A Time to Fail

I just traveled on business to Belgium on the same week I got an iPhone. I only put a few songs on my iPhone and two of them are: “Please Don’t Take my Kodachrome away” by Paul Simon and Chicago's version of "Does anybody really know what time it is?". On the plane, I read about Kodak's potential bankruptcy this month and at dinner the first night, the restaurant we visited was playing all Dylan's...

The Times They Are A Changin'
Come gather round people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown
And accept it that soon
You'll be drenched to the bone
If your time to you
Is worth savin'
Then you better start swimmin'
Or you'll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin'.

I am always looking for the higher meaning in things that come in my path. It is funny how patterns slowly emerge if you pay close attention. 

Does anybody really know what time it is? 
International travel and changing time zones is an exhaustive experience and reminds me how incredibly arbitrary time can be. I leave North Carolina at 6 pm and travel for 9 hours and arrive in London at 8 am. (Wait- isn’t it 3 am in the morning?) The math isn’t difficult to reconcile but what time is it for me? My body tells me it is 3 am in the morning and I’m hanging out at the Starbucks-like coffee shop sipping cappuccino. The clock and my body argue over whom is right but I believe my exhausted body. I don’t care what the clock tells me. I believe my body. 

My new phone has a feature that allows me to have a few clocks based on times around the world. I track Honolulu (Sarah), Hollywood (Fanny) Raleigh (Ra El) and Brussels (our European Facility). That way I always know what time it is in the different worlds that matter to me for my family and work. 

I wonder if I am  six hours younger in Honolulu right now and six hours older in Brussels? It is all very confusing and with the chaotic sleep that you get when you travel, it is all a bit of a sweeping blur. 

Brands have time changes too
Brands go through time changes too. It isn’t as obvious but if you pay close attention, you can see how easy it is to get stuck in the wrong time zone. Sometimes a brand feels like it is so “twenty seconds ago”. Stale. Old fashioned. Behind the times. These brands struggle to say relevant and just can’t reinvent themselves fast enough. The clothing retailer The Gap over the last decade appears to have stood still. Snapple feels old to me and very 1980's.  Some brands are so “twenty years ago”. On the other hand, most people agree that Apple lives somewhere in the future often finding those unmet needs we didn't realize we had. Dyson (vacuums and blade less fans) is another example of a brand that lives in a future time zone too. 

Kodak: Lost in Time

As I read a saved article from my laptop on the plane, I was taken by the fact that my dear beloved Kodak is almost bankrupt. The yellow box of Tri-X black and white film was my regular companion many years ago when I used to take photographs for a living. Kodak was my Apple in 1972 always inventing incredible new films to help me capture the brilliance of each moment. 
First in, First Out
Ironically, Kodak invented digital photography but they feared that if they pursued it, it would challenge their film business. So, it got buried and no longer became an active product line for a long time. When they realized the errors of their ways, it was too late. Time was out. They could never catch up again. 

Kodak’s fundamental mistake, like so many brands, is they lost sight of what business they were in. The physical product of film was their focus when they should have had their eyes on the emotional prize of memory managers like me. 

Kodak wasn't in the film business. 
They were in the moments or memories business. 

What is fascinating about Kodak is that their aspirational advertising in the 60's, 70's and 80's projected this awareness of what business they were in but the operational side never caught up. The marketing people understood the true brand essence but the technology teams couldn't let go of the past. Management feared the shift and in hindsight was too cautious. 

Kodak commercial called 
The Times Of Your Life from 1977

Kodak's tearjerker called
Turn Around from 1960's

Shouldn't brands challenge themselves? Shouldn’t they fight internally for the future where you have different teams competing for resources? Why didn't Kodak have a digital team in the 70's and 80's fighting for the future of memory keeping even if it meant a different business model (licensing technology) versus selling hard goods like film. Sorry to say it but the company deserves what it got. It buried their collective heads in the sand and ran the other way as they destiny fades to black. 

What are some lessons that we can learn from Kodak and brands like them? If you are a brand manager, are you feeling the smell of a challenging brand's breath attacking your future earnings? 

(Pun alert) How could Kodak have turned a negative into a positive? 

     CLARIFY:  Get some clarity about what business you are in. (hint: it isn’t the physical product but the emotional benefit your product or service delivers). You can't advertise your way out of this problem because time will catch up with you. Connect your vision with a risk taking plan and stick to it. 

 START: Put a big fat foot into that new market. Try. Test. Play. But don’t sit on the sidelines. Newspapers who waited too long to experiment with this ‘Internet thing’ should have jumped in early to reduce their risk of not figuring out how to adapt. I used to subscribe to 4 physical newspapers. Today I subscribe to none but feel more informed and doing my part to help reduce waste and help the environment. 

FREEDOM: Carve out some funds to allow the business some room to be free of margin requirements, EBITDA targets and all of the other metrics for mature businesses. First see if you have something truly innovative and different that the market will be willing to pay for. Film was so profitable that it was hard to play with new business models that had low margins so by killing any internal efforts, Kodak was deluded into believing this digital thing would go away. 

  FAIL: A series of small test failures can be so much more powerful to the organization than sitting on the sidelines. Learn something from each test and develop new hypothesis that allow you to keep asking questions about where the market is heading (or you can lead it). Keep testing and failing and adjusting. 

 FAIL SOME MORE: I think failure was my best teacher as an entrepreneur. I made plenty of mistakes and I think that is why our company (Rachel's Brownies Inc) made it on INC MAGAZINE'S Fast Growing Company list in 1985. We failed often but we failed small. We would learn stuff and then reroute. After selling my company, I went to work for a larger corporation and failing was bad. Taking risks were often avoided. The goal is to find a balance.  Taking some small risks often is necessary to help you keep your brand living and breathing in the current time zone

The Brand as GPS
Think of your GPS system talking to you when you make a wrong turn. It knows your ultimate goal and it helps you regain your path toward it as you keep adjusting. Your path to the right time zone is ahead. 

Recalculating. Recalculating. Recalculating. 

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