A seminal, and “must read” for all in product management is the classic tome: “Marketing Imagination” by Theodore Levitt. While it was last published and updated in 1986, and thus misses the internet revolution, its themes and treatment remain as relevant today as when it was first published.

I first picked up a copy of this book after taking the excellent course on Technology Marketing, by Chris Halliwell who was working with the Industrial Relations Center at CalTech. Alas, the IRC is no more, and Chris’ work lives on through her Technology Marketing Center offerings (disclaimer: I still occasionally blog for the TMC).

Ted Levitt was a professor at the Harvard Business School, and more importantly a long time editor of the Harvard Business Review, so he had a deep exposure to the leading edge of management thinking and thought. Ted’s focus was on marketing and strategic marketing, and that comes through well in this book.

On the first reading, oh so many years ago, I quickly traipsed through looking for kernels of knowledge or insight that could apply to my current world at the time, and thus I missed some important observations. However, with this reading, I spent the time to really work my way through it, chapter by chapter, taking the time to really ponder the topics and the treatment offered by Ted’s insight.

First, the chapters do stand alone. If you are interested in the Whole product, you can pick up the book and read Chapter 4 – Differentiation of – Anything, and walk away with an understanding that even the most commoditized markets (sheet steel for automotive manufacturers, or durham wheat used to make semolina for pasta), there is differentiation at play, and the savvy marketer uses the concepts of the whole product to segment, augment, and deliver value through the whole product.

The Marketing Imagination - Ted LevittThat is but one of many topics well handled in this book, written so long ago, yet still very relevant today.

One of the complaints found in the reviews on Good Reads or Amazon is that the examples and case studies are dated. True, but, the examples cited do illustrate the point, and it doesn’t take much independent thought to relate more current situations to the concepts. And, as an old fart, I find myself nostalgic for the examples related.

Ted’s prescience from the first edition was the anticipation of globalization of markets, and how the world was changing to truly global enterprises, no longer relegating the seconds, or older technology to the emerging markets, but developing and marketing products to the whole world. What was just beginning in 1986, is now in full swing, and a second chapter on “The Industrialization of Service” offers a glimpse on how society can (and to some degree has) handled the shift to a global marketplace.

What is astounding, is that articles written by Ted in the early 1960’s (Chapter 8, Marketing Myopia) remained relevant in 1986, and are still sound advice today. (Yes, I recommend that all in product management read that chapter of the book in particular.)

I also really liked the clear, concise treatment of product lifecycle (Exploiting the Product Lifecycle) that strips away a lot of messy theory, and gives an intuitive framework to apply. As one who has lived this, and the pain of entering a market at maturity, it rings quite true.

There are some nits to pick though. There are typo’s that while few, are incongruous with the message. Ted also seems to mention Pornography as a business often, particular in the early chapters. Not sure if that is a penchant of his, or a product of the growth of that industry in the 1970’s. Nothing that detracts from the message, but observations I made while reading.

Summary

This book, coupled with “Crossing the Chasm” by Geoffrey Moore, are required reading for all product managers and product marketers. Pick up a paperback copy, read it, and annotate. Even being 30 years old, it remains a guide for those who either are in product management, or who are considering it as a career. Worth every penny.

Coda

Theodore Levine passed away in 2006, before much of the Web 2.0 revolution. Yet, in many of the current dominant players, you can see much of what Ted wrote about playing out in real life. He would be pleased.


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