Fan development

The digital camera market is in a tail-spin (source):

  • Since 2010, the sales of stand-alone digital cameras (e.g. not in a phone) have plummeted to 2003 levels.
  • Men buy the overwhelming majority of cameras.
  • People over 40 buy the overwhelming majority of cameras.

And yet, snapshot photography has never been more popular. To most people, their phones take photos that are good enough, and for many situations, I would agree. I would even point out that “good enough” is a very low bar for many people. Consider the typical selfie taken in a bar: they are almost universally horrible from a photographic quality perspective, but they are so pervasive that if you don’t take one while you’re out with friends, well, you probably didn’t even go out.

So people like to take pictures, that’s clear. What isn’t obvious to most people is that they could do so much more. So what are Canon and Nikon (and Sony, Pentax, et al) to do? So far, they’ve tried typical marketing, and product iteration. The cameras from point-and-shoots all the way up to DSLRs (and beyond) have gotten amazingly better in the last 15 years. And people bought cameras as each generation got better. But that’s no longer good enough.

What does Nikon do? I Am Generation Image. “…we sent a Nikon camera on a journey to help seven people, with something to say, make their mark.”

Yes, that’s right. They sent a camera. To seven people. And then Nikon produced a lovely website that they hope people will visit, and imagine that they too can produce interesting work with a camera. Take a look at the first of the videos produced by Nikon. Did you notice that there was almost nothing showing what the subjects of the video actually produced with the camera? Yeah, that’s what I would call a marketing failure.

I propose that Canon and Nikon (et al) take a page from professional sports–fan development. For example, the Columbus Blue Jackets has an entire organization and budget devoted to building their fan-base from the ground up. They sponsor ice and street hockey clubs, ticket give aways, tournaments, and lots more. They are trying to educate their new fans on the game, and get people talking about hockey in any way they can.

So here is what Nikon and Canon ought to be doing: sponsoring photography clubs, creating classes for art teachers, and whatever else some bright people can think up. Oh, and get after those 20-something women. And the 12-year-olds. Here are some back-of-the-napkin musings:

  • $891,178,000: actual advertising expenses (from Nikon’s 2013 annual report, the latest available)
  • Lets carve off 10% of that, and round up, and call it $90,000,000.
  • Lets split that evenly between the US, Europe, and Japan, or $30,000,000 each.
  • Then someone bright looks at the presence of photography clubs in each of the major urban centers, and picks 29 cities with a significant population, but under-represented photography culture. For example, I’m thinking New York and LA don’t need any lovin. Give those 29 cities a $1,000,000 budget.
  • For the extra million, develop a kick-ass photography curriculum for middle-schoolers. Make sure it is device agnostic. This is about improving photography culture, not about selling DSLRs.
  • Seriously, what could Nikon do with $1,000,000 in a city like Columbus?
    • 30 DSLRs+kit lenses, at cost, can’t be more than $300*30 = $9000
    • Put those 30 DSLRs in each middle school in the region. $9000*50 = $450,000
    • Sponsor/promote dozens of meetups. Viral like. No billboards. No radio ads. Work with camera shops and existing clubs. Spend $450,000 on it. Let the cash flow. And this stuff has to be device agnostic. You don’t want people declining to attend just because they have a Pentax or Canon. Get everyone you can. Its about building culture.
    • Pay someone local to the city to coordinate it all. Give them a healthy $100,000. Give them a ton of leeway. Let them be creative. Let them share their love for photography.

So, for 10% of your advertising budget, you’ll get decent cameras into the hands of 3*29*50*200 =~9Million kids. And you’ll give them the skills and inspiration to use those cameras. And you’ll also be encouraging others to pull their cameras out of their closets, and exploring just what they can create beyond the bar selfie.