The Marketing Imagination: A book review by Bob Morris

The Marketing Imagination Expanded Edition)
Theodore Levitt
Free Press (1986)

There is no other  single source of greater value…none

Do not be misled by the date of this Expanded Edition: Of the more than 27 gazillion books on marketing now in print, none has had a greater impact than has this one. It is truly a masterpiece.

By way of background, in 1960 (in its July-August issue), Harvard Business Review published “Marketing Myopia” in which Theodore Levitt ties marketing “more closely to the inner orbit of business policy.” Specifically, “Management must think of itself not as producing products but as providing custom-creating value satisfactions.” Companies should be marketing-led rather than production-led. That will happen only if and when there is a total commitment by senior management (and especially by the CEO) to satisfying current customers so that they remain loyal, and, to attracting new customers. Only marketing creates or increases demand. Without demand, there are no customers.

In the same article, Levitt makes an important distinction: “Selling concerns itself with the tricks and techniques of getting people to exchange their cash for your product. It is not concerned with the values that the exchange is all about. And it does not, as marketing invariably does, view the entire business process as consisting of a tightly integrated effort to discover, create, arouse, and satisfy customer needs.” Given this background, you can now place Levitt’s classic in a proper context. “Marketing Myopia” is reprinted within the Expanded Edition, first published in 1986. The chapter titles correctly suggest the scope of the subjects Levitt discusses:

1. Marketing and the Corporate Purpose
2. The Globalization of Markets
3. The Industrialization of Service
4. Differentiation — of Anything
5. Marketing Intangible Products and Product Intangibles
6. Relationship Management
7. The Marketing Imagination
8. Marketing Myopia
9. Exploit the Product Life Cycle
10. Innovative Imitation
11. Marketing and Its Discontents

I now ask you to re-read this list of chapter titles, keeping in mind that Levitt’s comments on each subject were formulated 33 years ago. That is, pre-Web. That is, prior to the widespread understanding and appreciation of positioning, paradigms and paradigm shifts, “customized mass production,” Marketing Value Added (MVA) to create Economic Value Added (EVA), brand equity, product and service differentiation, etc. Also, prior to the rapid emergence of social media.

In essence, marketing means “getting and keeping customers in some acceptable proportion relative to competitors.” That was true in 1986 when Levitt wrote those words and remains true now. However, even if Levitt and all the other major thought leaders in marketing were to collaborate, their collective genius could not create demand for shoddy goods, nor overcome mediocre customer service. The corollary is also true: neither product superiority nor operational excellence has compelling value to customers unless and until “the marketing imagination” manages their perceptions of them.

Here’s one insight among dozens of incalculable value: “People don’t buy a quarter-inch drill. They buy a quarter-inch hole.”

If you need to clarify your own thinking about key issues that include but are not limited to creating or increasing demand for what you offer, Levitt can be of substantial assistance. Also, you will thoroughly enjoy the pleasure of his company.



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