Earlier this week, the Wall Street Journal reports that Eastman Kodak Co. is on the brink of filing for bankruptcy protection, after 131 years leading the camera industry. It’s a long fall for the iconic brand and industry giant who defined modern photography, at least for my generation, but whose industry has been completely revolutionized over the last few decades by smart phones, mobile apps like Instagram, and digital technology – a technology that has rendered film obsolete.
Kodak tried to innovate to survive, moving into inkjet printers and digital cameras, neither of which would prove too profitable. In fact, Kodak invented the first digital camera. But being the first does not always mean you’ll outlast. It’s a constant process of evolution. And it’s no longer enough to diversify your product line or rely on trust alone – Kodak had that in spades; a company must also build relevance, 24/7.
For example, MWW Group has worked with Nikon for more than a decade to help them matter more to younger audiences, some who may not have even developed film in their lives, and drive the conversation offline and online. Nikon recognized long ago the need to build upon their trusted brand to create relevance in the marketplace. These insights and changes have been an important factor in the company’s recent successes.
Kodak is a cautionary tale, not just for the camera industry, but for all companies, companies like Google and Apple, who despite their current success, may one day face extinction. Kodak was in many ways the “Google of its day”… but inevitably, todays turn into tomorrows. Things change. And companies have to be ready and willing to change with them – not just add new products to the catalog. If you don’t matter…well, you go bankrupt.
Kodak can emerge from this moment a stronger, more relevant company, like GM and others before them. But it’s a wakeup call for all companies who continue to cling to past business practices – the future belongs to those who are relevant to their core audiences…and to those who matter more than their competitors.