Levitt; More than Railways, the Father of CX?

Years ago, as my career transitioned from being a technologist to content marketing I was recommended to read “Marketing Myopia” by Theodore Levitt, an essay written for Harvard Business Review back in 1960.

Here’s the description from HBR:

In it, Theodore Levitt, who was then a lecturer in business administration at the Harvard Business School, 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

This week I turned back to this essay (I have the printed book) when researching another article. To be honest I was looking to do what everyone else does when they refer to this work and refer to the importance of knowing, as a marketer, what business you are really in – the idea that Levitt is most often quoted on.

But, if you read the essay in full, you discover that you could make the case for Levitt being the father of the current cool kids who’s names are on the lips of the C suite and industry analysts: Customer Experience and Customer Centricity.

As he concludes the essay, after stepping through a number of industry examples (not just railways) he swings around to recommendations for the CEO, as a leader in the business and he states:

…the entire corporation must be viewed as a customer-creating and customer-satisfying organism. Management must think of itself not as producing products but as providing customer-creating value satisfactions. It must push this idea (and everything it means and requires) into every nook and cranny of the organization. It has to do this continuously and with the kind of flair that excites and stimulates the people in it. Otherwise, the company will be merely a series of pigeonholed parts, with no consolidating sense of purpose or direction.

Firstly, today, how often do we diagnose a customer experience failing being down to silos, or as Levitt describes “a series of pigeonholed parts”?

But could anyone sum up the strategy of customer centricity any better today than Levitt did 55 years ago?


Photograph of Theodore Levitt from Harvard Business School Working Knowledge.

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