It used to be impossible to hit the beach on your vacation and not see people capturing their antics on their GoPro. Then, things changed. Phones got better cameras, selfie sticks took over, and GoPro took a beating. Actually, they took several different beatings.
So what happened?
GoPro failed to understand the true offering of their cameras and missed an opportunity to evolve their product along with the desires of the market. They missed out on Snapchat Spectacles. GoPro was an obvious candidate to build and launch their own wearable, social-ready micro camera and dominate the market, but they didn’t. It’s all because of something called marketing myopia.
The concept is the foundation of Theodore Levitt’s renowned 1960 article, Marketing Myopia. It blew me away. Levitt discusses how successful companies can become complacent in their success and lose track of their “jobs to be done” (the subject of another excellent read.) He draws comparisons to Hollywood, where the entire industry was shaken by the advent of television. Hollywood producers had grown complacent in the “movie” industry, forgetting that they were actually in the “entertainment” industry. Then television blindsided them.
This myopic focus draws away from the needs of the customers. As established firms follow their success by incrementally improving existing products, the real needs of their customers can shift out of focus. In Hollywood, major studios had enjoyed a monopoly for so long they lost sight of what made them great. Fundamentally, they delivered entertainment. Movies were simply the medium through which the entertainment was delivered. Then, as disruptive technologies like home television and cable emerged, competing sources of entertainment arose. Why wasn’t Hollywood—with its immense budgets, high profile starpower, and film production expertise—the first to ride the television wave? It’s simple: they thought they only made movies. The cost of their myopic product focus was ticket sales plunging by two-thirds in just 10 years.
Marketing Myopia was written nearly 60 years ago, but the examples have kept piling up over the years. Television itself wasn’t invincible, with streaming services like Netflix inspiring cord cutters to forget about cable. MSN Messenger dominated instant chat online, but was crushed when Skype entered the market with video capability and a stronger product supporting various forms of communication. At the extreme end, Kodak’s internal engineering team actually developed the first digital camera themselves, but they decided to scrap it. They thought their company sold film, forgetting that it was really about sharing “Kodak moments”—regardless of the technology.
GoPro is at risk of making the same kind of mistake.
To date, GoPro has focused exclusively on the emergent action camera market. Even though they control about 95% of it, their unit sales, net income, and stock price have all declined over the past 18 months. The segment that has driven their massive success over the last five years has become saturated. GoPro is addressing the issue by diversifying their products in the action camera market, releasing high-end drones and stabilizers. This myopic focus draws GoPro away from what made them excellent to begin with—their ability to record ephemeral moments and capture the uncapturable.
Now, that job goes to cheap selfie sticks holding up phones with continually improving cameras. Couple that with the rise of wearables and social trends that point towards quick videos, streaming, and instant updates, and casual GoPro users may abandon the action camera market.
Unlike Kodak, GoPro still has an opportunity to refocus on their customer’s job to be done. With their rugged micro-camera expertise, GoPro has all the resources to make a market-leading wearable camera. Imagine a pair of GoPro Goggles that records video to your phone for a quick and easy Snapchat story or streams it straight to Facebook Live. GoPro could recapture that casual moment-sharing market, and we could see very different financial reports for them over the next 18 months.
In the meantime, we have Snap—who, strangely, call themselves a camera company. With minimal expertise in building hardware, Snap is poised to lead the way in innovative camera technology. They are leading the mass market wearable camera segment and creating a massive wave of hype in the process. Ditch the selfie stick, because now you can film your road trip through a pair of slick shades.
But the point isn’t that GoPro should build goggles. They should, but what we should all consider are the dangers of a myopic product focus. It is an especially relevant concept in today’s innovative business climate, and being aware of the job you do for your users is crucial in any industry. In digital, a holistic understanding of the value you create is the difference between being a titan and being a regional or temporary success. Airbnb, with the launch of Experiences, is a perfect example of this. Airbnb isn’t in the accommodation business, and they know it. They are in the exploration business. With this holistic understanding of their place in the market, it won’t be long until Airbnb is streamlining your flight bookings and itinerary planning.
Companies exist to solve problems. The good ones understand the everyday jobs their customers need to do, and doggedly work to solve the problems that arise from those jobs. It’s when they lose sight of this that they can falter, because it’s your customers that make your business, not just your product.