Marketing Myopia: Causes, Examples, and Solutions

empty roadside billboard: marketing myopia

In medicine, myopia—or nearsightedness—refers to the inability to clearly see distant objects. For most people, this isn’t a huge issue. Glasses, contact lenses, or corrective surgery can usually solve the problem.

Business owners have to worry about a different kind of myopia: marketing myopia. While marketing myopia doesn’t necessarily spell the end of your business, it can cause you to lose touch with the needs of your target audience, leading to a decline in sales and limited growth potential. Read on to learn more about what it means and how to avoid it.

What is marketing myopia?

Marketing myopia is a term coined in 1960 by the late Harvard Business School marketing professor Theodore Levitt, describing the common mistake of prioritizing short-term goals over long-term growth and prioritizing business needs over customer needs.

In other words, it’s shortsightedness expressed in two dimensions:

  1. Myopic businesses look inward, not outward
  2. Myopic businesses look at the immediate future, not the distant one

How does it impact businesses? 

The impacts of marketing myopia range from poor marketing return on investment (ROI) to total business collapse. Here are a few expected consequences.

  • Poor ROI on marketing efforts. Marketing myopia can cause you to inefficiently allocate marketing budgets, overlooking a cost-effective marketing mix in favor of narrowly focused marketing campaigns, cutting into the returns expected from your efforts.
  • Missed opportunities. Failing to consider what your customers actually need can cause you to miss opportunities to provide products or services in high demand.
  • Vulnerability to industry changes. Changes in consumer preference and technology can rearrange entire industries. If you don’t keep up with industry trends, your products or services risk obsolescence.
  • Poor growth potential. The consequences mentioned above can limit growth opportunities and inhibit long-term success.

What causes marketing myopia?

Falling into the marketing myopia trap is easier than it seems. After all, small business owners need to think about themselves, their products, and their immediate needs—forget to tend to these, and your business can face swift consequences.

Marketing myopia sets in when a business overly focuses on the internal and the immediate at the expense of the external and the long-term. Here are some common contributing factors: 

  • Poorly differentiated goals. A company focused on short-term gains may need clearer short-term, mid-range, and long-term goals.
  • Hubris. A company’s belief in the superiority of its product or services can prevent it from identifying competitive substitutes and planning to improve on competitor offerings.
  • Immediacy bias. Time-sensitive concerns can pull a business owner’s attention away from long-term goals.
  • Stakeholder pressure. Business stakeholders can place a high value on immediate ROI, putting pressure on leaders to prioritize short-term gains over a long-term growth strategy. 
  • Fear of change. Changing your business model can introduce risk, but excessive caution enables myopic tendencies.

Marketing myopia examples

Many formerly successful companies have succumbed to marking myopia. Kodak, for example, failed to anticipate the ascendancy of digital cameras; Blockbuster filed for bankruptcy when video rental stores succumbed to the digital age; and Nokia forfeited dominance in the mobile phone market to Apple’s iPhone.

Marketing myopia isn’t necessarily a death sentence, however. Consider the following two hypothetical examples of how myopic businesses can either fail or recover.

Marketing myopia example: Take a Seat

Consider a hypothetical ecommerce company, Take a Seat, that makes handmade dining chairs. It aims to increase sales of its leading model by 35% over the upcoming year. It dumps its entire marketing budget into promotional strategies, neglecting to conduct market research, consider ROI, and select cost-effective strategies.

Take a Seat reaches its goal in record time, but soon after, sales begin to stagnate. Scrambling to recover, the company introduces folding chairs and barstools made with mass production techniques to bring the new products to market in a hurry. However, because it hasn’t devoted any of its marketing budgets to evaluating consumer needs, the company fails to anticipate that customers are not interested in these new products. As a result, both product launches fail, and the company’s rushed development damages its reputation for providing high-quality products, alienating its existing customer base.

Marketing myopia example: MyDoll

The hypothetical ecommerce company MyDoll makes and sells high-quality dolls for parents with disposable income, with girls aged five to 12. The company sets the short-term goal of introducing a new doll to its collection and increasing market share in the children’s toy market by 3% in the upcoming year. Despite spending its entire marketing budget on a marketing campaign for its new doll, Milly, the product doesn’t catch on. To make matters worse, sales of its other dolls also suffer, resulting in a market share loss by year’s end.

MyDoll decides it’s time to regroup. Although it’s strapped for cash, it hires a marketing professional that specializes in its target audience and market research and comes away with the following actionable insights:

  • Its target audience thinks dolls have little educational value and enforce gender stereotypes. They want high-quality products with educational value, and the demand for toys that enforce gender stereotypes is down across all audience segments.
  • Its target audience values diversity, inclusion, and ethical business practices.
  • Some consumers say they’re put off by the company’s name, which is a homonym for a medicine that alleviates PMS symptoms.

Based on these insights, MyDoll makes the following key changes to its business model: 

  • MyDoll rebrands to OurDoll and launches a new line of dolls representing a diversity of demographics and body types.
  • Recognizing a gap in the market, OurDoll launches a line of gender-neutral dolls and a line of boy dolls, significantly increasing its target audience.
  • The company updates its business practices to align with the values of its target audiences, emphasizing diversity, equity, inclusion, and ethical production practices.
  • OurDoll launches a marketing campaign highlighting the educational value of playing with dolls.
  • To avoid repeating its mistake, OurDoll incorporates marketing research into its business strategy and sets comprehensive long-term goals.

Although these efforts are expensive, OurDoll can reposition itself for 21st-century consumer demands, increase the size of its target audience, and fill an identified market gap, which leads to increased sales and supports long-term growth.

How your business can avoid marketing myopia

Although recovering from marketing myopia is possible, avoiding it altogether is preferable. These strategies can help:

  • Conduct customer and market research. Marketing myopia sets in when a company focuses on itself, not its customers. Embrace marketing researchthat provides information about consumer behaviors and market trends. Survey existing customers, target audiences, and the general public, and be open to shifting your business model or marketing strategy based on what you find. 
  • Create buyer personas. It can be hard to truly focus on the needs of an abstract general audience. Creating buyer personas—fictionalized characterizations of your best customers that mirror your various market segments—can help you identify and implement marketing methods that resonate with your customers.
  • Measure marketing ROI. Ensure your marketing strategies provide a strong ROI—and don’t just help you reach one specific goal. You might find that new strategies, like programmatic ad buying or content marketing, generate conversions for a relatively low cost. Disregard your assumptions about what works, and let the data inform your marketing strategy. 
  • Set goals in reverse. Instead of looking to the next month or next year, set a 10- or 20-year goal, then work backward to establish incremental goals and targets along the way. Working in reverse like this can ensure that short-term goals support long-term growth strategies.
  • Take a step back. Avoiding marketing myopia is about more than individual strategies—it requires a fundamental shift in perspective. Don’t become so immersed in your immediate needs that you lose sight of your consumers, your industry, and changes in the economy. Make time to follow business and financial news and keep up with changes in your industry, and don’t let the day-to-day demands of running your business encroach.

Marketing myopia FAQ

What are some potential consequences of not addressing marketing myopia in a business?

Marketing myopia can have the following consequences:

  • Poor marketing return on investment (ROI)
  • Growth stagnation or company collapse
  • Failure to identify opportunities in the market
  • Reputational damage and alienation of target audiences

How can companies identify if they are suffering from marketing myopia?

To determine if your company is suffering from marketing myopia, try to answer the following questions:

  • What matters most to your target audiences?
  • What problems do your customers face?
  • Are you in a growth industry? What trends, recent innovations, or global events might affect its growth potential?
  • Which of your competitors offers better solutions than you do?
  • Are you sure about these answers? Have you done market research to back them up?

If you can’t answer these questions, your business might suffer from marketing myopia.

Can marketing myopia be reversed once a company has fallen into it?

Yes. Marketing myopia initiates a self-deceiving cycle, meaning identifying it is half the battle. Once you realize you’ve fallen into the marketing myopia trap, use consumer and market research to adjust your business strategy and position your company for long-term growth.

What are some solutions to marketing myopia?

These business strategies can help you address marketing myopia:

  • Conducting customer and market research
  • Creating buyer personas
  • Measuring marketing ROI
  • Checking in with long-term goals