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Kodak, that venerable American photographic film giant of the 20th Century, has gone through a vast transformation in the past decade. Both the brand and the Company’s stock have been in free fall, in stark constrast to the meteoric rise in popularity and use of digital photography and video. To put it simply, you no longer first think of Kodak and its products when someone pulls out a camera (well, unless you’re at least Sherri’s age…).
But one man is taking a proactive approach to change Kodak’s public image as a has-been major American brand, and is actively pursuing a new, digital future — one in which Kodak is rebranding itself with a heavy dose of successful social media outreach and engagement. The man leading this charge is Jeff Hayzlett, Chief Marketing Officer of Kodak, and a co-producer of the 140 Character Conference (better known as #140conf), which took place last month in Los Angeles.
I (Keith) was lucky enough to meet Jeff at the #140conf NYC meetup at Rockefeller Center, where he spoke candidly and with a tremendous amount of humility about how Kodak missed the boat with digital photography and film (from a marketing standpoint) before he got on board as the CMO, why you should never name a product with a letter of the alphabet (as in Kodak’s oddly-named Z-series of products), and how passionate he is about Kodak engaging with its fans, customers and advocates via social media (particularly Twitter).
Hayzlett provided an incredibly fascinating case study about how he transformed his dislike for the name of Kodak’s Z18 mini video camera–Kodak’s answer to the ubiquitous and uber-popular Flip–into a massively successful social media campaign. After pointing out the obvious (that naming a consumer product with a letter is silly and that consumers don’t usually relate to names that are just single letters), he described how he developed an idea that has really helped to reshape the public’s image of Kodak as a company out of touch with the realities of digital media: the Twitter renaming contest for Z18.
By actively seeking submissions for a new name for the product (which will debut in the coming weeks, Hayzlett said) and working to rebuild brand engagement and identity among Kodak’s fairly strong core group of supporters, Hayzlett detailed how Kodak was able to secure more than 10,000 tweets and retweets that mentioned the Kodak submission contest. Talk about rebuilding the public’s favor for your brand!
What this demonstrates is that by having innovative and forward-thinking executives who are willing to publicly take some risks (e.g., essentially publicly admitting that naming your product a letter was a huge #fail and fixing the problem by crowdsourcing a new name), even brands long thought to be off track (or worse) can begin to gain traction again in an ever-changing market. Who knows if Kodak will ever be as powerful a force as it once was in photography and film (or if its anemic stock price–it closed yesterday at $4.13–will ever again reach its 1997 all-time high of near $95) — but the innovative social media work of the company, led by Hayzlett, is beginning to reap benefits and help the brand regain some traction, market penetration and brand identity just when it sorely needs to. We’re rooting for you, Kodak!