The Eastman Kodak Company made headlines in September, when the iconic brand introduced an exclusive new line of apparel at Forever 21, the fashion retailer.
Inspired by Kodak’s branding and graphics from the 1990s, the heyday of its sponsorship of NASCAR motorsports team, the product line includes 26 men’s and women’s items available in over 600 stores globally and on the Forever 21 website. Anyone interested in buying Kodak-branded merchandise from Forever 21 can do so with the click of a button (on a mouse, not a camera, of course).
More importantly, the announcement marked a resurgence of sorts for Kodak, five years after the company emerged from Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. As has been well documented, Kodak made a series of missteps, failing to sufficiently innovate as the world stepped away from film and embraced digital technologies.
So what, you might ask, does a photography business founded in 1888 have to do with a 21st Century purveyor of fashions focused on young millennials? Not much. The collaboration, however, is an effort for Kodak, which once was a household name (some might argue it still is), to make a comeback and increase brand recognition.
Kodak, perhaps more so than any other market giant in modern history, knew it was facing one of the biggest disruptions ever, yet it still could not transform sufficiently. Its downfall didn’t happen in a flash, but over decades.
Large companies today, particularly market leaders, should be doing all they can in the name of change management to ensure a similar fate isn’t in their future. That’s especially necessary in today’s world of lightning-fast technological change.
How to go about this? Many companies have adopted an “innovation hub” model to capture ideas that might otherwise go by the wayside. That may be most important when it comes to confronting transformational innovation, the kind that calls for capitalizing on fresh ideas that might not have financial viability for years to come.
Such transformational change is harder for large companies, which tend to be less willing to take risks.
Missing significant market changes can have staggering results. In 1982, Kodak employed over 60,000 people at its headquarters in Rochester, N.Y. Today, about 1,600 work there. The company employed over 145,000 globally at its peak in 1988. It has about 6,000 employees worldwide today.
Market leaders: Is your company taking the necessary steps so it does not replicate Kodak’s fall from grace?
Millennials, ages 22 to 37 years old today, represent the generation with the biggest buying power (as of 2018, according to Forbes) and greatest social influence, so it makes financial sense for retailers to focus on them. First, however, millennials (particularly younger ones) must gain Kodak awareness.
While Kodak may seem so “yesterday” to some readers, the brand in recent years has been adopted in various ways by some of American music’s hottest talents. The point is that young influencers are getting the brand’s name into the ears of millennials. Focusing on younger audiences is smart. And if any publicity is good publicity, such exposure might develop into better brand recognition over time.
This begs the question: What does Kodak represent? It clearly is no longer the photography company it once was. These days, it bills itself as a technology company focused on imaging. It provides hardware, software, consumables and services to customers in graphics arts, commercial print, publishing, packaging, entertainment and commercial films, and consumer products markets.
While Kodak will never return to the prominence it once enjoyed, the question in 2018 is whether the company has undertaken enough of a reinvention to be viewed as relevant in the eyes of today’s consumers.
Kodak, other than what remains in scrapbooks, is no longer a part of life’s precious moments. Can it, however, capture another moment in time in today’s digital-first world?
Casey Logan is a writer for SCM World, A Gartner Community.