According to Kodak CEO Antonio M. Perez, the Chapter 11 filing was “a necessary step and the right thing to do for the future of Kodak.”
The marketing community is full of opinions regarding the recent Chapter 11 announcement from the 132-year-old brand. And while it’s easy to point the finger at Kodak’s failure to fully embrace and own digital, there are specific aspects of the long progression of events that led to the bankruptcy that can provide lessons for integrated marketers.
Lesson No. 1: Consumer Values Do Not Remain Static
Kodak once held a place in the hearts of consumers. It was the collector and keeper of memories and life experiences. Our parents and grandparents proudly stored these “Kodak moments” away in leather photo albums, boxes, and scrapbooks for posterity.
Marketing during this time, before the shift to digital, was surely multi-channel, yet much simpler. The brand still controlled the message, and the consumer, well, bought it.
Then digital electronics came along and put the power of creation into consumers’ hands. For casual and professional photographers both, the reality of using film seemed unwieldy compared to the immediacy and ease of digital, even if Kodak did have the best film process technology. Film was a race horse, but digital technology is a rocket. Consumers’ values changed in response to their environment. Kodak did not act quickly enough to the shift in customer values, and slowly began to fade out of relevance.
Lesson No. 2: Sometimes “Barely Good Enough” Is Best
Kodak, in fairness, did produce digital products. In fact, the Kodak Pulse Frames product is quite cool. It links up with Facebook and Kodak Gallery, and looks great. But consumers have no idea about this and other digital photography products from Kodak. The marketing of the newest products at Kodak seemed to have fizzled in recent years, even with the marketing talent, like Jeffrey Hayzlett et al., to drive it. Was marketing a Band-Aid that was “too little, too late” to maintain market relevance?
One of the best ways I’ve seen to prevent this kind of disappearance of relevance is to explicitly set aside marketing teams to work within product development. This marketing team engages with the community and essentially trend-spots. They then take this information into a collaborative project with product development. Their role is to describe what problems the community needs solved, so that product development can then create what Eric Ries, author of “The Lean Startup,” calls an MVP – or a minimum viable product. Google Gmail, Docs, Buzz, Google+, 37Signals Basecamp, Backpack, and Facebook are great examples of products that were built as MVPs.
An MVP gives marketers, and the company as a whole, data insights that they can turn into business value and consumer relevance. For example, in the case of Buzz, the data Google got from consumers gave it the insight that led them to create even better products in Google+ and Search+. Marketing across all channels becomes more of a sure shot to customer relevance when the product is developed from consumer insights on a just barely good enough MVP.
Lesson No. 3: Enable People’s Creative Need to Share
Kodak has seen consumer demand for its traditional products evaporate. Traditional media of all types – newspapers, book publishers, movie studios, broadcasters, and record labels – are facing a similar fate.
The first wave of the consumer movement to share digitally was experienced in the 90s with peer-to-peer file sharing. That trend basically brought down the record industry over time, and spawned an entirely new industry of digital music sales. Because of the DRM protection on a lot of the digital music out there, the sharing doesn’t happen within P2P networks as much anymore. Now it happens within Facebook with apps like Spotify, or Pandora, and iTunes Ping.
In the digital photography space, products like Pinterest, Instagram, and apps like Hipstamatic all allow users to immediately share their pictures with others. An integrated marketing team has almost innumerable opportunities to assure relevancy to consumers when they tap into this creative need.
It’s always hard to see giants like Kodak crumble, but learning and translating their failures into actionable insights for your campaigns should be part of your to-do list.
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