Monday, October 3, 2011

How Long Can A Kodak Moment Last?

I grew up in a town on the northern edge of Rochester, New York and lived about 15 minutes from the headquarters of Eastman Kodak, an anchor to downtown Rochester. Even closer to my home was Kodak Park, a major bustling cluster of factories and office buildings located just west of the Genesee River and a short ride from the end of my driveway. Kodak employed 60,000 Rochesterians at it's peak in the early 198o's and was the largest employer in town for many years. It was impossible not to know someone who worked for Kodak.

My father told me once that Kodak used to be so busy that they had a staggered schedule to ease rush hour congestion. Sadly, jaywalking outside their State Street headquarters at 5:30 in the afternoon is no longer a challenging endeavor since Kodak has cut about 2,000 jobs out of the Flower City's picture every year for nearly thirty years. Today, about 7,000 jobs remain whispers of impending bankruptcy by have grown louder over the past week.

It's the sad reality faced by the city I will always call home and the many hundreds of cities just like mine. Dozens of major metropolises and hundreds of smaller towns have struggled to replace the jobs that vanished with anything close to what once was. The vacant factories that remain are decaying monuments to prosperity once enjoyed. Drive through one of these towns and it's truly heartbreaking.

For me, it's particularly painful to drive through Kodak park and take in the vast emptiness its become.

As the rumors of bankruptcy crescendo, I've been doing a lot of reading about the company that put my hometown on the map and which it happily banked on for over a century. Every article is quick to point out the iconic film company's slow or ineffective transition into digital technology that is used today.

One commentator said "it just doesn't have a contemporary product to match the name recognition."

I think a lot of people might agree with this perspective. I don't completely though. Despite it's slow introduction, Kodak still introduced digital products. They still do. Their new products are just as new as HP's, Canon's, Nikon's and all the rest. The high value and interest in the patents they currently hold say a lot about its capabilities. They can make a good product. And Kodak has that name recognition. They have the history of innovation and all the "Kodak Moments" and the signature yellow and red packaging. If name recognition means anything, shouldn't Kodak have the upper hand or at least be able to stay in the game?

Common sense would suggest yes and yet that hasn't been the case. Marketing is not common sense. It knows that a contemporary product (a new product or idea) needs its own contemporary brand - not a historical one regardless of how iconic and everlasting it may be. Digital was clearly a different category and strategists should know that old brands never lead new categories.

When a brand uses this strategy, the association can become so powerful that it resonates with consumers long after the category becomes dormant or dead. Just ask the leading brand in the film category - Kodak.

If Kodak ever has comeback, which I hope they do, it cannot be done carrying the family name. Thirty years of evidence would suggest that that strategy has failed.

This post also appeared on Talent Zoo Media's Beneath the Brand blog. As always, thanks for reading and sharing.

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