Sunday, May 6, 2012

What's Next for Kodak?

This decal still appears in the window of the New England Air Museum (adjacent to Bradley Airport in Connecticut). Kodak decals on windows and doors were once a powerful marketing element, alerting vacationers that they could pick up an extra roll or two of film while visiting a museum, zoo, park, or other travel destination. Even without the decal, visitors couldn't help noticing the familiar pyramid of yellow Kodak boxes behind the cash register.

Now Kodak is trying to emerge from bankruptcy, a different company in a different imaging era. Kodak's name has been removed from the Los Angeles theater where the Academy Awards are held every year, after the company was allowed out of a 20-year naming rights deal. First-quarter 2012 sales were down, and the company continues to be unprofitable. And the company is selling off some pieces, such as its Kodak Gallery photo storage/management site (sold to Shutterfly).

As management guru John Kotter points out in a recent Forbes piece, Kodak's enormous and long-lived success was one big reason why management failed to respond quickly to the changing business environment, even before the digital challenge. When your product is ubiquitous and your decals are visible in tourist attractions all over the country--and beyond--it's not easy to foresee a film-free future, let alone position your company for major technological upheaval.

Kodak was late to the digital party, and its ability to find a meaningful competitive edge is all that can save the company. What will Kodak do next?

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