of change, knows that it will be coming constantly, and values incredible project managers and people managers to see it through.

It takes resource management too, like time and budgeted funds, for example, to ensure that the process of change management is being carried out properly.

For those organizations who are not skilled in change management or not prepared for internal or external change, the process will be an uphill battle. Hiring a change management consultant will be critical to your success.

Marketing Myopia stands a greater chance of taking a hold of your organization if your organization isn’t change ready.



The difficult part of this condition is often tough to tell if marketing myopia has taken hold of an organization. It’s the proverbial frog in a pot of water when the temperature is slowly being turned up.

There are, however, warning signs that indicate it’s time to take action if leadership isn’t abdicating its responsibilties.

Does your organization actively survey its buyers and ask for feedback? Your buyers will tell you what you’re doing right and what they don’t like, but you have to ask them.

Their answers will spell out the warnings signs that you and your org leaders will need to pay attention to.

And even this act of surveying your buyers won’t guarantee you a win. As the old saying goes, and think this quote is attributed to Henry Ford, but had you asked buyers what they wanted before seeing cars they would have said faster horses.

The point here is buyers aren’t 100% the answer especially in mass-production industries that are due for disruption.

Ask for feedback, listen to it, be free of preconceived notions, and know what it is that you don’t know.


If you’re not careful, marketing myopia can creep up and start to impact the development of your business.

It’s when you focus on one particular aspect of marketing instead of the whole picture that you will get in trouble. It can happen to any business and is usually caused by an organization that doesn’t survey its buyers, or take a broader view in their related marketing efforts, or carries around the belief that it always knows what is best.

It’s the arrogance of believing that you know what your buyers want that may be causing a disconnect between what customers really want and what you offer.

And now that our world is heading back to a more normal-looking economy, it’s the perfect time for you and your team to give this some energy. Look at what you do and how you do it with a fresh set of eyes.

Yes, the reset button was pushed for you and no one asked you if it was ok to push the button in the first place. But you’re here now, and this is the perfect time to fix what was broken.

In my work with small and mid-size businesses, I’ve seen a lot of good people, who have great products or services to offer, make shortsighted decisions that cripple their company’s growth because they simply didn’t see the need for change. It was painful to watch.

Marketing myopia is like an illness that sneaks in when we don’t expect it, and you might not even recognize it even if you were expecting it.

The good news is, it is avoidable.

Sure, it will take you being humble in front of your people but that’s a small price to pay to avoid a failed company.

Like I mentioned above, it will also require leadership to be open to change and willing to commit the resources to manage that change.


How is this sitting with you Mr. or Mrs. business owner? Is your world so chaotic that you can’t see the signs? Or did you lose your passion for the business a long time ago and you wish someone would just kill it for you and call time of death?

Do you need more exposure online; customer feedback isn’t being addressed; sales are down even though product demand seems high… Let’s fix this together before it becomes a business killer!

You’re not alone if you find that your marketing efforts are yielding less and fewer results in your market. These are strange times.

The point is, marketing myopia can creep in and create growth problems. Such as dragging down the power of your messaging as well as its relevance to customers or eating away at your limited resources.

A structured S.W.O.T. exercise might be the perfect solution.

That’s where our free coaching call comes in!

In just one hour with us, we’ll help diagnose any marketing or production problems so you can figure out how to get back on track with your customer.


Picture of Joseph Hollak

Joseph Hollak

Joseph is the Founder of Build Success™ and actively coaches, consults, and trains business owners, founders, partners, and executives. He earned his Master of Science in Organization Development from The University of San Francisco and can be bribed to do almost anything with tacos.