Loyalists, Revolters, and Newcomers

One thing that's becoming more clear as the camera market continues its contraction is that most camera companies simply don't have a clear message to their potential customers. Let me illustrate by pointing out the three groups from which you can get a camera purchase these days:

  1. Loyalists — These are folk that are basically happy with what they have, and when it becomes appropriate, will buy the same brand. Part of their loyalty is due to lens lock, as they bought multiple lenses over the years that function on the brand they chose, and don't want to have to re-buy (or try the not-so-great adapter approach). Canon and Nikon lived off of loyalists for decades. 
  2. Revolters — These are customers who become disillusioned with their original brand of choice. Typically, they believe that another brand has provided some new function or level of performance that they desired, and their original brand will not offer that (any time soon). 
  3. Newcomers — Here we are mostly dealing with a younger crowd, who grew up using smartphones but eventually found that they wanted more than their phone could provide. If they have any gear at all, it was usually pass-me-down gear to which they're not strongly attached. 

So when a new camera is announced, one thing I look at is which one (or more) of those groups is it targeted at, and how well does the company's messaging get clear points of illustration across to that user type. 

Let's take the Nikon D780 as an example. The press release headline? "Versatility meets agility: the D780 is a new kind of DSLR for a new breed of creator." 

See the problem? This marketing approach seems targeted at Group #3, when the product is really a better camera for group #1 who's ready to upgrade. As you read further into the press release, the messaging gets more and more muddled as to who this camera might be for. NikonUSA's Web site lists the D780 as "FX Advanced Entry," which seems like an oxymoron. Both the Loyalists and the Newcomers will object to one of those last two words ;~). 

A Loyalist wants to know this: "New Product X is everything you've come to know and love but better. It's better in these ways: <enumeration>." Now, if you read past the top D780 material and get down into the meat of Nikon's marketing, you do see some statements like that (e.g. "AF breakthroughs for stills and video", though I'd be inclined to say that they should put it more in context of previous products: "Faster, more precise autofocusing than ever before.")

A Revolter wants to know this: "New Product X does something no other product you've seen does." I'm not really seeing that in Nikon's marketing for the D780. Not only doesn't Nikon put the D780 into proper context within Nikon's own lineup of ILC, it completely fails to do so with competitive products. Thus, it can be predictably said the D780 won't attract any Revolters.

A Newcomer wants to know this: "New Product X will have you taking better photographs and videos immediately, and has all the tools you'll need to grow your skills over time." This is the trickiest of the targets to get right, because you don't want to talk down to them—or to the Loyalist users that might be considering the camera—and you need to clearly illustrate what you mean. It's that last phrase that has gotten the camera companies confused. For example, the D780 marketing says "highly detailed photos...with ultra shallow depth of field" and illustrates this with a landscape photo with what looks like focus stacking and infinite depth of field. 

I'm making an example out of Nikon here, but I can do the same for virtually every camera company. No one's getting it right. No company is consistent in their messaging. Bottom line, though, it comes down to this:

  • Canon and Nikon need to hold onto Loyalists and find more Newcomers. This is made incredibly more challenging for them because of the need to transition from DSLRs to mirrorless. To some degree, you can see that Nikon positioned the Z6 and Z7 lower than the DSLRs, hoping to keep the Loyalists buying DSLRs while they built up the mirrorless line, but I'd argue that this left them entirely vulnerable to Sony marketing to Revolters. Moreover, both Canon and Nikon had large volumes of crop-sensor DSLRs they were selling, and neither seems to have figured out how to deal with the collapse of the volume at the lower end of the DSLR lineups.
  • Sony needs to find more Revolters and attract a majority of the Newcomers. Sony, having already made the painful transition from KonicaMinolta DSLR to SLT to mirrorless doesn't really have any more Loyalists they can convert, so to win more sales, they have to target Canon and Nikon Loyalists. 

On top of all the problems I outline above, cameras got really good really fast in the digital age. Pretty much anything you bought in the last 10 years could probably do just fine for you into the future. Indeed, I've noticed a trend lately in my answers to the many "what should I get" emails I receive: I'm answering more and more of them with "why do you think you need something more?" 

In some ways it's good that the camera makers' marketing isn't all that good because we'd probably all succumb to buying/leasing cycles that are shorter term than actually generate real benefit to us, as we have with automobiles, smartphones, and more. 

On the other hand, if the camera makers can't keep the market from collapsing down to 4m ILC units a year or lower, all bets are off for everyone. Essentially the market stops acting as a consumer market below 4m units and begins behaving entirely as a niche market. 

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