CMO Interview: How Kodak’s global CMO is bringing the brand back from the brink

Kodak’s global chief marketing officer on rejuvenating the brand through creativity, innovation and the next digital wave

Steve Overman
Steve Overman


Corporate culture

At the same time, fostering the right corporate culture has been vital to success. Overman admits the culture he found when he arrived at Kodak two years ago was “resilient but traumatised”.

“What unified everybody was a hunger to thrive and prove they could change,” he says. “But culture doesn’t change just because the CMO or CEO says it should, culture is what happens in the everyday – in the way we make decisions and communicate with each other.”

Culture doesn’t change just because the CMO or CEO says it should, culture is what happens in the everyday – in the way we make decisions and communicate with each other


One challenge was that Kodak had acquired a number of businesses across the globe but failed to integrate them. To overcome this, Kodak CEO, Jeff Clark, made the decision to globally distribute the leadership team, and Overman himself is based in London, rather than Kodak’s Rochester headquarters.

Another big step Overman took with the marketing function was to move it into an open working space, changing the physical orientation of how people work. Other things are helping too – drinks on Fridays, more collaborative ways of working, and the re-introduction of consumer-facing products are all encouraging staff to apply different learnings, experiment and bringing back a level of pride, he says.

Winning over customers

From a customer-facing perspective, Overman’s intention has been to cement Kodak’s position in what he calls the “business-to-people [B2P]” space.

“Ultimately, brand serves people,” he claims. “Psychology tells us every decision is about 80 per cent emotional and only 20 per cent rational. I’d suggest a B2B decision may be even more emotional, and trust plays a huge role.”

Overman points out the people making decisions to buy Kodak’s printing and technology solutions today on behalf of the enterprise are the people who remember and trusted Kodak as consumers. “That legacy helps with our customer set and I think we can do more to leverage the Kodak brand in that area,” he says.

A turning points this year, both in terms of resurrecting Kodak in the eyes of buyers as well as staff, was its display at German printing industry exhibition, Drupa. The iconic event is held every four years.

For its stand this year, the marketing team created an experience based around an inner city suburb in the process of regeneration by artists. Street scapes, buildings, coffee shops and a grocery store were among the neighbourhood elements created using Kodak technology.

“We filled the area with Kodak yellow, and we brought back the ‘K-bug’ Kodak logo, which had been wiped away by the prior administration looking to eradicate the past,” Overman says. “It was incredibly well received – one customer called it Disneyland for printers.”

More importantly, from a metrics perspective, the activity outperformed sales target by 187 per cent. The reasons are twofold, Overman says.

“One, customers encountered a Kodak they loved - it wasn’t Kodak trying to look like some brand new or 2004 tech printing company, it had been around for over a century. Secondly, it made our Kodak people feel proud, so they sold more effectively.”

At the end of the day, marketers are matchmakers, Overman claims. “We create contexts and conditions for great relationships to thrive,” he says.

“Whether that’s a customer, partner or employee relationship, economic and financial value is created. We did that at Drupa by tapping into our legacy. When people first saw the renderings of what we were going to create, they said it looked like a consumer experience. I said it’s a human experience – it’s a Kodak branded experience and it worked.”

Creative partnerships

Creative partnerships are another core element in Overman’s plans for Kodak’s regeneration. “One of the privileges of working for a brand like Kodak that has provided material to some of those world’s greatest artists, is that they want to see us come back too,” he says.

Recently, Kodak undertook a project with editorial director and publisher of Dazed magazine, Jefferson Hack, to launch his new book, We Can’t Do This Alone: Jefferson Hack the System. The collaboration at Paris store, Collette, saw Kodak’s Prosper inkjet technology used to produce thousands of individualised book covers in minutes.

“We’re also using creative partnerships to build technologies and when that partner is highly visible, like JJ Abrams, we get a buzz out of that,” Overman says. “For a CMO, that is really fun. In past lives, I’ve had to pay for that – at Kodak, these creatives come to us and ask how they can help.”

The importance of innovation

But for Kodak to really thrive again, it needs to be able to embrace sustainable innovation. Overman points out the company has always been good at innovating; what it’s struggled with is commercialising it.

There are success stories. For example, in its graphics business, Kodak has produced Sonora process free plates. The plates use hardly any water, almost no chemistry, and provide a much cleaner way of printing, honouring Kodak’s commitment to sustainability.

Overman’s product team is also seeking to innovate through partnerships, such as the one for its smartphones. “In this instance, the innovation has not only been within the device itself, but how the device will be positioned, the industrial design language of it, and so forth,” he says.

The burgeoning Internet of Things (IoT) space is another one Overman sees significant opportunity for Kodak at the material science level. He emphasises the company’s deep expertise in photo sensitive materials and micro particles that interact with light as a growing opportunity in a world of connected devices and sensors.

Kodak already has a partnership with 3D printing company, Carbon, which uses lights and magnetism to pull a solid form out of a liquid resin, to help develop these materials. Overman says additional partnerships are on the cards.

“We’re entering a world where the materials around us are-self healing and repairing, have in-built intelligence, and benefit from machine learning, artificial intelligence and 3D printing paradigms,” he says. “It’s a world where cars aren’t only self-driving, they’re self-repairing.

“The next wave of the digital revolution is where the world of digital and physical come together and our material world in effect learns from us and shape shifts around us. Kodak can play a leading role in that world.

“On the consumer side, we are a creativity company. But at the heart of our ability to deliver stuff that enables people to create is science.”

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