Nikon Tried Marketing

Oh dear. First reply I got to the Nikon Tries Marketing article after the streams went live was this: “Watched the wedding presentations. Thought the stand looked cheap and tacky. The presenters dressed very scruffy with no thought of image. Information was SSDD, not biased towards normal weddings more model orientated. Good idea poorly executed.” Oh, and Adobe Flash for livestreaming? 

The question I hear a lot these days is this: why Nikon? I then look at Nikon’s marketing to see what the answer is and often find things like the vague I Am messages (e.g. “I AM SIMPLY AMAZING" [yes, it’s in all caps in Nikon’s marketing]). 

And wait, that’s for the D3400 and D5600. So how about the D7200, D500, D750, and Df? “I AM INSPIRING BRILLIANCE.” The D5 and D810? “I AM ASSIGNMENT READY.” The lenses are “optical masterpieces”, for the action cameras “the storytelling revolution has begun” (I thought I had been doing that for awhile), and the most amusing of all, the DLs that have been missing for a year are “I AM EXCELLENT 24/7.” More like 0/0, Nikon.

These days we have the choice of hundreds of cameras that will all take better images than we got out of our film cameras. Every one of them will net you some very nice photos that print nicely out to 13x19”—the max size of the type of printer an enthusiast might own—and maybe far larger. So what makes you pick one of those cameras (or camera brands) over another?

It’s difficult for me to see what that might be from Nikon’s marketing. Despite the fact that they often tell the home town press that they’d really like to someday be #1 in cameras instead of Canon, do we ever see Nikon tackle Canon directly with marketing messages? Nope. Nikon D810: better shadow recovery, higher resolution, more consistent metering, better in camera cropping options, and much more, than the Canon 5D of the time. Did Nikon ever even hint at any of that? Nope. So why would I choose a D810 if I were choosing a DSLR from scratch? 

Note that to this day I write something that might be considering a marketing statement about the D810: best all-around DSLR you can buyThe D810 is an exceedingly well-balanced camera that produces incredibly good raw data when handled right. It has good ergonomics, its performance at almost anything might not always be #1 but it’s respectably close when it isn’t #1, and it is a camera with a broad and deep feature set that a lot of products can’t match. Did Nikon ever say that to you? Did they ever use a quote in their marketing from someone that did say it? (No I’m not fishing for mentions by Nikon; others have said basically the same things I have, and Nikon can feel free to use those quotes instead of mine. I’m not picky. I just want them to up their marketing game and tell people why they should want Nikon’s products.)

Of course, if Nikon (or anyone else in Japan for that matter) really got serious about marketing benefits and advantages, it works both ways: Nikon could expect Canon to call out where their products might be better, too. And that would be great, IMHO. Because it means that Nikon would absolutely have to keep their engineering game right at the leading edge, where it should be. Ditto Canon. A good marketing war might keep us from getting things like a warmed over D3400 upgrade over the D3300 (I can just see the Marketing VP in a meeting asking "Let’s see, what did we add? Well, a Bluetooth chip and some software that almost works, but did anyone add anything else? No one? Anything?” No wonder they don’t know how to market it.*)

*They did make changes I noted in my review, most interestingly a very dramatic improvement in Live View focus performance. Is that in the Nikon marketing anywhere? Not that I can see.

We gearheads often lose track of the marketing messages. We’re too engrossed in low level details that the average purchaser probably wouldn’t understand. What’s the difference between 13.7EV dynamic range and 14.1EV? How many focus points did that camera have? Wow, the metering sensor is now more than an order of magnitude higher in resolution than where we started. Try: ability to reproduce detail deep into the shadows, lets you control exactly where the focus is obtained, and more accurate metering and auto white balance detection. 

Instead, we get the former set from the camera companies and argue over it on Internet fora, but the person walking into the camera store considering buying a new camera really wants to understand the latter. 

What is the clear benefit to me of choosing this? is a question that should be clearly answered by marketing. More often than not mentioned in the marketing materials. 

I read all the materials from dozens of companies these days. I was actually slightly impressed by the Fujifilm GFX brochure. Yes, there’s a lot of hyperbole and overblown language throughout. But when you get to the specifications, there’s a fairly consistent “what” followed by “what it provides” that pervades most descriptions of features. For example: “The short back focus distance…affords greater freedom in lens design to contribute to the development of fast, compact, and high-performance GF lenses while preventing vignetting…” Okay, I can understand that. Mom can probably understand that. 

I’d still want to see many more user benefit statements than Fujifilm provides, though the simplicity of the Fujifilm brochure approach puts a lot of useful information in a very small space if you know how to speak spec. It just doesn’t close the deal with clear and highlighted statements like “put more resolution in your images and more tonal differentiation from deepest black to whitest white,” “directly set the color results you loved in the film era,” “shoot in any weather and at any temperature you can probably stand yourself,” and “a big, bright viewfinder that shows you exactly what you’re capturing, and that can be customized to do that at any angle.” 

These days I see a lot of trendy things in marketing (social marketing, inbound marketing, content marketing, etc.). But I keep missing the three things that Peter Drucker—who at one time was doing a lot of consulting in Japan—said marketing consisted of:

  1. Know your customer.
  2. Identify the product that serves the customer.
  3. Make the product sell itself.

And that brings me back to Nikon. Does Nikon really know its customer these days? I’m not so sure. I see them reaching to find new customers without totally understanding them (KeyMission, for example, and at least one of the DLs). I find them not reacting to things their classic customer wanted (the missing D400 and DX lenses, for instance). So, probably a no to #1.

Nikon often—but not always—seems to do a good job at #2. We can’t argue against the D7200, D750, D810, or D5, for example. We can argue that they missed with the KeyMission cameras, the Nikon 1, the now non-existent DLs, plus some cameras that were wanted (see #1) but never produced. 

And then we get to #3: make the product sell itself. Nikon too often relies on a big feature or technology to do that, without fully explaining it to the user. The D800, for instance, pushed full frame into a new, high resolution world. A lot of us got that intuitively from the simple notion of 36 > 20. But what did it really mean?

Let me ask you this: anyone remember the poster-sized foldout of a racing motorcycle cornering at a track taken at ISO 6400 that Nikon produced for one of the pro launches? If you saw it, you do. It was one of the most clear “you can’t do this with another camera” campaigns I’ve seen (though you can do it with quite a few cameras these days). That’s what we want more of from Nikon: you buy Nikon because it’s the product that lets you do this…

I can already hear the phone call (or read the email) from NikonUSA: but we do that: "The new Nikon KeyMission cameras are built to withstand the elements with bodies that are waterproof, shockproof, dustproof and freezeproof. Each climb, ride or wave is recorded with such clarity, it’s like reliving your best adventures.” 

Sorry Nikon, that was GoPro’s marketing parroted. And the 170 product looks like a parrot, too, though not with very good talons. Why exactly am I buying a KeyMission 170 over a GoPro? Especially given that GoPro has saturated all the buying channels with lots of marketing promotion that has said the same thing for a long time, so Nikon is coming in as a number two from the get go. 

So we’re back to where I started: why Nikon? 

This is the question not being answered by Nikon marketing. It’s the question that a lot of photo enthusiasts have been asking themselves and then coming up with the answer “not Nikon for me.” It’s the question that a lot of stores are now starting to avoid answering by saying “have you considered Sony?” (Note: Sony has some spiffs in the retail sales channel that Nikon doesn’t at the moment, so of course the sales person is going to promote Sony over Nikon if they can.)

I like the Nikon Ambassador idea, and Nikon has some awesome Ambassadors (Dave Black, Bill Frakes, and Joe McNally are three that I know who have skills that are well beyond mine, and are good teachers, as well), but it seems unclear to me whether they’re helping answer the “why Nikon” question. Meanwhile, one former Nikon user and friend who’s become a Sony Artisan—Patrick Murphy-Racey—has been doing a series of articles and presentations that are clearly his answer to “why Sony.” 

For example, from a recent article on the A6500: "Ok, so Sony calls this 'front end LSI.'  I have no idea what that means as I'm still learning to translate Sonyspeak, but…the new buffer allows you to start and stop shooting long sequences at will, without the camera locking up to process information and write to the card.”

Hey Sony, you could use some user benefits marketing, too ;~). But at least PMR is doing it for you. 

Let me be clear. I love my D5, D500, and D810. Those three cameras let me do pretty much everything I want to do, and as I’ve noted several times recently the lenses Nikon is putting out in the last year or two are superb, getting rid of issues we had with the lenses they replaced.

But will Joe and Jill Consumer know that? What Nikon camera will do what they need? I don’t think they’ll get the answer from Nikon’s marketing. 

So let’s hold a little contest. I’m looking for the best answer to “why Nikon,” as well as the answers to “why Coolpix P900,” “why D7200”, “why D810”, and why pretty much anything else Nikon makes. Let’s see if we can crowdsource some better Nikon marketing messages. Make it concise. Make it describe the benefit. Make the products sell themselves. 

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