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Kodak did not change fast enough

January 19, 2012 Leave a comment Go to comments

Let me start with a simple word association game. Ready? The word is Kodak. I bet you immediately thought of “film” or “photo”. Unfortunately for Kodak, the film-photography product category disappeared as the world turned digital.

The Kodak brand is a picture-perfect example of a brand which failed to broaden the brand association in the minds of its customers on time. Before the film business began to decline Kodak should have tried to own “digital imaging” and “digital camera” mental association in consumers’ mind.

So what went wrong with Kodak?

Having been one of the most recognised and trusted brands, regrettably, its leadership neglected signs of changing technology in the late 80’s and remained passive until the mid 90’s when they finally invested in digital imaging.

In the last decade Kodak did a big move into the digital business by developing and manufacturing digital printers and digital cameras. Although the products were good, Kodak did not manage to stop its financial slide down. No wonder! Quality cameras’ department in people’s minds had already been owned by Kodak’s major competitors.

Bad business decisions

As we all know, managerial actions can significantly impact brand health.

At the time when Sony launched a camera which used floppy discs instead of film, Kodak was reluctant to develop the technology because the Management believed the technology was not feasible and would not be affordable. Kodak, in fact, refused to acknowledge that film photography was dying. It is worth mentioning here that Kodak was actually the first company to produce a digital camera back in 1976.

Larry Matteson, a former Kodak executive, commented on the above by the following statement: “Wise business people concluded that it was best not to hurry to switch from making 70 cents on the dollar on film to maybe five cents at most in digital”.

In the late 80’s Kodak could have addressed this evolutionary change by slowly adopting the new business strategy, as George Mendes points out in his article “A case study of how Kodak is guilty on four counts of serious corporate failure”.

In 1993 Kodak’s Vice President Don Strickland left the company after he failed to get backing from the company to release a digital camera.

Rosabeth Moss Kanter of Harvard Business School, former Kodak adviser said that its executives “suffered from a mentality of perfect products, rather than the high-tech mindset of make it, launch it, fix it.”

Missed opportunities 

Although back in 1996, Kodak did introduce a line of pocket-sized digital cameras and created a campaign which proudly proclaimed that Kodak could help you “Take Pictures. Further”, sales for Kodak steadily declined during the campaign. Furthermore, in 2001 the advertising campaign, which was supposed to help associate Kodak with digital technology, was killed.

The same year the Kodak EasyShare Digital Camera was launched, featuring transferring images directly to personal computers and effortless sharing of pictures via WI-Fi directly from camera. Unfortunately, by then the category was already crowded with products from brands such as Canon, Sony and other Asian manufacturers. If Kodak had managed to convince consumers to use its online service to store and share their pictures they could have become a Kodakbook of social media at that time.

In order to make it relevant for today’s world, in 2010 Kodak redefined its famous “A Kodak Moment” of the past 50 years by launching “Share moments. Share Life ” campaign, hoping to retake its place in the households again. But by that time the camera phones became mainstream and iPhone was already the most popular camera for photos posted to the image-sharing sites, far more popular than any of the digital cameras produced by Kodak, Canon or Sony.

In time of publishing this blogpost Kodak secured $950 million lifeline and bankruptcy protection to reshape their business.

I wish them good luck! There is still a lot of equity in the Kodak brand.

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