I’ve been dwelling on an article I read about the demise of iconic camera and analog film company Kodak, which filed for bankruptcy in January 2012. In 1975, Kodak engineer Steve Sasson created the world’s first digital camera, yet the company waited until 1995 to introduce it to market.
Although they had the first mover advantage, their heavy involvement with film and analog photography meant digital would cannibalise their own business.
Missing the first opportunity
As I don’t need to tell you, others quickly filled the niche, the opportunity passed, and king Kodak was sliding towards bankruptcy, its primary asset being the many patents and intellectual property which powers the digital photography leaders of today.
Not only did they misunderstand the new ways people were using photography, but they hesitated to hasten the demise of their core business. That’s understandable. Yet they were still in the digital market, launching the EasyShare line of point-and-shoot cameras in 2001, and they weren’t taking advantage of the resurrection of analog. (The cult following of Man Men’s The Carousel scene, featuring Kodak’s slide projector, would have been a great launch pad for a new ad campaign and business focus).
Kodak repeatedly missed opportunities because they were scared of cannibalising their business – they weren’t bold in changing the focus on their core business, they weren’t committed to the new digital revolution, and their lack of clarity was pivotal in their downfall.
Are you ready to cannibalise?
Sometimes the writing is on the wall. Busy modern lives are calling for changes in format and changes in the way businesses communicate.
When business is no longer booming, tough decisions must be made, including whether you are still enthusiastic about what you’re doing. After all, changing direction requires far more than enthusiasm – we need temerity, single-mindedness, and vision.
If you are absolutely certain that doing things differently from dominant trends is best, then you’ll need to be a pro at explaining why to your clients, not in terms of what everybody else isn’t doing well, but how what you do differently is exactly what they need. And, crucially, you need to find clients who agree with you.
As our society moves every faster and shallower, there are counter-revolutionaries – such as the rise of ‘slow food’ and the revival of slow hobbies such as crafting, analog photography, and vintage, single-speed bicycling.
You can be a counter-revolutionary and go against the trend, but you need to commit. Don’t hesitate and oscillate like Kodak did, making moves but, ultimately, standing still. Recognise when it’s time to pack up shop or change direction, then be clear on what you offer, and don’t be afraid to show your true self, in all its eccentricities and idiosyncrasies.
I’ve been busy cannibalising my business since 2012, by teaching all I’ve learnt over my 10 years’ experience in online communications and digital marketing. Join me.