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How Your Business Can Last Longer than a Twinkie

Kodak and Hostess may have landed in bankruptcy court, but you can avoid their fate. Here are four tips.
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It's been a tough new year for some once-golden brands. Hostess filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy  reorganization Jan. 11, followed a week later by the bankruptcy filing for Kodak, the company known for capturing the 20th Century on film. Remember those Kodak moments?

These brands had both achieved the dream of most companies. They were household names, and their products were universally known and well-regarded. Now, they are struggling to survive.

What happened? Times kept changing, and so did technology. Neither company kept up. They probably aren't the only big brands we'll see fall this year, either -- check out this list of 17 more at-risk brands.

How did Kodak and Hostess go so wrong? Here are four ways to avoid their fate:

  1. Don't get out of touch. When is the last time you ate a Twinkie ? For many of us, it's a dim childhood memory, as people often try to avoid eating products that sport a long list of unnamable ingredients and have an almost unlimited shelf life. But as far as I can tell, Hostess doesn't sell any other kind.

    The health-food craze began back in the 1980s, so, at some point along the line, Hostess should have realized it was time to diversify the product line. Like too many companies, Hostess made the fatal assumption that because something worked in the past, it would always work. By contrast, competing dessert-maker Nabisco has its junk food, but it also has whole-wheat Triscuits.
  2. Extend your brand. Consider just one Nabisco product: Oreos. Once, there were just plain Oreos. Now, there are reduced-fat Oreos, golden Oreos, "Double-Stuf," mint, peanut butter, chocolate-filled, chocolate-dipped, and miniature Oreos, as well as 100-calorie packs of Oreos. There are more than 50 different kinds of Oreos for every occasion, diet and taste.

    For its part, Hostess lists a total of one dozen products in the entire company. If they'd kept innovating, maybe a variant on one of their classics could have been a new hit and brought in more sales. Instead, the only thing I've seen a Twinkie do in recent history is get deep-fried at a fair. Where is the chocolate Twinkie, the bag of mini-Twinkies, the no-trans-fats Twinkie?
  3. Embrace your new ideas. It's ironic to consider now, but Kodak developed and released the first digital camera. They created it, but the company didn't promote its digital products the way competitor Fuji did when it joined the digital revolution. Kodak execs saw digital as a threat to their cash cow, the print-film business, so they let the opportunity pass by.
  4. Keep reinventing. Often, new ideas threaten a company's established success. But over the long haul, you've got to keep changing your business. Otherwise, you look up one day and what you're selling is the equivalent of the buggy whip, which, as it happens, is what one of my grandfathers originally sold. Then, he switched to electronic car parts and made a fortune, while other buggy-whip sellers went bust. Ask yourself where your industry is going next -- then, go there first, while your competitors are still wondering whether that new thing will matter.

What will you change at your business this year? Leave a comment and tell us how you'll grow.

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