We marketers, and usually sales people talk endlessly about putting ourselves in the shoes of those to whom we are communicating, and seeking to serve. It is absolutely right that we do, but then we stuff it up.

We do that by the way we define the industry we are in.

Go to any network meeting, and I (almost) guarantee nobody will define the industry they inhabit from the perspective of those they are seeking to serve.

They are lawyers, or Architects, or Insurance brokers, and so on. None will define what they do by the outcome for their customers.

Examples of the great miss-definitions abound, but two stand out.

Kodak was in the late nineties one of the great successful companies sitting on a mountain of cash, dominating an industry they defined as ‘Film’. They were so successful their advertising slogan persists to this day, we all know what a ‘Kodak moment’ is, well all over 40 do anyway. In 1975 Kodak engineer Steven Sasson invented the first digital camera, which Kodak patented, and later collected billions on the royalties until expiry in 2007. They even commercialised the technology for Apple under the brand ‘Apple QuickTake’, and even then failed to see the writing on the wall. In 2012 Kodak was made bankrupt, although it has since emerged as a different company.

Blockbuster, what a Lulu of failed strategic sight that is, although it is always easy with the benefit of hindsight. At their height, Blockbuster had 50 million members worldwide, thousands of stores, and were a critical link in the movie money making chain. In 2001, the fledgling  Netflix approached Blockbuster, seeking to sell their business into them, and run the online part of Blockbuster, for just $50 million. CEO John Antico had been looking at ways to experiment with on line delivery, and supported the idea. He had made some changes to blockbuster,  like removing the profitable late fees that penalised customers, but failed to get the deal with Netflix through his board, and it ultimately cost him his job. His successor led the business into oblivion by bowing to  the board, reintroducing the hated late fees,  and allowing the power of incumbency, and the aversion to change, to prevail.

You do not have to be a huge business to be caught by this definitional challenge that pervades the way you think, unconsciously driving the decisions you make. A client of mine is a printer, a modest sized family business that has been around for 60 years. They see themselves in an industry that has been significantly disrupted by digital, and while there is still plenty of printing being done, the volumes are modest compared to those of a decade ago, and  the prices and margins are very slim. They acknowledge they are printers playing a role in the communication industry, but they still think and act like commodity printers. At least however, they have made a start in the mindset change which drives behaviour, and which eluded Blockbuster and Kodak.

Blockbuster saw themselves in the video rental industry, not as a part of the entertainment industry to the end, and Kodak was in the film industry, not the memories industry, until they weren’t.

Marketing Myopia, a term coined in 1960 by Theodore Levitt in his seminal HBR article of the same name remains alive and well, just harder to recognise.