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The New Kodak Moment: Why Storytelling Is Harder Than Ever


Guest post by Greg Narain (@gregarious), co-founder of Chute, a social media platform that helps brands and publishers obtain rights to UGC content.

As a brand who innovated and heralded a technology that made time stand still – the Kodak moment became a colloquialism equivalent to capturing a moment worth savoring forever. For several generations, Kodak was the world’s record keeper. But those times have quickly come and gone.

Every moment ever photographed was a Kodak moment. Until they f***ed it all up. As my friend Brian Solis succinctly points out – the Kodak moment now marks the implosion of an amazing brand…the moment they missed how consumer behavior was shifting. It marks the hubris to resist the forces that made it successful. Worst of all, it commemorates the rift between a brand’s vision and the people who make a brand what it is.

Looking back several generations, the costs and challenges of photography and videography limited how much media we could create. Brands didn’t face this challenge – flush with the money and resources to create the most effective media. Today’s smartphone-rich world, however, affords everyone the opportunity to participate in storytelling.

Now, capturing is the easy part – we do it constantly through the phones we carry or the devices we wear. The number of recorded moments were small in comparison. In 2011 alone, we took 11% of all the photos ever taken, and in 2013 we’re projected to have captured 3.5 trillion. These artifacts of time were once precious, once Kodak moments, but we’ve become so rich in visual memories that we make them self-destruct. And maybe it’s better that way.

We have an infinite amount of perspectives to shape our narrative, but this doesn’t mean that we’ve become better storytellers. With this influx of media, it’s no longer up to brands to create the media, it’s up to brand to craft the story. The fundamental challenge is to process and package those moments to tell amazing stories that stop time and capture our imagination.

Every image tells a story, but we’re beginning to see trillions: trillions of images, trillions of stories, trillions of Instagram moments — but no narrative. What’s missing is the care and curation that makes stories great. This is every brand’s greatest opportunity.

37 COMMENTS ON THIS POST To “The New Kodak Moment: Why Storytelling Is Harder Than Ever”

  1. Nice post, Greg! I haven’t thought of that wonderful phrase in a long time. Or my film cameras sitting around gathering dust. It’s funny how photo moments have exploded now that every device has a camera – making brands and consumers both much more interesting and rife with possibilities to create emotion and connection.

    You might like this article that @ParkHowell from Park & Co agency posted yesterday – the story creator app seems really fantastic. I can’t wait to try it later today…

  2. Gregarious Narain says:

    Hi Carrie, thanks for the comment and the link – great stuff. I have to thank Brian for the inspiration – was at an event where he mentioned the Kodak so I jotted down some quick notes and here they are!

    Can’t agree more that that “emotional surface area” is on an exponential rise and that means some amazing opportunities for brands and publishers alike.

  3. Albert Leung says:

    Greg. Very nice post. I agree that brands now have the challenge of crafting a great story. Doing it visually certainly helps drive an emotional connection with the target audience. Perhaps even help with brand recall. Would love to hear some of your thoughts on how brands can better curate their visual content especially amid the constant onslaught of new images that are created and shared daily.

    • Gregarious Narain says:


      That’s a great question and likely requires quite a bit more exploration than I can provide in this little comment, but I believe there are some quick wins possible.

      1. Scan Frequently – often, we don’t take the time to browse the content actually being created due to the volume. Fortunately, visual content can be consumed significantly faster so it’s not nearly as daunting

      2. Involve the Community – your customers and community are already providing tons of social cues online which can help turn a daunting task into one that’s much more manageable. Bonus points for streamlining the process for getting great moments directly to you (tips, etc.)

      3. Find Ambassadors – watching the entire stream may be too much no matter what you do, but finding those creative souls who are regularly surprising you with their creations means less time hunting and more time curating.

      4. Incept Ideas – inspiring your community through missions of your own can lead to an amazing collection of insights but also help you build a rapport with the most passionate customers

    • Albert Leung says:

      Thanks, Greg. These are very helpful. Appreciate you taking the time to share those tips!

    • Gregarious Narain says:

      Absolutely! My pleasure.

    • Great suggestions! Love the allegory of a dying brand (Kodak) failing to innovative. Tons of lessons to be learned here!

  4. Mine Seckler says:

    Well thought through article, Greg!

  5. mankul65 says:

    Way back in 1991, Bill Gates predicted the demise of Kodak!

    What about Kodak? Asked Bill Ruane. “Kodak is toast” Bill Gates said. Nobody else in the Buffett Groups knew that the Internet and digital technology would make film cameras toast. In 1991, even Kodak didn’t know it was toast.

    Catalign Innovation Consulting: Kodak is toast: Insights from Bill Gates at Buffett Group meeting on losing competitive advantage

  6. Steve Freeman says:

    Brian, I totally agree Kodak can now be compared to the term “riding the shark”. They became an aged company, one who’s hearing and sight has become impaired! I hadn’t thought about the story telling aspect and that is a great point. Thanks for the insight!

  7. You said “This is every brand’s greatest opportunity” — I don’t agree.

    I work in the Technology, Media and Telecom sectors. Most large tech companies are not able to become authentic storytellers — regardless of the fact that many have amassed an army of self-proclaimed “Social Media Expert” employees.

    In reality, few companies have the talent to turn this particular opportunity into something that will impact their core business objectives. Instead, I see lots of pointless social media busy-work that lacks strategic intent. My point: if you can’t act on this opportunity, by creating meaningful and substantive content, then it has no value — until you can, it’s merely a tease.

    • Gregarious Narain says:


      Seem that logic could be applied to practically any innovation that ever has presented itself. Brick and mortar companies likely had no interest or observable value in the internet or in-store connectivity when that first became known. Social has certainly had its share of problems, but largely because what it represents has the potential to sweep across many different facets of the business itself.

      Where most businesses failed initially, and are only now re-adjusting, was to take a strategic look at the value of social instead of the tactics required to execute it. As you noted, most everyone armed themselves with “Social Media Experts” as oppose to true stakeholders within the organization who would be most impacted. So yes there’s a problem with the process and execution, but that doesn’t mean its not useful and ultimately valuable to the business.

      So the real question is, how important is being a real storyteller to the future of business? Or put another way, how do customers need to be engaged to part with their time, attention and money and how do you make sure you’re doing everything to get there. Social has only just now opened most eyes to this.

    • Greg, this is another place where our point of view differs. I don’t believe that social media is an innovation, it’s merely a communication tool — nothing more. Moreover, the busy-work of social media (pointless tweeting, etc) fills the time of these “Experts” because it’s very easy to do.

      In contrast, meaningful and substantive storytelling (in my field) requires domain experience and knowledge — which the Experts typically do not have. And they really don’t want to learn it, because they believe being a social Expert is a profession. Truly, this scenario has led to the current dysfunction.

      Therefore, given my own experience, I’ve seen little connection between the skills required to become an accomplished commercial storyteller and those of the typical Experts that prefers to be busy counting “impressions” — regardless of the business outcome.

      More candid thoughts on this topic are in my editorial series for Medium.

    • Gregarious Narain says:

      I think we agree more than we disagree, in truth. While I can see your passion for the subject, I choose to be more optimistic and consider out current era as the first of many stepping stones to an improved mode of doing business.

      I don’t believe that social is an innovation per se, I think it is one of many tactics that have resulted from the open access and insights we can now glean directly from our customers. You are right that we’ve entered into an unsustainable arms race to “out-produce” the next guy, but that’s just poor tactics in my opinion.

      As I think you posit well, the challenge for a CMO today is to determine the ROI of their activities. Making any decision in this direction, however, would require taking stock of the raw resources present in that see of opinions social media is presently navigating. This mixture is not universal by any means and must be analyzed through the lens of every business to determine not only what, if any information exists within, but also the company’s means to process and package that data. As you’ve pointed out, the problem is one of talent – but quite possibly because we continue to use the wrong tools because they are the ones we have most readily or cheaply available.

      Is there anything we do for our businesses that doesn’t or shouldn’t require domain expertise and knowledge. As much as the ROI of social has yet to materialize on the terms of its previous incarnations, it seems that now is likely a better time to regroup than retreat.

    • MauriceOnAnIsland says:

      Ha, ha, My sympathies Mr. Narian. While you seek to diplomatically assure David H Deans of the value of applying ROI to Social, I am reminded of nothing so much a scene from Goldfinger as you (James Bond) lie upon the table while Mr. Dean (Goldfinger) watches his ROI laser slowing approach your private parts.

      Bond: “You expect me to talk?”
      Goldfinger: “No Mr. Bond I expect you to die!”

      I can offer no such sympathies to Mr. Deans since his vaguely snide dismissal of story telling beyond the scope of his particular grey-man domain within corporate subculture combined with his imperious attitude that soon, soon, any day now, you just watch, the pink-slip sword of Damocles will fall upon the heads of all these “social” types.

      Mr. Deans you should know better. ROI has always been as much a weapon of corporate politics as a financial metric. As much as you’d like to believe its going to clear the decks of all the riff-raff, the blade could very easily swing the other way.

      This is especially true these days when corporate media buyers are asked to justify expenditures on mainstream media and some executive might be tempted to chime in, “Mainstream media? Trade Mag ad buys? Does this stuff even exist anymore?”

  8. MauriceOnAnIsland says:

    “We have an infinite amount of perspectives to shape our narrative, but this doesn’t mean that we’ve become better storytellers”

    Maybe not bad story tellers, just bad story manipulators. Kodak’s demise, while not predetermined, was reflective of a whole sector (the record business for example) that was based on selling both the content and the devices that deliver the content; an age of manufacturing that simply could not sustain in the digital age. That’s why it was so obvious to Bill Gates and others in his sphere that it was toast.

    So I’m not so sure your message is served by your (or Brian’s) use of Kodak’s demise as a cautionary tale though I can see it’s allure “company that helps people tell their stories cannot come up with a new story for itself”. Is that a fair assessment of the narrative you are using?

    To me the whole concept that an enterprise must be masters at controlling their own story doesn’t resonate beyond the context of business interests shaping a consumers view of ‘who’ the service provider or merchant subjectively is. On social media, unlike the now extinct gravitas of corporate media, subjective conclusion evaporate with the rapidity of a tweet. Meanwhile, there are those that are willing to tell companies that yes you can shape the whole objective story at will just do this and that on social media and the public will once again be putty in your hands.That advice is chicanery.

    I do not accuse you of this approach. I just mean to point out the patterns that seem to be at play in this arena. The reason the above approach has no validity is that it is fraught with huge credibility issues while companies resolutely refuse to pursue the one strategy that would work on the public’s resistance–and that is to give up (truly give up) control of the story

    Is Kodak an Instructive little parable? Yes but that’s why narrative’s exist, to inform the ACT of storytelling and that’s why we must not conflate narrative with story telling and doing so will lead to a false sense of being able to manipulate the narrative. Narratives tend to write themselves and any alternative approaches can be detected by the public like the smell of yesterday’s catch of fish brought to the market as today’s fresh product.

    All is not chaos though, in one sense there is nothing new under the sun for the enterprise that does business in free markets managed by democratic institutions and therefore must have a public image that represents the values of the society it does business in. Oh yes, you’re premise that we have an infinite amount of perspectives is self evident if you add the caveat that we now live in a world where that cavalcade of perspectives can now be easily accessed by all the other consumers and now for the first time those impressions objectively matter. But the “walk away” narrative then becomes, “Oh, now what we think REALLY matters, beyond focus groups and internal studies, well la-de-da.” I can practically hear the consumer chortle at his/her new role at this shift in the balance of market power

    There’s the rub. The story a business decides to tell about itself on social media is, at first pass, often a story that only the business interest itself finds compelling. Indeed, the broader narrative (a whole n’other kettle of fish that is hard for a single commercial interest to control) may only be added to negatively when the customer is asked to join in on the storytelling through social media. It has the effect of de-legitimizing the customers personal experience rather than enhancing the company’s ‘brand’.

    Why? Because of the tendency of business to manipulate narrative in the same way that the Wizard of Oz didn’t want Dorothy to look behind the curtain. This pressure exists because business only want to tell one kind of story; the success story. Until they are brave enough to ‘open’ the company’s stories up to be measured against more realistic types of narratives no amount of master manipulation by even the Hollywood specialists will win markets for companies.

    This is why its now foolish to conflate narrative and story, thinking the public (Dorothy) will be too dazzled to notice the man behind the curtain. A lesson that Washington is also reluctant to learn. Everyday on social media consumers are gaining expertise in delineating the difference between narrative and story because unlike the old days no one person (or even group) now owns the megaphone. All the while slow moving institution and stodgy companies still think they can sell marketing propaganda as compelling messages.

    The public is, by and large, laughing at these efforts and this situation will continue while the old corporatist (everything is just fine and don’t ask any tough questions at the shareholders meeting) model remains in place holding up a superficial facade to a public that, in turn, is saying “no sale”.

    • briansolis says:

      Maurice, to be clear, Kodak’s demise was not solely tied to that of an entire industry, it was linked to the company’s inability to invest in its innovative digital portfolio for fear of eroding its film business. Additionally, executives grossly under estimated how quickly digital would impact customer behavior. Everything was profitable until it wasn’t…that’s what I refer to as the new Kodak moment. I talk about it in reference to business models and leadership culture. It’s the premise behind “The End of Business as Usual.”

    • MauriceOnAnIsland says:

      Thank you for your clarification. I now appreciate that there is greater nuance in your choice of Kodak as ‘parable’, in effect, alluding to your expert deconstruction of that particular case of business culture/mindset in relation to market dynamics. Given your added context I can see with greater clarity the appropriateness of the Kodak moment as you use it.

      My point is perhaps more to the nature of the semiotics of story telling in the universe that is social media and the lack of overlap this realm has with corporate cultural mindset with its more goal-oriented solution-space patterns of thought. It really seems to be a case of chalk and cheese. More so than I’ve seen any on-line thinker show a willingness to articulate. Perhaps its because I am alone in this assessment

      Social media is, in large part, the desperate and lonely pursuit of compelling story. Something which, I argue, Hollywood and other institutions are now failing to provide to our culture. In part because Hollywood has devolved into a purely corporate and solely profit-motivated mindset much like Kodak did. Unlike modern corporate culture compelling story has no master to please. Only itself.

      That is the key to the “buy in” experience and trusting the narrative that informs the story and makes it compelling. This is anathema to business process which by its nature is always a child of agenda. Agenda can be somewhat compelling when the listener/readers agenda (as consumer) aligns but this experience falls short of the higher expectations of what we know as ‘branding’. To get around this schism of intentions and build a brand with a broader audience, business traditionally used Madison Avenues compendium of techniques to access existing narrative stored within the subconscious of the consumer as a means of delivering a short sharp shock to the nervous system. This is not really possible on social media.

      Madison Avenue has no truck on social media that I am aware of. The nature of the stream of digital information is different enough to disrupt the power of traditional advertising. Short of corporate interests as a lobby group changing the nature of the online experience into something more like a traditional broadcast model (something I’m sure they are musing upon) the nature of corporate culture itself has to radically change to appear relevant within the context of social media.

      In that light, while the details of Kodak’s demise inform an understanding of why companies should care about changing social dynamics outside their bubble and therefore develop counter-measure type strategies, beyond that truism it seems inevitable to me that Kodak should NOT exist within this new realm which is, in terms of digital media in an experiential sense, a complete incongruity to the worldview that was brought to us by Kodak for so long Despite their technical expertise in digital capture, an appreciation of the experience of digital freedom eluded them.

  9. Kristen Williams says:

    I agree that we have so many more pictures circulating around the world today because of how easy it is to take pictures. It is sad that Kodak couldn’t keep up with the times and use this to their advantage. The second point you made about the fact that there isn’t really a narrative or a story behind the pictures doesn’t really sit well with me. Perhaps our generation takes trillions and trillions of pictures and we post them on ten different social media sites, but they’re still tiny moments captured in time. When we look at those pictures they tell us a story and that’s what really matters. The fact that Instagram is so big represents this idea. We literally only need a picture to tell a story. A picture is worth a thousand words. Regardless if it’s a Kodak moment, it’s still a moment in time that we have captured.

    • Gregarious Narain says:


      I definitely don’t mean to take away from the inherent value of any individual moment – I even wrote a post about it –

      That said, we are moving closer and closer to a “continuous shutter” mode of operation – where more and more of our moments are captured – either directly, socially or inadvertently. As that happens, fewer of those windows on time will benefit from the same care and consideration of their predecessors. That, to me, is the fundamental difference.

      The window this opens, however, is that the connective tissue between those moments still remains to be defined, perhaps with even more fidelity, to bring those moments back to life. Every picture has the potential to tell countless stories – the art is getting more than just the photographer to know which one.


  10. John Park says:

    You have to be selective of when you try the storytelling technique. If you do it too often then people become numb to it. YOu need to do it in your blogs or articles. As a member of franchise PR agency I know how intense it is to become a great story teller but it is the lifeblood of this industry. Almost every industry.

    • Gregarious Narain says:

      Absolutely right John. There is always a need for moderation with any tactic. A great narrative, much like a well defined set of values and strategies, live on beyond their individual incarnations.

  11. Gonzalo Navia says:

    Amazing post, I totally share the same thought.
    I believe that is about how Society, globally, looks for simple and fast ways to share and create content just because.
    I believe that because of this people believe that they taking pictures, recording video, etc is only one filter away, leaving a side the main idea of all: to tell stories.

  12. Frank P Hardy says:

    You make a good point about everyone wanting a simple way share a moment, but lack the ability to be a storyteller … I agree with you a hundred per cent. But having been a photographer for 40 years and my father was a photographer, both he and I worshiped at the alter of the ” Great Yellow Father “. The problem turned out the Kodak was so self-absorbed with it’s own importance and conceit, that it totally ignored and could not recognize the digital revolution. And the irony is that Kodak held the patents for the first digital camera! In a way it is fitting that they were taken down by their own discovery. This example of conceit should be mandatory study for all business classes in the future. Enjoy your blog … Frank Hardy

  13. oregonwheel says:


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