Committed to Users...

(commentary)

Every few months I see another Japanese camera company executive make the statement “we’re committed to fill_in_the_blank users.” Sure. And I’m committed to driving my existing car. Of course, neither of us are actually using the word commitment correctly. 

In medical terms, commitment has a very specific definition: consignment to a penal or mental institution. In official terms, commitment means the act of referring legislation to a committee or membership. In legal terms, a commitment implies a legally binding exchange of promises. But in the practical sense, commitment means dedicating yourself by promising to do something, and taking on an obligation to do so.

What the Japanese seem to mean when they say they are committed—whether it be DX, or SLT, or anything else they claim to be committed to—is that they recognize that they can still extract some money from existing customers, thus will probably (but not pledge to) create a new product or two in that category.  

What we Nikon users want is an actual commitment from Nikon. Something specifically pledged, with an emotionally impelled obligation to deliver on that pledge. D200 and D300 users would love for Nikon to pledge to continue the line and make a D400, for instance, and to show excitement while doing so, but that’s just not happened. Nikon executives have had a hard time agreeing among themselves about whether to proceed on a D400 (the latest back channel communication says yes, but at this point we users are all skeptical). The longer they argue, the more the point will eventually become moot.  

We also want a full DX lens set. I’m not sure Nikon has even internally debated that one, which means that they might not have actually connected with their most critical DX customers.  CX could use some additional lenses, too, and it would be nice if Nikon stopped experimenting with toy UI’s and actually picked a photographically usable one for the Nikon 1 models and committed to it (oooh, there’s that word again).

But here’s the thing: there are two parties necessary in any commitment. Here those parties would be Nikon corporate, and users (both existing and potential) of Nikon cameras and lenses. Funny thing is, the lack of true commitment on the part of Nikon (and other camera companies) means that they won’t get a commitment from their user base, either ;~). Nikon users aren’t going to pledge to buy a future Nikon product, and even the ones that feel locked in are getting less emotionally connected. That’s why when other companies show constant updates and release Road Maps, some of the Nikon faithful opt for a different affiliation.

Where am I going with this?

Well, a couple of other data points first. 

Nikon is dropping their ad agency of a dozen years (McCann). The new agency is Cramer-Krasselt, who apparently will be first visible with Nikon’s Spring 2016 campaigns.  Then there’s the dearth of camera introductions (3 DSLRs, 1 mirrorless, 12 compacts in 2015 compared to 4, 2, and 17 in 2014 and 4, 3, and 19 in 2013). I don’t think this apparent slowdown is solely due to camera market decline. I think it’s mostly due to the change in top management in early 2014. I expect to see the real strategic results of the management change in 2016 (up to now it’s been smaller scale tactical stuff).

So here’s my destination: if we’re going to get a change in marketing/advertising strategy coupled with a number of significant new product introductions in the first half of 2016, that’s the point where Nikon also needs to change it’s relationship with its customers. Just changing ads and available products isn’t enough any more. 

The Nikon faithful are getting weary of product recalls, of poorer customer support and service, of iteration for the sake of iteration, of missing desirable lenses and accessories, of no clear path to the future of imaging, and of…yes…Nikon’s apparent lack of connection and commitment to users. 

Three-quarters of Nikon’s product sales now come from individual customers like you and I. The old days where Nikon was mostly a company that sold fewer items mostly to other businesses are long gone (and they didn’t do a good job of that, as the Economist pointed out back in 2009). What I want to see from Nikon is a true connection to their consumer customers, not the arm’s length stance they currently take.  Sure, I’ll take another great product or two (without a shipping defect, please), but at this point, my commitment to Nikon is lower than it’s ever been, and I suspect yours is, too. 

Take a look at that tagline in the header, up above: "supporting the Nikon F-mount on the Internet since 1994." (And yes, that date is correct.) I’ll bet that in that time I’ve answered more questions about Nikon products than anyone currently working at NikonUSA customer support. And yet, I went to get a simple statement that NikonUSA had given to a customer verified  the other day, and couldn’t get someone to answer it. 

Commitments are not one-way. It takes two to ratify them. I’ll continue to cover Nikon as best as I can (and the other mirrorless camera makers via sansmirror.com). Just as I pledged that a couple of decades ago, I continue to pledge it today. But I can’t help notice that Nikon has pledged nothing to its customers lately, while distancing themselves from them more than ever. 

If early 2016 is a time of big changes in Nikon’s lineup and handling of things, then it’s time for them to embrace their customer base. Even a small start in that direction would be welcome. 

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