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Camera - - CONTENTS - Paul Bur­rows, Edi­tor

Pana­sonic has been busy re­cently, launch­ing the even more video-fo­cused GH5S and a new GX se­ries RF-style. So has Le­ica, an­nounc­ing two lim­ited edi­tion models… an M262 fin­ished in red and a spe­cial Aussie ver­sion of the Q. Get ’em while you can. Also in the news is Olym­pus’s PEN E-PL9, Nikon’s 180-400mm tele­zoom with a built-in ex­ten­der, Sony’s 46th E mount lens, and much more, in­clud­ing what’s on in the pho­tog­ra­phy world over the next few months.

BRAND LOY­ALTY. Does it still ex­ist? And if so, what does it take to main­tain it or, per­haps more sig­nif­i­cantly, what’s the straw that breaks the camel’s back and ini­ti­ates a switch? Many brands, of course, have loy­alty in­cen­tives such as the fre­quent flyer schemes run by air­lines and the vari­a­tions on the same idea op­er­ated by ho­tels, hire car firms and su­per­mar­ket chains. In all these in­stances loy­alty is re­warded in one way or an­other – chiefly via up­grades or discounts – but you still have to keep cus­tomers sat­is­fied if they’re go­ing to keep com­ing back for more. In fact, they have to be more than sat­is­fied if they’re pre­pared to put in the time nec­es­sary for most schemes to achieve any sort of fruition, al­though you could well be “rusted on”, which means you’re also pre­pared to for­give the oc­ca­sional mis­step (es­pe­cially if it’s well han­dled and there’s a sat­is­fac­tory so­lu­tion).

There are other, more per­sonal el­e­ments to brand loy­alty which are harder to pin down, such as nos­tal­gia (re­mem­ber­ing an old fam­ily car, for ex­am­ple), ad­mi­ra­tion and iden­ti­fi­ca­tion. This is rather more com­plex than a sim­ple re­wards sys­tem and many brands get it wrong par­tic­u­larly be­cause man­ag­ing a brand’s his­tory can be a very tricky thing in­deed. When I was a boy, my fa­ther had Land Rovers and, be­cause they were a very dis­tinc­tive ex­pe­ri­ence, the brand made a deep im­pres­sion on me. When the first Range Rover was launched in 1970 I was smit­ten and, much later in life, I even­tu­ally owned one and it was ev­ery­thing I ex­pected it to be. Yet I have no feel­ings for to­day’s Land Rovers which, es­pe­cially with the demise of leg­endary De­fender, now em­body vir­tu­ally noth­ing of the brand’s orig­i­nal DNA. The unique Land Rover-ness has gone. Jeep does it bet­ter, main­tain­ing a link with its her­itage even if we’re re­ally now only talk­ing about styling. But the looks are im­por­tant be­cause these are what make the first – and of­ten most en­dur­ing – im­pres­sions. Fiat got it spot-on with the cur­rent in­car­na­tion of its 500 which has now sold over two mil­lion units since its launch in 2007 and is cre­at­ing its own his­tory.

In the cam­era world, there’s lit­tle doubt Le­ica un­der­stands, prob­a­bly bet­ter than any­body else, the del­i­cate bal­ance of ac­knowl­edg­ing a her­itage and cre­at­ing a prof­itable fu­ture (with Fu­ji­film run­ning a close sec­ond). It’s the her­itage that has built the rep­u­ta­tion on which Le­ica can now base its present ac­tiv­i­ties. Thus the 35mm RF cam­eras are main­tained and the dig­i­tal ver­sions ac­tu­ally look lit­tle dif­fer­ent on the out­side, but the brand val­ues that have been es­tab­lished over 100 years also now al­low for TL, SL and CL. And it’s cer­tainly no ac­ci­dent that Fu­ji­film is still called Fu­ji­film… and very of­ten ref­er­ences its film her­itage as the ba­sis for con­tem­po­rary fea­tures such as the ‘Film Sim­u­la­tion’ pre­sets in its cur­rent dig­i­tal cam­eras. Like­wise, Fu­ji­film is al­most more tra­di­tional than Le­ica when it comes to the styling of its higher-end mir­ror­less models, but this is un­doubt­edly part of its cur­rent suc­cess so the ap­peal has to be more uni­ver­sal than merely us cam­era tra­di­tion­al­ists.

De­liv­er­ing cus­tomer sat­is­fac­tion is just the start­ing point, as is any pro­gram that seeks to main­tain a longer-term re­la­tion­ship. Build­ing brand loy­alty de­mands some­thing more in­tan­gi­ble, a con­nec­tion on an emo­tional level which can have many and var­ied stim­uli, but which once es­tab­lished can po­ten­tially be life-long. I call it the “warm and fuzzies”, and if I could just find a way to bot­tle it, I sus­pect there’d be a long queue of cus­tomers.

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