How is This Better for Customers?

After sorting through all the emails regarding my article on NikonUSA's NPS staff cutback and all the online fora discussion of same, I decided it might be useful to present a more generic piece that might help you analyze what's really going on and what to do about it.

My basic summary is this: look at any news or announcement (or even rumor) and ask yourself "how is this better for me, the customer?" That generally boils down to a very few things:

  • Money — paying less is better for you, paying more is not.
  • Performance — getting more performance for the same price is better, getting less is not.
  • Features — getting additional features is better if they'll be of use to you, but not if you won't use them.
  • Information — the more we know about a product and how it works, the better off we are, while the inverse means we're worse off.

The problem the camera companies currently are facing is that (1) they want more money from you, (2) performance goes up very little now above an already high and capable bar, (3) most new features aren't solving real photographic problems customers have (let alone the biggest problem), and (4) as staff and support get cut less information comes out beyond the obvious marketing messages.

In terms of NikonUSA's recent NPS changes, for instance: they want money from us, but with staff reductions they've likely cut performance and information. How is this better for the customer?

It isn't. 

And as I look back on all the various announcements and press releases from 2021 so far, I'm not finding a lot of things that pass the "better for the customer" test. Yes, the Fujifilm GFX100s passes, mostly because of the far lower price should you be in the mood for a 100mp MF camera. Yes, the Sony A7S Mark III and FX3 pass the test because they give you essentially the same capability in two completely different forms, one of which will likely be better for your use case. Nikon's Z9 development announcement is an example of how information might help a customer (confidence that Nikon is moving forward in mirrorless, and sooner rather than later). 

But the number of things that don't pass the "better for customers" test is far longer. I'm not convinced that the Fujifilm X-E4 passes the test given the X-S10. How is another so-similar choice better for the customer? I'd argue that putting that same engineering effort into a single product instead of two should work better for customers than what we got (and no, this isn't the same as the Sony example I gave in the previous paragraph, where there was an extremely clear difference in form and use case). 

I've written this before, and I believe it 100%: the camera companies' problems are self-imposed, and not due to a sudden lack of customers. The lack of customers is because of the failure to create products that are "clearly better for the customer." 

Indeed, if you look back at the primary "surges" in sophisticated camera demand (e.g. ILC), they all occurred because of a "better for the customer" attribute:

  • Exposure automation
  • Autofocus
  • On camera review of result (digital)
  • Real time view of likely result (mirrorless)

Some other "big" things also helped boost sales, such as image stabilization. But every one of those did something that made things clearly better for customers. They solved customer problems. 

So here's my challenge for Bo Kajiwara, the man running NikonUSA who just got promoted to a corporate VP position as well: exactly what have you done that made anything better for the customer? But my challenge doesn't just apply to one person, it applies to an entire industry. I'm seeing the usual "we'll do that feature/performance because our competitor is doing it" but not much looking at the customer to see what they actually would need or embrace. 

I outlined and described in detail one of those things a dozen years ago in articles on this site, in presentations to executives in Japan, and more: cameras have to communicate easily and effectively to thrive in the 21st Century. For the most part, they still don't do that easily, and often they don't do it effectively even when you jump through all the hoops and manual interactions that are necessary. Amazingly, Nikon has all the component pieces to do what we need, but simply has no clue how to execute them properly. Canon ditto, though some of their parts do come a little closer to what's needed. And it was only with the just introduced Sony A1 and Experia Pro we started to see what closer integration might really look like (and by the way, Sony, why isn't the Experia Pro listed as an accessory on the A1 pages on your Web site? You hint at it in the features lists, but the Experia Pro isn't in the accessory list ;~).

So my challenge to the entire camera industry is this: how is your next product or policy better for the customer, and are you effectively communicating that? 

I suspect I should probably just add a "Does/Doesn't" sentence to each news article in the future, as in "X's announcement does/doesn't seem to clearly make things better for the customer." Someone needs to hit these camera company executives over the head with the hammer.

It seems absurd that the camera industry just iterates along as usual and wonders why sales are lower than before without actually addressing the real problem. That problem is clearly in how the industry views, values, and treats customers. Unfortunately, this is reminiscent of the US automotive industry in the 70's and 80's (and some say beyond), and we all know how that story worked out. 

Customers stop buying because they're not getting what they want (or need). 

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