1989 – 2014: 25-YEARS IN MARKET RESEARCH. Don’t Become Another Eastman Kodak

November 1989


Last week a moderator delivering the state of market research in a webinar said, “We don’t want to become another Eastman Kodak.” Meaning, market researchers need to find ways to not become a dying breed. As an industry, we have to understand where we’ve come from – not just over the past 25 years – and what opportunities lie in the future in order to continue to evolve.


I suppose that is why the 1989 Quirk’s article about Polaroid caught my eye as I was preparing to write the November blog. To me, Polaroid is a name from my past that seems to have died along with Kodak. The November 1989 article, Picture this – Polaroid “checks out” the users of its professional films, which ran in Quirk’s Marketing Research Review, reveals another side of Polaroid that I was not aware of. Polaroid served eight professional market sectors, one being the medical field that used Polaroid to capture images like ultrasounds.


Polaroid used a very innovative research methodology to gather feedback. They randomly inserted a check with a survey printed on the back into boxes of five of Polaroid’s most popular professional film types – approximately 2,000 checks per type. The checks were packed into one box of film per case, so that customers who buy in large quantities would not receive more than one check. Back in 1989, the typical incentive for consumer-related market research projects was $1.00, but because the Polaroid respondents were professional photographers, a $3.00 incentive was used. To get as close to a geographically based random sample as possible, Polaroid dispersed the checks to distribution centers in proportion to the previous year’s sales of the product.


Polaroid used the market research findings to give their advertising and promotion teams more insight into their customers and to assist their efforts to increase awareness among potential customers.




November 2014


While I only think of Polaroid as the funky camera of the 60’s that spit out a square of film that developed before your eyes, Polaroid has evolved – a little. In 2011, Polaroid launched a fully-functioning digital camera and integrated no-ink printer to transform digital pictures into 3×4” prints. However, according to PC Magazine’s review of the product, “If you went back to, say, the 1980s with it, and handed it to someone to take your picture, they’d probably be impressed by the 2.7-inch color LCD for framing the image, but they’d probably not notice anything else special about it. Just snap the picture, and a reasonably good-quality print comes out the front slot.”[1]


Fast forward to 2014; Polaroid has jumped into the action camera market with the Polaroid Cube. The 35mm camera is weatherproof, shockproof, mountable and packed with 1080p HD video, 124° wide-angle lens, and built-in battery that records up to 90 minutes.[2] I think Polaroid is brave to go up against the likes of GoPro, but do they have a choice? According to the article, GoPro Evolution: From 35mm Film to America’s Fastest-Growing Camera Company, “Consumers are no longer spending their money on point and shoot cameras-pocket cameras-because they already have that in the form of their smartphone.” GoPro took advantage of a period when smartphones were making traditional digital cameras and camcorders obsolete – a realization that hit Cisco before it shuttered its Flip Camera business in 2011.


It takes vision and planning for an industry and its key players to evolve. My bet is on GoPro. GoPro’s young CEO Nick Woodman said, “We’re in our 11th year at GoPro and have confidence in our vision of the future. We’re building solutions that enable people to capture and share life experiences… and as a result GoPro is growing virally via [users’] content creation and sharing.” As for Eastman Kodak, their website says, “The company is now writing its next chapter as a technology company focused on imaging for business.” What is Polaroid’s future? Well, the Polaroid Museum opened in Las Vegas in 2014. I don’t know if that’s a glimpse into their future, or a tribute to their past.


As for the market research industry, the Fall GRIT report found that 32% of the researchers completing the state-of-the industry survey expect some change, and 25% expect a lot of change, over the next five years. There are a variety of new approaches, and that means I have the hard work of understanding how, when – and whether – these solutions can be useful. I have a more pragmatic approach to innovation. I look for those with real substance, which can be practically applied, are battle-tested in the market, and have been proven to have real client value. Because, like most of the GRIT respondents, client budgetary constraints is one of the biggest issues that impacts any changes in how Lockwood Research collects data.


To avoid being an Eastman Kodak, it’s time to get prepared for what’s next.


[1] http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2396778,00.asp

[2] http://www.polaroid.com/history