Heritage brands in social media and new marketing paradigm - Kodak and Fujifilm’s experiences

Written by Gustaf Holmblad

Stories have always fascinated people. They do so in a fundamental way through calling to peoples emotions and hopes (Singh & Sonnenburg 2012). In marketing, brand heritage and stories about this heritage are important parts of many large brands marketing strategy.

This paper will examine how brands with strong heritages, in an era where social media is increasingly important, cope with the technological and social media development to keep their brands relevant. One industry will be the key example - the camera industry. Two brands are examined, namely Kodak and Fujifilm. Both are brands with strong heritages and Fujifilm has, as opposed to Kodak, managed to stay relevant to this point in time.

The purpose is to analyze the impact of brand heritage in the light of social media development to give some insight on how history and fast social and technological development can interact.

How do corporations that have strong brand heritage as a key component in their brand strategy cope with social media development? What are the keys for success? This will be the main questions of this paper and suggestions will be given to ways in which such brands can build a sustainable competitive advantage in the highly diverse marketing landscape of today.

How social media marketing is constructed

Several authors within the field of internet marketing suggests that there is a big paradigm shift in the view on marketing with the emergence of social media. This shift moves the control and power of brand messages and meanings away from brand managers to consumers. In essence, consumers co-create meaning and brand perception (Wind 2008, Deighton & Kornfeld 2009, Barwise & Meehan 2010, Singh & Sonnenburg 2012, Christodoulides 2009, Fournier & Avery 2011).

Fournier & Avery (2011) use the metaphor of the ‘un-invited brand’ to describe how branding tactics on the internet are viewed upon by consumers. According to the authors, internet and social media are made for and by users - not brands. Thus, all branding in this ’personal’ sphere could be frowned upon by consumers. They do not want to be disturbed in their Twitter- or Facebook-feeds by brands that try to push their brand message just because the medium is currently hip (Barwise & Meehan 2010). This rationale has consequences for brand managers and marketers since not only will marketing activities be ineffective if they impose on consumers privacy - they might even be negative for the brand. One key, as proposed by Wind (2008) is to engage with consumers so they can co-create brand meaning through the new medias. This view is concurrent with Kietzmann et al’s (2011) that argues for a honeycomb approach to social media. They mean that social media strategy should focus on customer happiness and input. Similiarily, Hanna et al (2011) argue that firms should engage in both online and offline marketing strategy to engage in consumer dialogue and enable consumers to co-create brand meaning and value.

Message control, brand heritage and the ability to stay relevant

As noted by Winer (2009), it is increasingly difficult for brand managers to control brand messages. In the pre-internet era the message control was to a high extent in the hands of brand managers and marketers with the 4P-paradigm as the pre-dominant force in the field. This has changed with the emergence of the internet and marketers cannot control what consumers say about the brand in communities and in social media. This has highlighted both difficulties and opportunities for practitioners. Barwise and Meehan (2010) suggests that leveraging social media means to gain customer insight, rather than using it as a primary sales media. In this regard, Barwise and Meehan’s (2010) and Fournier and Avery’s (2011) arguments are concurrent.

This is a reasonable approach, since customers conversations about the brand and it’s products are key for development and the ability to quickly adapt to customers needs and thus stay relevant in consumers minds. Co-creation of messages is however key. One could argue that brand managers role in the new environmental setting of marketing is to facilitate opportunities for consumers to engage in the branding process - and one way to do this is to acknowledge that forums and social media are important parts of gaining consumer insight and thus the branding process.

Brand heritage has emerged as a strong construct of explaining how a brands past can have positive effects on brand performance in the presence and in the future. Furthermore, a strong heritage brand evokes feelings of credibility, authenticity and trust in consumers minds (Wiedmann et al 2011). Track record is an important part of the brand heritage construct. Is the brand trustworthy and deliver on consumer demand is a key question in having a strong track record. Hence, to keep this track record, delivery on consumer demand is crucial and a fundamental part of brand performance (Wiedmann et al 2011).

The following model is a widely accepted view on brand heritage that highlights how it is constructed and leveraged:

Urde, Greyser & Balmer 2007 


Urde, Greyser & Balmer 2007

This model provides a comprehensive approach to brand heritage as a phenomenon and can be used to evaluate to which extent a brand is a heritage brand. The authors argue that heritage brands use their heritage in marketing as a conscious, strategic decision. There are many brands that have heritage but who do not utilize it and consequently, they are not heritage brands (Urde et al 2007). In this papers context, it is important to highlight that both Kodak and Fujifilm are heritage brands. Both had a track record, longevity, core values, symbols and a history that was important for them. They utilized their heritage as a part in their marketing activities (Fujifilm marketing material, Forbes 1/2012).

Brand heritage can be argued to be in the corporation-centric part of brand management theory. However, it can also be argued that the customer-centric paradigm is not incompatible with the brand heritage construct. Many authors, such as Barwise and Meehan (2010) and Winer (2009), argue that brand managers need to adapt to the changing environment - not let up control completely. Therefore, the challenge and perspective in this paper is that brand heritage can be co-constructed by consumers rather than solely controlled by brand managers.

Cases and discussion

To give examples of how brand heritage and the shift to consumer orientation that new media brings, Fujifilm and Kodak will be examined from a consumer-orientation and heritage perspective.

The ability to stay relevant in the light of current thinking in the brand management field is highly important. Take Kodak and Fujifilm as a comparing case in point. With the paradigm shift from film cameras to digital, Kodak struggled in finding their position in consumers minds. They could never decide whether to plunge into the new technology or maintain their place as a leading brand in the analog film industry. The result? Kodak went bankrupt in 2012. In contrast, Fujifilm - Kodaks old antagonist - was able to maintain relevance in consumers minds by adapting to changing technological and social environments. Fujifilm chose to incorporate their track record of producing high quality film into producing high quality digital sensors, and focusing on other aspects of business to maintain their brand promise (The Economist 1/2012). In later years, they have returned to their core by building retro-cameras that have a high appeal within the photographic community.

In 2012, Fujifilm launched a completely new camera system that had some early handling issues. As this new system had created a viral hype in many photographic forums, consumers quickly reacted to this and shared their thoughts - both on Fujifilm as a historical brand which stands for quality and photographic heritage - but also on the benefits and shortcomings of the new system (Flickr discussion forum). It didn’t take long for Fujifilm to react to this by releasing new firmwares and solutions to fix the addressed shortcomings. This was well received in the communities and a ”dialogue” where consumers openly addressed Fujifilm and got response by new updates and products could be observed (Flickr discussion forum). This supports Barwise and Meehan’s (2010) notion that social media should primarily be used for consumer insight and service. In this way, Fujifilm was able to control their message that is quality by quickly responding to consumers needs and hence their brand promise was fulfilled.

The result? They consistently recieve highly positive reviews and brand perceptions in social media, from Twitter to photographic forums and consumer driven test sites (Kenrockwell.com, Flickr discussion forum). An interesting note in this story is that of brand heritage - something both companies had to a high degree. Why did Fujifilm suceed and why did Kodak fail - given that both brands had such a high degree of brand heritage?

Fujifilm and Kodak can both be said to be heritage brands. They have a strong history in photography and were dominant in the market for a long time. Fujifilm offered cameras and film under it’s own brand name and produced cameras for the well-known Swedish brand Hasselblad. Kodak was market leader in film and camera production for many years. They both evoke the above mentioned feelings in consumers minds, and hence they should be able to have a high brand performance due to this. However, as of 2013, only Fujifilm remains a force in the market (The Economist 1/2012, Forbes 1/2012). Kodak was not able to cope with the changing demands that came with the digitalization of the camera industry, despite it’s strong brand heritage. Did this have anything to do with brand management, or was it a case of not being able to keep up with the technological development? One could argue a combination of both is true. If Kodak had been able to listen to and meet the demands of their customers rather than being product-centered, they could have been a force to be reckoned with. This did not happen, and then their brand heritage had a marginalized part to play in the overall brand equity in the mass market. The majority of Kodak’s customers could simply not trust Kodak as a brand in the new digital era (Forbes 1/2012). Had they listened to what happened in the photographic community, which is more and more in social media, they could have foreseen the development and addressed the needs of their customers. In this regard, Barwise and Meehan’s (2010) thoughts about social media as a way of gaining customer insight are confirmed, as is Wiedmann et al’s (2011) about leveraging credibility and trust through brand history. A brand simply needs to deliver on it’s heritage to stay relevant in consumers minds.

Concluding thoughts

One very important way for heritage brands to stay relevant, as illustrated by the Fujifilm case, is to adapt to technological and social changes. Similiarily, Kodak represents the worst case scenario. They did not cope with the paradigm shift from corporation-control to a more customer-centric way of thinking with the emergence of social media. This is a big learning for many other companies. Focusing on facilitating customer needs and engaging in co-creation and dialogue of in social media, and situations such as the one that Kodak experienced might be avoided. Co-creation and dialogue about brand heritage with customers is key to sustain a competitive advantage in terms of brand heritage.

More specifically, brands need to be customer-centric in the way that they are open to inviting consumers into the branding process, with brand heritage being a part, by utilizing social media, as examplified by the Fujifilm case and supported by Winer (2008), Barwise and Meehan (2010), Kietzmann et al (2011) and Hanna et al (2011). Co-creation of the brands heritage is an important part of the relationship between a brand and it’s customers. This mindset shift is the main key for success. Moving away from the corporation-centric way of thinking to facilitating customer needs and dialogue is crucial in the ever changing, fast paced marketing environment of today.


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