We always know when an HBR article hits the big time. Journalists write about it, pundits talk about it, executives route copies of it around the organization, and its vocabulary becomes familiar to managers everywhere—sometimes to the point where they don’t even associate the words with the original article. Most important, of course, managers change how they do business because the ideas in the piece helped them see issues in a new light.
“Marketing Myopia” is the quintessential big hit HBR piece. In it, Theodore Levitt, who was then a lecturer in business administration at the, introduced the famous question, “What business are you really in?” and with it the claim that, had railroad executives seen themselves as being in the transportation business rather than the railroad business, they would have continued to grow. The article is as much about strategy as it is about marketing, but it also introduced the most influential marketing idea of the past half-century: that businesses will do better in the end if they concentrate on meeting customers’ needs rather than on selling products. “Marketing Myopia” won the McKinsey Award in 1960.
Every major industry was once a growth industry. But some that are now riding a wave of growth enthusiasm are very much in the shadow of decline. Others that are thought of as seasoned growth industries have actually stopped growing. In every case, the reason growth is threatened, slowed, or stopped is not because the market is saturated. It is because there has been a failure of management.