Two days before the Wall Street Journal reported Kodak will file for bankruptcy, James R. Gregory, CEO of branding and market research firm CoreBrand, predicted that Kodak would “disappear” as a brand in 2012.
CoreBrand conducts 8,000 phone surveys of business leaders every year, and asks them about the corporate reputations of 800 companies in 49 industries. Participants are asked to rate brands based on favorability, overall reputation, perception of management, and investment potential.
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Kodak has been in trouble for years, of course, after it invented the digital camera in 1975 and then failed to capitalise on it. But it was intriguing that the CoreBrand survey signaled the potential end of Kodak before its lawyers did.
Gregory says his data also shows that the Sears and Saab brands are failing to contribute to their companies’ fortunes, as is Yum! Brands and insurer Aon.
We asked Gregory to tell us which other companies’ brands appear to be in trouble, and why.
Bankruptcy doesn't mean the end for Kodak as a business. The company and its brands could be bought or restructured. But it isn't looking good.
'There is high familiarity with the Kodak brand,' Gregory says, 'but there's a lack of clarity or focus for the organisation, which shows up in our data. It's much harder to understand what Kodak does these days. The film and development and printing of pictures is not something Kodak does anymore. Therefore, what is it they actually do? That's something that's not well understood.'
An operating loss is expected at Sears Holding Corp. for 2011 and the company is axing 100 to 120 Sears and Kmart stores to keep up. CEO Eddie Lampert is sticking with his company, however. Could Sears really disappear?
'Their brand has been suffering from the corporate brand perspective,' Gregory says. 'As strong as a brand is, and it has huge familiarity and favorability over the years, you can't continue to have a lack of focus without causing long-term damage.'
You've probably never heard of Avery Dennison but you've almost certainly used its products. It's perhaps best-known for Hi-Liter pens. Avery just sold its office and consumer products business to 3M for $550 million. Could this be the beginning of the end for Avery? Gregory can't say, but he notes that 'The data is always accurate in identifying problems.'
An easy call, as Saab hasn't made a car since April and it filed for bankruptcy in Sweden in December.
'The brand itself might be pretty strong, as is the case with Kodak. A brand alone cannot overcome the financial aspects of an organisation,' Gregory says.
This is a surprise: The reinsurer signed a huge new sponsorship contract with Manchester United. Its name is arguably better known globally now than it has been in years.
Gregory's data, however, argues that in the U.S. Aon's marketing is not working, and therefore the company might as well drop the brand. 'Aon has been one that has tried very hard to build its brand image. But it has been, basically from my perspective, ineffective. It might be more effective in other countries.'
Financially, CA is in rude health. Its brand, however, is like a marketing witness protection program. The company used to be better known as Computer Associates but that name was tarnished by an accounting scandal in the mid-2000s.
'Again this is a brand that has evolved over time,' Gregory says. 'They have not really focused on the corporate image of their organisation so their brand is not pulling its weight in terms of what it should be doing.'
Yum! is the owner of KFC, Taco Bell and Pizza Hut. The three restaurant chains were originally spun out of PepsiCo, and the company is doing well as a whole. But the fourth moniker isn't adding any brand equity, and the company could live without it if it wanted to, Gregory says. 'One of the jobs of a holding company is to make sure the corporate message is getting out. I think they did at the very beginning but they never put meaning behind it.'
The former Pittsburgh Plate Glass Company makes paint and other industrial products, including Lucite, the see-through plastic often associated with stripper heels. (In fact PPG only makes Lucite coatings; a different company, Lucite International, makes Lucite acrylic products, such as shoes.*)
PPG suffers from a similar problem as Yum! -- its individual products and brands are famous in their own worlds, but the parent company remains an unknown.
'PPG traditionally has been a big brand in the U.S., not as a name consumers would know but as a manufacturer of paint and glass and other things,' Gregory says. Yet among its core audience -- 'avid readers of the business press,' Gregory says -- PPG ought to be as famous as Behr or Benjamin Moore.
*Correction: This item originally said incorrectly that PPG makes stripper heels. Clearly our knowledge of the gentlemen's club footwear industry was not as thorough as it should have been. Apologies to PPG.
Steelcase is an office furniture manufacturer. If you've ever had a job, there's a good chance you've used or sat on its products. 'This one perplexes me more than most,' Gregory says. 'They make wonderful products. They're a U.S.-based company. They've been able to withstand the ups and downs of the office furniture industry. I just don't think they have a strong corporate brand.'
'It doesn't mean the company isn't performing well,' Gregory says. 'Our point of view is on the corporate brand and how it's contributing to the financial value of the company.'
It's a bank, and like all banks suffers from the horrible reputation of the financial services industry as a whole. 'They're also a smaller regional bank as opposed to a Bank of America or Citibank,' Gregory says.
One obvious problem: What, exactly, is the difference between KeyBank and KeyCorp.?
Pictured: KeyCorp. CEO Beth Mooney.
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