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Marketing Myopia

(February 14, 2007)
What do you call the tendency of companies to lose sight of their business? In 1960, Theodore Levitt published an article called Marketing Myopia (pdf) in the Harvard Buisiness Review.

Marketing myopia is a term used in marketing. Indeed, one of the most important marketing papers ever written [[1]] was that on `Marketing Myopia' by Theodore Levitt. This paper was published in the Harvard Business Review; a journal of which he was an editor. Some commentators have even gone as far as to suggest that its publication marked the beginning of the modern marketing movement in general. Its theme was that the vision of most organizations was constricted in terms of what they, too narrowly, saw as the business they were in. It exhorted CEOs to re-examine their corporate vision; and redefine their markets in terms of wider perspectives. It was successful in its impact because it was, as with all of Levitt's work, essentially practical and pragmatic. Organizations found that they had been missing opportunities which were plain to see once they adopted the wider view. The impact of the paper was indeed dramatic. The oil companies (which represented one of his main examples in the paper) redefined their business as energy rather than just petroleum; although Shell, which embarked upon an investment programme in nuclear power, subsequently regretted this course of action. (Wikipedia)

"Myopia, or nearsightedness also known as short sightedness, is a refractive defect of the eye in which collimated light produces image focus in front of the retina when accommodation is relaxed." (Wikipedia) In other words, Myopia is is dysfunction that makes it hard to see things that are close up.

The tendency for a company to have a myopic view of its business and competitive environment is a natural thing. What Levitt did in his article is something that needs to happen again and again in cycles of corporate renewal. We ware all predisposed, by virtue of being human, to turn vibrant things into repeatable processes. This narrowing, or focusing, is the essence of one part of the management process.

The counterbalancing technique is to keep expanding the horizon. Taking in new ideas, enlarging the sphere of discourse, expanding the definition of the core business. These are the things that leaders do to keep their heads out of the sand (or other dark places).

Marketing Myopia hits different parts of the Recruiting Ecology in different ways. Here are some classics:

  • Third Party Recruiters come to believe that Recruiting is only an art form and that process and proceduralization are a fantasy.
  • Newspapers believe that the way they've always done things is good enough for the future.
  • Applicant Tracking System providers believe that their installation processes, in fact, capture a useful slice of the company culture.
  • Job Boards pooh-pooh the Web 2.0 phenomenon.
  • The Web 2.0 players think that if they get the technology, so will the rest of the market.
  • Early adopters believe that the world they inhabit is relevant to the rest of the industry.

Yesterday's article, which showcased a non-industry based move to enlarge the sphere of job boards, was a small attempt to highlight the risks of Marketing Myopia to incumbent players.

John Sumser © TwoColorHat. All Rights Reserved.
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