We got some very interesting and perceptive comments around here yesterday, for which thanks.
The trouble with focus groups
Phil Thomas wrote:
I keep hearing about people who want to upgrade from compacts to interchangeable lens cameras without DSLR bulk but I have never actually met one. They must exist, in focus groups at least, though whether their stated desires translate to real world purchases I do wonder. I know several people with Micro 4/3 cameras and a couple of people with Sony NEX cameras but all of them have DSLRs (except one who sold his DSLR to get a NEX). All of them are photography enthusiasts who wanted something smaller for when they didn't feel like carrying a DSLR with them. I also know a few people with DSLRs who are not photography enthusiasts at all. They bought DSLRs as they associated them with professional photography and therefore expected to get better photographs than they did with their compacts or phones.
Here's the problem with focus groups: it turns out that when you can get a bunch of people together and get their undivided attention, and have an extended period of time in which to explain your product and its rationale to them while they're feeling attentive and receptive, you get different reactions than when your product is just sitting there unexplained in a bubbling cauldron of hundreds of other similar products all competing for the harried consumer's attention. (Bubbling cauldron metaphor: surfaces briefly every so often and then sinks out of sight again.)
One of the most consumer-researched product introductions of all time in this industry was also one of the biggest flops: APS, the Advanced Photo System, which was an attempt to create a better standard than the then-standard 35mm color negative film with one-hour processing. The engineers got a chance to back-engineer the product the market had already decided it wanted. They created a new standard that did everything the old standard did but had better efficiency and better profitability along with a few added technical advantages, such as built-in multi-format capability. When they had a chance to explain it carefully to attentive consumers, the attentive consumers liked it.
Trouble was, the product didn't have much natural appeal to people unless it was explained carefully to them. As far as most people could see from the "normal viewing distance," APS didn't offer any advantages over what they already had, plus it had the disadvantage of being new and unestablished—and it wasn't any cheaper. The "it's more efficient" argument turns out to be weak when the savings are going into suppliers' pockets as profits rather than translating to savings for the consumer.
In fairness, APS never really had a chance. If digital hadn't appeared on the horizon just after APS's 1996 introduction, it's possible that it would eventually have caught on. As it was, it lasted eight years. That's before it sunk beneath the waves; the ship was listing and doomed long before that.
Significantly, one of the APS consortium's big mistakes (the consortium: Kodak, Fuji, Agfa, and Konica, all film makers, with cameras from Minolta, Canon, and Nikon as well as Kodak and Fuji) was that the system had no appeal to pros and advanced amateurs. Like it or not, the small core of enthusists and pros are the tail that wags the dog in the photo market. They (I should say "we," of course, since that's us) have an outsized influence on the purchases our friends, relatives, and neighbors make.
Of course, we don't control anything; we just contribute. But the fact that APS had nothing to offer the enthusiast or pro, and garnered no enthusiasm from those quarters, added to its miseries.
A reader signing himself "david" wrote: "If Nikon had done the same thing [with the Nikon 1 System] as they did except based around an APS-C sensor, I think the reaction would have been 100% the other way. Every enthusiast Nikon DX owner would have been falling all over themselves to pre-order one." Possibly true; it's also possibly true that manufacturers need to throw us enthusiasts our bones, not because the product needs the features that appeal to us but just because the we're the ones who are going to explain the appeal of the product to the non-enthusiasts who are supposed to buy it.
The better Nikon communicates to us the advantages of the Nikon 1, the better it will sell to the market it's intended for. And that's why things like Imaging-Resource's exclusive interview with Nikon's Masahiro Suzuki (suggested by "beuler" in the Comments) are going to be important.
A quick sample, which will bring me to my last point:
MS: We are quite confident that we achieved almost exactly the same quality as our DSLR.
DE [Dave Etchells, publisher of Imaging-Resource]: (surprised) The same quality as DSLRs.
MS: Yes...Please evaluate! (laughs)
DE: Yes, obviously, we'll test and we'll hold you to that! That's very interesting, because this is a much smaller sensor, but you say the same quality.
The final component? Trial by firing, you might say—actual trials, tests, and reviews. As Dave says.
And that relates back to enthusiast appeal, too, because products that consumers use but that don't draw any interest from enthusiasts tend not to get reviewed. Even the comprehensive review sites don't review all the point-and-shoots on the market, for instance, and you'll notice that when Imaging-Resource actually reviewed a camera phone recently, it was an unusual enough occurrence that we noted it here.
That might be one area where being a Nikon really does help. It will belp ensure reviews, which will help communicate the product's virtues to enthusiasts...who will then help educate and inform the elusive non-camera-customer market that's supposedly out there waiting for these new products made especially for them.
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Original contents copyright 2011 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved.
Featured Comment by KeithB: "I think one telling point about the new Nikon system is that Luminous-Landscape—which usually pounces on anything new, and dare I say exciting—has so far had not a peep to say about the new system on the main page."
Featured Comment by Nick: "This analysis seems spot-on to me, but I am not a marketing professional. I can say that my friends do come to me to ask for camera recommendations. So far, I believe I have helped several people settle on good sub-$300 pocket superzooms, one person settle on a very inexpensive Canon compact, and one person settle on an E-P3. Perhaps I'm not explaining the advantages of larger, more expensive cameras well enough. Of course, I am one of the apparently rare enthusiasts who uses nothing but Micro 4/3 gear and does not own a DSLR...."
Featured Comment by K. Harrington: "A very interesting interview with Mister Suzuki...I said it yesterday on here and I'll say it again, this camera will be a run away hit!"
Featured Comment by Gerry Morgan: "I'm under no illusions about my power of influence over friends seeking camera purchase advice. I'm always scrupulously careful not to unduly favour the brand or format that I happen to use. Typically, the person then talks to someone else with no such qualms, and buys the camera the other photographer enthuses about. Not that this undermines Mike's argument in any way. It just means that I personally have not the slightest influence on the market, except when I'm buying."
Featured [partial] Comment by Speed: "Focus Groups: Imagine leading a focus group 15 years ago and asking, 'Who wants a camera in their phone?'"
Featured Comment by Peter Rees: "My wife has an Olympus E-P1. I call it her 'photographer's wife's camera.'"
Featured Comment by latent_image: "Just for the record, my wife loved—I should say LOVED—her APS Nikon Nuvis S. As a non-photographer, it delivered everything she wanted from a camera: foolproof film loading, auto-everything operation, and a very clever system for image storage and retrieval. The Nuvis S was sandwiched by a Canonet QL19 and a Canon digicam, both which she hated.
"I personally think digital cameras will—over time—prove to be disastrous when it comes to family photos. Many ordinary folks will end up losing their image files. Even my very bright son-in-law, with a master's degree in computer science, managed to lose a large batch of his first child's baby pictures. Shoe boxes are dead simple. Digital image management is more than most want to think about."
Mike replies: I've lost digital images I really wanted to keep. I have to admit. But then, I've lost precious negatives, too.