Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Is Xerox Wasting Their Money?

The Wall Street Journal announced last week that Xerox Corp. is launching its most expensive advertising campaign in two decades with the hope of repositioning the company away from being just a copier maker and expanding into business services.  In fact, Xerox has already purchased outsourcer Affiliated Computer Services to help it do just that.  It now faces the tough task of changing the perception customers hold of Xerox.

This announcement begs a question to be asked.  Why do some companies, such as Apple and IBM, have such great success reinvigorating growth through market repositioning while others like Xerox, Polaroid, and Kodak struggle?

All of these companies have a few things in common.  They have all had success selling their products and, as a result, are known for something.  Once their growth rate slowed, each of them invested in launching new products and services.  Some, like Kodak, have even won awards for them.  However, the market has not rewarded all of their efforts equally. 

We all know how Apple has transformed from a computer company to a mobile device and entertainment company with their slick iPod, iPhone, iPad, and iTunes products.  As a result, they are now the most valued technology concern on the planet.  Similarly, IBM moved from being predominantly a hardware/mainframe business in the 1990s to being one of the largest IT integrators/outsourcers.  Their reputation for being technology experts has given them the right to do this in the minds of their customers.  In contrast, Xerox has tried for years to move from being a manufacturer of photocopiers to a document management services company.  They have had marginal success.

I believe the answer lies within how these companies repositioned themselves.  Both Apple and IBM found an important problem the customer was struggling to get done, developed a superior and sustainable solution, and then provided clear and credible points of distinction to help build their “story” in the minds of their customers.  They connected who they are to how they can help customers get other jobs done.

On the other hand, Polaroid and Kodak, both known for early innovations in photography, have failed to carve out a valued position in the digital world.  They have struggled to develop new products AND tell the world why their products are superior to other solutions already on the market.  To customers, there was no clear link between what they were known for and the new solutions they had launched.

Now, Xerox is planning to launch a very expensive ad campaigns to do just that – tell the world why they should consider Xerox for help with mundane business processes.  Will they be successful?  Have they “earned the right” to do this from the customer’s perspective?  This depends on whether or not they help customers see how a copier manufacturer can be much more than that.  If they don’t, then they are just wasting their money.

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