Kodak- an example of a brand built on the wrong foundation

by Tony Fannin, CEO/Partner, BE Branded  |

What a company stands for in the minds of customers is much stronger than any product or service they produce. In fact, this is where the vast majority of the company “value” resides. It is how companies, big and small, navigate this intangible that determines if they become a great brand or a just one of thousands. Let’s take Eastman Kodak as our example company.

Many believe that Kodak’s fall is due to them not innovating and being stuck to “old” technology. That is only partially true. The core reason why Kodak fell is because the brand perception was so engrained in film, that people couldn’t think of it as a digital company. What most people don’t realize is Kodak was a pioneer in the digital world. They were not slow to the shift, but one of the first ones in. In 1976, Kodak invented the digital cameral. In 1986, Kodak developed the world’s first megapixel digital sensor that was able to fit in a handheld camera. In 1994, they introduced the first digital camera that was under $1,000. Between 1985-1994, Kodak invested over $5 billion in digital R & D. As a result, Kodak holds over 1,000 patents in the digital photography industry. These are not facts that a late-commer to the party should have.

As you see, Kodak was not slow to the digital revolution. It helped make it. So, what happened? Most people believe that a superior product wins the market place. That isn’t always so. In Kodak’s case, they invented digital photography and had protectable patents and a great price point, so they did have superior products and still came in No. 6 behind brands such as Canon, Sony, Nikon and Panasonic. All of these companies also built a reputation on “old” camera technology. The leap that Kodak couldn’t make was in the minds of consumers. They made the technological jump, but could not cover the gap with their brand. Kodak was “stuck” in meaning “film”. Kodak doesn’t mean “digital” even though they pioneered the industry.

Kodak thought their brand meant “film”. The culture was built around it. This is a classic example of a brand being built around a product or service and not about higher ideals. Ultimately, Kodak should have built the company around “preserving memories”. This is more meaningful and much more valuable. It would have also kept Kodak positioned for the future instead tying it to a piece of technology that would eventually become outdated.

In today’s world, technology changes so much that “sustainable advantage” is hard to keep more than 6-8 months. After that, the competitors flood in. Even knockoffs take a huge chunk. By banking your company and brand on a product, service or piece of technology you are following Kodak’s fate. In fact, you won’t last as long as Kodak did. Instead, if you set you brand to be more meaningful than stuff, but to provide something of value on the human level, regardless of technology, your brand can stand the test of time, giving you the time to advance the tactical and technical side of your business.

Think of products, technology and innovation as just other ways to deliver your brand. They shouldn’t be the brand.



About Be Branded

Tony Fannin is of President of BE Branded, an integrated marketing firm who helps clients BE Somebody to their customers. If you aren't somebody, then you are commodity.

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