Strategy & Marketing

When It’s Time to Re-Think Your Organization

What I learned from a Kodak executive...

Years ago, I went to lunch with an executive from Kodak. Because for a long time, Kodak has been in the middle of one of the most significant corporate transitions in history (the change from the film age to the digital age), I asked him about “change”, and what his advice would be for companies going through such a significant transition.

His first response was “It’s never too early to begin.” In any change process, you can’t underestimate the need to see it coming, and get your employees onboard with the transition. The sooner you get started, the more time you have to respond, react, and win.

He also mentioned the importance of tossing out the old model, and being totally open to completely re-thinking the business. For instance, with film cameras, the film was always a product people needed to buy again and again. But with a digital camera, the images are recorded on a permanent digital format, and there’s no film to sell over and over – which is why so many digital camera-makers have dropped out of the business. So that’s why Kodak has (painfully I’m sure) completely re-thought the model of how film works.

Good suggestions from a legendary company on the front lines of change.

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  1. One reason to act fast when radical change is imminent is to consider the laws of positioning.  I live up here in Kodak country and have many family and friends who work at Kodak.  The problem with Kodak is that their digital transition happened to late – placing them square in the middle of a marketing conundrum.  If they don’t go digital they die (like Minolta,Olympus and others) but they have worked 100 years to become strongly positioned as the leader in film.  Kodak = Film.  They are not the leaders (at least in the consumer's mind) in digital photo technology.  That position belongs to Sony, Canon and others.   So even though Kodak might make a superior camera they face an uphill battle that has been taking a toll on the company for several years now.  


    The lessons are (#1) a routine culture of change can reduce or even eliminate radical overhauls.  Kodak thumbed its nose at digital long before it was forced to embrace it.  (#2) when a radical change is the only option try to create a new category were you can be the leader.  I’m sure Kodak is experimenting with several new technologies to do just that.  Or if you have the ability, buy into a reletively emerging category like Mocrosoft does. Both options are better than becoming the low man in an already established industry.   (#3) Positioning experts would agree that it is often better to launch a completely new brand along side the dying brand rather than making a 180 degree turn.   That’s the problem we are facing with Christian media.  The more established, outdated ministries try to be radical the more they continue to decline.  No one wants Pat Robertson to suddenly show up on the set wearing hip clothes, a nose ring and targeting post-moderns.  Not Pat’s supporters and probably not young people. (then again, it might be fun to see!).  That’s why CBN and others will hopefully start something completely new alongside the old – and be the leader rather than copying what we already see working in secular media.

    Change should never, ever be avoided or feared.  It's just better to control it rather than react to it.

  2. This is a powerful comment. Too many organizations are trying to "hip" up something that just isn't ever going to be hip.  But creating a new brand for a new generation might be the ticket.

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