What Knowledge is Useful? > Companies and Functions
Ted Levitt on “Marketing Myopia”
Well, I wrote that on the kitchen table when I lived out in Lexington one night, the first year I was here. I was teaching two sections, 90 people each, three classes a week, for each one of the 90s. No research assistant. Nobody to help grade. I did all the grading. You know, that’s the way it was in those days. It was a heavy load, but I didn’t know it was a heavy load.
So I wrote that Marketing Myopia thing during that year of a lot of learning, and getting started, and having a lot of heavy responsibilities. But, you know, I had gotten in the habit of always trying to think of how to make sense out of something. So I was always writing things like trying to make sense out of things. And seeing the world with a sort of a tipped head, looking at it differently.
And I always had the notion that to understand something, you had to understand a territory. I’d have to walk around the problem, whatever the problem is. Not to go into it and try to get things together, and analyze it, but to walk around, and get familiar with the territory.
And I was teaching that first year of marketing, and I was getting familiar with the territory of marketing, whatever that was. And I didn’t know that, but I was experiencing one of these that I always thought about anything: to surround the problem, walking around, back, and front, and inside out. And while at Standard Oil of Indiana, I wrote a lot about the oil business, and its history and everything.
So Marketing Myopia used the oil business as a primary example of some of the arguments I was making. The energy business, not the oil business, and how they thought. And I used it as an example in that, and the examples I used were pretty devastating, I thought. National Petroleum News had a 50th anniversary edition of the oil retailing business. And so I said, “Well, just look at the table of contents”—the listing of what was in the thing. It started off with oil in the ground, manufacturing, supply and transportation. It never got to retailing, or marketing until the end, as a sort of afterthought. I said, “There you are, that’s one of the problems with that industry.” They think in these linear terms. . . . .
So I used a bunch of examples of what was going on in the oil business, and what their biases were, and their ways of seeing things. And I used that as another part of the examples of what was revealed by the way they thought. . . . .
It was just something I got interested in. I didn’t have any program, Jeff. You know, I followed my nose, and what I heard and saw, and tried to make sense of things. I always asked the question, “What the hell is going on here?” Which is sort of like surrounding an issue, and seeing what the whole thing was about. And so it was apropos of nothing. It just struck me as interesting, and helped explain something about why the retailing in that field, and the site selections, were peculiar. . . . .
It was an immediate impact, because Advertising Age ran a piece on it, a big piece. And then other newspaper columnists, and others doing advertising, got hold of it. And the New York Times had a piece on it, or several pieces, and the Wall Street Journal, and The Economist, and so on. The whole thing. And they all got their source from reading the Advertising Age. Advertising Age gave it a twist: “This is all about advertising.”