The Kodak Way

Amar Pandit , CFA , CFP

Amar Pandit

A respected entrepreneur with 25+ years of Experience, Amar Pandit is the Founder of several companies that are making a Happy difference in the lives of people. He is currently the Founder of Happyness Factory, a world-class online investment & goal-based financial planning platform through which he aims to help every Indian family save and invest wisely. He is very passionate about spreading financial literacy and is the author of 4 bestselling books (+ 2 more to release in 2020), 8 Sketch Books, Board Game and 700 + columns.

Did you know that Kodak was one of the four most valuable brands in the world in 1996, just behind Disney, Coca-Cola and McDonalds?

The “Kodak Moment’ was a popular catchphrase just like Xerox is. Kodak’s name was in the public consciousness as being synonymous with good times and fond memories.

Can you imagine the power of this?

But then the Kodak empire lost its way and filed for bankruptcy protection in 2012.

Many say that one of the greatest brands on Earth was ruined by a digital camera. It is likely you might have heard this in presentations and lectures about innovation and digital disruption. Denise Lee Yohn, Author ofWhat Great Brands Do”, wrote, “Anyone who believes that a great brand can be undone by mere changes in technology doesn’t fully understand what makes brands great.

Contrary to popular belief, Kodak’s management didn’t lack innovation or foresight. In fact, it was a Kodak engineer in 1975 who invented a toaster-sized contraption that was the world’s first digital camera.

Just six years later, in 1981, an internal research document predicted that digital imaging would inevitably do great damage to Kodak’s film business and that the company had approximately 10 years to manage the transition. Management responded by investing $5 billion in digital image research and filing more than a thousand digital imaging patents. Kodak was neither unprepared for nor incapable of meeting the digital challenge.”

So, what went wrong?

While Kodak created a digital camera, invested billions in the new technology and understood that photos would be shared online in the future, they failed in realizing that online photo sharing was in fact the new business. They failed to understand the business model of the future and thought of online photo sharing as just a way to expand their existing film and photo printing business.

Denise adds further, “Kodak failed to continue to operationalize their brand. The company put its short-term business imperatives in the driver’s seat and neglected to adapt its brand values and attributes to opportunities in the digital age.

• Kodak’s culture during the transition to digital extolled a commitment to engineering excellence and to the company’s technological core competencies instead of reaffirming the brand’s reason for being and the company’s expertise in helping customers enjoy unique emotional experiences.

• Kodak pitched new products to the public instead of connecting emotionally with people in new ways through these products.

• It followed trends started by others, chased fickle consumers (attempting to reach the younger generation of Internet pioneers when Baby Boomers (those born between 1945 and 1964) who had grown up with Kodak remained a viable market with a range of needs) and allowed consumer behaviours to direct the company’s efforts instead of using its brand essence to drive innovation and anticipate what people would really want.

How is this relevant to you?

If it’s not already evident, it will be as you read further.

In our industry/profession I see many committing the same mistakes that Kodak did (while not having any of the advantages Kodak had – an amazing brand, loads of capital, talented people, solid engineering capabilities, patents, futuristic technology and so on).

All of the above 3 points apply to us too.

1. Isn’t it true that we focus more on proving our financial skills, predicting whether the stock markets are headed, beating the markets, choosing the best investments/funds instead of focusing on delivering amazing financial experiences to clients?

2. Isn’t it true that we are constantly rushing to offer as many products as we can instead of connecting emotionally with our clients? We are tirelessly told to pitch more products (by people who really do not understand this business at a deeper level). When this bullshit gets repeated by so many people, we mistakenly take this to be the best course of action.

3. Isn’t it true that we follow trends started by others? If someone is going after younger clients, we want to do it too. After all, we don’t want to leave anyone out. In this rush, we miss giving enough time and attention to our most important customers – our existing clients.

Besides the above, one of the most important things is that we neglect (rather many have not even defined it consciously/intentionally) our brand values and attributes.

This happens because many in our industry/profession don’t truly understand what a (great) brand really is.

They simply define a brand as a company’s name, logo, image, advertising, trademark and so on. There are people who think of ARN as a brand too. But the fact is, none of these are your brand. These are symbols and expressions of your brand, and by limiting the definition to this superficial level, you fail to realize the true value of your business.

Denise wrote a simple and brilliant explanation of a brand – A brand is a bundle of values and attributes that define the value you deliver to people through the entire customer experience, and the unique way of doing business that forms the basis of your company’s relationships with all of its stakeholders. Simply put, your brand is what your company does and how you do it. Your brand is not what you say you are – it’s what you do.

The people who will succeed in our industry/profession will be folks who –

• Have the ability to deliver amazing financial experiences (and outcomes) to their clients

• Set the right client expectations by being truthful to them

• Build solid emotional connections with their clients

• Help their clients navigate an uncertain world

• Care about their clients better than anyone else

• Ensure that they never ever run out of money and will always have money when they need it

Perhaps your company is succeeding today without an approach like this. In that case, you might want to consider what you are leaving on the table by not thinking of your brand and business in this manner today. While your company may be doing well, but is it really thriving? Is it realizing it’s true potential? And are your current activities laying the foundation for future growth and future business models?

These are the questions that you need to answer unless you want to go the Kodak way.