Even before the Ink Dries

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by: Jonathan Salem Baskin

Kodak has just announced its new "Print and Prosper" marketing campaign, and I think it’s utterly brilliant branding.

The premise is simple: Kodak printers use cheaper ink without sacrificing quality, so they cost less to use. As most everyone knows, at least viscerally, cartridges are the not-so-secret whammy that lets HP, Lexmark, Brother, and the other manufacturers push down the hardware cost..and then recoup everything, and more, through ink usage over time.

Gillette pioneered this approach with its blade pricing, though it has become so expertly copied that it risks becoming synonymous with hidden costs. Discovering the financial impact of using a printer is kind of like getting told that checking a second bag on an airline will be an additional expense…or that the car you think you just priced will cost extra thanks to various dealer fees. It just seems somewhat dishonest, even if the consumer should have consciously expected it.

So I like the Kodak strategy because it hits on a fact that requires no explanation, and declares that there will be no surprises. You don’t need to deconstruct the message that Kodak printers are cheaper to operate. There’s no hip imagery, music, or vain attempts to associate emotions with the business. Saving money is a happy emotion, and requires no elaboration.

This says lots about the authenticity of its brand, as well as its relevance. It’s a welcome contrast to the nonsense feel good marketing on which it has been wasting its money for the past few years. People might actually buy the stuff because of this campaign.

It’s supported with an online calculator to figure out how much money you’d save (by asking details about the printer you’re currently using, so it’s also a nefarious swipe at gathering data), and there’s a silly partnership with some "consumer advocate" to help expose the issue (it looks ersatz, and adds nothing). I’m sure we’ll see the requisite Facebook page(s) and other social media expenditures that constitute the creative tax that agencies levy on clients these days.

I would have taken the plunge and added more operational components to it, like:

  • Different pricing models — Cartridge purchases could be the basis of a loyalty program, allowing buyers to accrue value over time. Or how about a more visible spent unit return program that had some measurable deliverable that helped save the planet?
  • Novel bundles — Why not put together a B&W cartridge and a supply of paper that it could cover? There’s no good reason why ink and paper are sold separately, at least from a consumer perspective. Kodak could recommend the "right" paper for its bargain cartridges, and price the bundles (photo copying, color printing, etc.) to sell.
  • New distribution — I’m thinking subscription here, or some other semi-automatic replenishment mechanism. There’s also no good reason to make customers go to the store to buy cartridges, and usually it’s because they’ve run out when they were trying to accomplish something (i.e. it’s negative to the brand experience).
  • Link to other divisions — Now that we can print more pages without guilt, couldn’t Kodak offer an upload/online backup storage service (or, since the printed documents were already computer files, maybe the capacity to store and/or OCR hand-written edits, drawings, etc)? There must be a connection here to printing pictures.
  • Long-term picture — A printer has the half-life of a flea, so it’s effectively worthless by the time you’ve hooked it up to your computer. So why not sell subscriptions (or membership, or whatever) to them, instead of simply retailing stand-alone pieces of hardware? There could be a service component to such a relationship structure, too. So maybe people lease printers…then trade-in, trade-up, etc.?

The brilliance of Kodak’s latest branding is that it sets the stage for any of these possibilities…or for better ones, because it is simple, factual, and relevant. 

The company can aggresively improve on the campaign even before the ink dries.

Original Post: http://dimbulb.typepad.com/my_weblog/2009/03/even-before-the-ink-dries.html