55th anniversary of this classic

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55th anniversary of this classic

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Still regarded as one of the landmark pieces published by Harvard Business Review, Theodore Levitt’s Marketing Myopia is as spot on today as it was when first published in July/August 1960. I first read it as “required reading” when I attended B-School, and make a point of re-reading it every couple of years.

The lessons persist

Though the industry examples given by Levitt are not current, the lessons they teach ring true today. Consider the evolution in the computer industry: from mainframes to minis, client-server, PCs, mobile devices, and now the IoT (Internet of Things) … from clunky on-premises software, to distributed apps, downloadable smart device apps, and the cloud.

Early success and hyper growth lead companies to believe that they are indomitable rock stars whose gaze increasingly slips away from the audience, and becomes confined to the stage. Convinced their “product” has no equals they act like monopolies … until the day that customers see the value shining from another star. Failure to innovate is an eventual death sentence.

Do yourself a favor: read the article

Warning: at 6,000 words Marketing Myopia does not fit neatly into our 140-character world. Yet, be assured: the time spent reading it will be some of the best time you will have spent this month.

Yet, if the thought of digesting 6,000 words is daunting, following summary may help

The Reader’s Digest version

Punchline: customer-focused companies tend to prosper better than product-focused companies.

Why once-successful companies fail: in a word, hubris. More systemically put, a failure to innovate and continue to satisfy customers. A belief that the industry will continue to expand, more buyers will enter the market, scale will confer economic cost advantage, and that the likelihood of competing substitutes is low. All of which leads to …. Complacency.


Look no further than the Fortune 500. In the sixty years since it was first published in 1955, only 71 of the original 500 firms remain on the list.

Technology-related examples: DEC, Sun Microsystems, Borders Books, Xerox, Kodak, MySpace, Blackberry, Blockbuster.

Bottom Line

Marketing is a way of thinking about strategy. “Make what you can sell; don’t merely sell what you can make” is as true today as it was in 1960.

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Written by Michael

Michael Douglas has held senior positions in sales, marketing and general management since 1980, and spent 20 years at Sun Microsystems, most recently as VP, Global Marketing. His experience includes start-ups, mid-market and enterprises. He's currently VP Enterprise Go-to-Market for NVIDIA.

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