The rise of smartphones has challenged Canon’s photography business — but the company has managed this challenge by focussing on customer experience.
PwC sat down in January 2019 with Matt Gorman, Canon’s director of sales development, e-commerce and strategy, to learn how the company is navigating the transition to a new world of customer outreach and brand building.
PwC: PwC’s 2019 Global Consumer Insights Survey notes how dramatically certain consumer behaviours are evolving and how these shifts have more influence on businesses than ever before. In fact, we think companies need to become more consumer-centric in order to survive and thrive in the years ahead. One behaviour I’m sure Canon has had to confront in recent years is people’s tendency to use their smartphones as cameras. How is Canon responding?
Matt Gorman: We realise that we have to readjust, pick out a new direction, no longer just sell the product. We have to reach the consumer in new ways.
So, we’ve cut traditional media advertising in print and on television. We’ve redirected our dollars to new kinds of outreach — to events, for instance — so we can reintroduce ourselves. Demographics, we’ve found, aren’t that important to our success in acquiring and retaining customers. What’s most important is what people are interested in, what their passions are.
PwC: Yes, the survey findings did suggest that consumers want to attach themselves to companies that have a higher purpose. How do you connect your products to people’s passions?
Gorman: We’ve figured out as a company how to work with nonprofits: with huge sensitivity toward what they are trying to accomplish. We are not taking the old approach of saying, “Hey, if you buy a $3,000 camera, we’ll donate $50 somewhere.” That doesn’t work.
We’re working with the National Audubon Society, for example, which protects birds and their habitats. It has a hawk festival each year, in Connecticut. Thousands of people go to watch and photograph the hawk migration.
Last year we did a huge nature walk program there, with pre- and post-event marketing, but with a very soft touch. We sell products, but it’s about more than that. It’s about engaging our customers and also engaging our employees, many of whom also care about sustainability.
PwC: How do you make events like this happen?
Gorman: With Audubon, we now have a contractual agreement, so we can form events together. To do that, we look at pockets of the country. We look at income. We look at education level. We look at everything. Then we throw it into a blender and come up with what we think might be a great experience.
PwC: And what about marketing? Our survey indicated that a lot of consumers, particularly millennials, are looking to interact with brands.
Gorman: Yes, we get very local on marketing, and we use a lot of social media. We work a lot with Instagram.
We have a huge image library built from contributions from our camera users, and we go out of our way to use it. Nothing is more flattering to photographers than for a company to use in its publicity document a shot that they took themselves. That will get them to attend our event.
So, we’ve developed a photo contest with Audubon. If someone’s photo gets a lot of likes, we use it in our email blasts on a very local level. We create an audience for that person, and it really generates enthusiasm.
PwC: Can you get more specific about the event-level marketing with Audubon?
Gorman: Audubon shares its audience and its data with us. We share content with each other when we promote an event.
So, once we’ve identified all of these pockets of people who are interested in birds, for example, we gear our social media, our email blasts, Audubon’s email blasts, its website and its events to what we’re doing tactically.
We can even take that extra step and tie a particular product into a particular event. Case in point is the Holly Springs hummingbird festival in Mississippi. Thousands of people go to it over a four-day period. It’s Burning Man for hummingbirds.
And the fact is, you’re not going to get a great photograph of a hummingbird with your phone. Its camera is not going to be fast enough.
An event like that gives us groundwork, it creates an atmosphere, and it gives us access to a group of people wanting to capture a particular type of image.
PwC: What kind of control do you give consumers over their data?
Gorman: Every kind. For example, we have a back-end program for new products that goes beyond the warranty, where we try to entice people to share later and let us contact them in the future. But we ask permission and give them a chance to opt out at every level.
When we ask a question that they might find touchy, they can stop right there and submit what they have, and that’s fine. And we always tell them exactly what we’re going to do with the data. We always ask if we can use it to market other products to them or to build profiles on people that we will want to market to in the future.
At the hawk festival I mentioned, we sent people the images they snapped when they were trying out our cameras and then we asked if we could use their images in future advertising. We asked if we could send them emails, too.
PwC: And when you and outside organisations such as Audubon share data, does the end consumer know?
Gorman: Absolutely. We explain our relationship clearly, at multiple levels, in every document where we’re asking people to share data. We are always very clear about how we will use their images and data and what our intentions are. Then we associate benefits with their agreement to opt in. At the hawk festival, we collected comprehensive data from about 30% of the people who attended.
We hope to get that up to 50% or 60%, but for comprehensive data, at a giant event, 30% is quite good.
PwC: What are the long-term results that your focus on customer experience can bring?
Gorman: Survival. If you’re not first, you’re last. Right now, we’re maintaining our level of business, which is major in our marketplace, where overall the categories are in decline. And then, for the future, technology will follow the audience. We intend to find and embrace that new audience that is coming up.