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.