The Legacy of Theodore Levitt: His big idea on ‘marketing myopia’ is more relevant to corporates today than ever Saurabh N. Saklani business world 01july 06
On June 28, 2006, Theodore Levitt, a respected author, marketing expert, and former editor of Harvard Business Review ( HBR ), died at the age of 81 after a long illness. A legendary figure in the area of marketing, Levitt authored eight books on marketing, including Innovation in Marketing (1962) and The Marketing Imagination (1983). He is best remembered for his classic article, Marketing Myopia ( HBR , July-August 1960), which sold 850,000 reprints. This article is particularly worth discussing since it is more relevant today than ever given the degree of globalisation, competition, and scramble for success in the business world. In Marketing Myopia , Levitt had argued that companies often fail or stutter because they define their area of presence too narrowly. He used the example of the railroads and wrote that they "let others take customers away from them because they assumed themselves to be in the railroad business instead of the transportation business." Within this framework, companies discovered new opportunities which they may have missed had they not adopted a broader perspective of their businesses and markets.Levitt's take on marketing myopia may seem common wisdom today but was a phenomenal insight in 1960. Companies today would do well to revisit this notion while defining where they position themselves or where they intend to compete. For instance, if Coke and Pepsi were to position themselves in the beverage industry, it would lead to an entirely different mindset as compared to a positioning in the soft drinks market. And as is well-known, each positioning leads to wholly different ideas and strategies for growth and success. Given the oil prices today, once can see why oil companies have decided to broaden their business perspective from petroleum to energy.I believe that Levitt's lesson is easily transferable onto the sphere of personal growth and development. In this case, positioning our own talents in narrow silos leads to limited options and fewer avenues for success. However, by casting our potential, skills and interests in a wider zone of functioning and adaptability, we will automatically open up a braver, newer and vaster world to compete in. Marketing myopia thus provides sound intellectual ground for objectively assessing whether one suffers from “self-potential” myopia. I think that Levitt's invaluable lesson for companies and individuals alike is to expand the mind's eye while engaging in various endeavours. That, more than anything else, is a key step towards attaining a sense of fulfillment in life.