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Playing with the figures

January 4, 2011: It was interesting to see Canon come out swinging in defence of its leadership in the digital camera market just prior to Christmas.

Press releases don’t usually display a lot of what you might call attitude, but there was a distinct tone of corporate anger in what Canon issued – directed both at competitors it perceived as playing fast and loose with the sales data – and market researcher GfK for permitting them to do so.

‘On any given day, consumers and retailers are presented with contradictory and misleading claims to leadership in the digital camera market,’ said Darren Ryan, general manager Consumer Product Marketing, Canon Australia (pictured right).

‘Most recently we have seen GfK reporting categories spliced and diced to create composites that make no sense in terms of how a reasonable person views the camera market, and reporting periods as short as one month.’

The release continued: ‘Canon contends that it is incumbent on dominant market data providers such as GfK to ensure standardised reporting by enacting and enforcing clear reporting guidelines. These include clearer category definition to prevent the use of specific camera feature sets to blur category boundaries. Also to be addressed is the minimum reporting period for any leadership claims.’

– See what I mean? They are not at all happy with the ‘dominant market data provider’ at North Ryde. The final straw for Canon was most probably a release a few days earlier from Panasonic (which Photo Counter decided not to run), outlining what a great year it had had, citing a string of awards for various models and these specific claims on sales:

‘Panasonic Lumix (our italics) was Australia’s number one selling compact camera brand (excludes DSLR) in sales value in the current Moving Annual Total for the 12 months from November 2009 to October 2010, according to GfK.’

– Now the ‘Moving Annual Total’, as it’s name implies, shifts from month to month. It could be seen to be a progress score during the course of a game. So a team might have its nose in front at some stage of the game without achieving victory. Basing a press release around a progress score is an unusual marketing communications tactic.

In fact, the GfK figures Photo Counter has seen show Canon with a slightly higher ‘sales value’ percentage – perhaps because Lumix is Panasonic’s one camera brand and Canon has both Powershot and Ixus inthe compact category? (Now that would be a bit naughty!)

Panasonic also noted the TZ10 ranked as the number one Super Zoom Camera ‘in sales value’, and the DMC-FT1 as number one in the Fixed Lens Compact segment and the ‘Tough’ segment, in sales value.

‘Perhaps the most distinctive characteristic of the GfK reports we have seen is that Canon dominates – month in, month out.’

While no one can blame a marketing company for highlighting its achievements, Canon has a point. Photo Counter sees the GfK data on a monthly basis. (Not directly from GfK, which doesn’t like to share.) It’s interesting background information, but we don’t usually make a big deal of it as:
1.Stories on camera market shares are intensely boring (unless you are a camera product manager) and not particularly useful unless there has been a distinct trend over a period of time, or a sudden spike. So for instance if the new interchangeable lens-type cameras started selling their frocks off, that would be worth reporting.
2.The report we see comes with big CONFIDENTIAL stamps all over it and the statement: ‘Written agreement from GfK RT is required prior to publishing the results –even in extracts’…blah, blah, blah...’for any purpose which can be equated to publication.’ (Photo Counter‘s New Year’s Resolution is ‘Avoid litigation’!)
3.The GfK research doesn’t include mass market or online/internet sales, so as far as market intelligence is concerned, it’s a few cents short of the dollar.

However! Perhaps the most distinctive characteristic of the GfK reports we have seen is that Canon dominates – month in, month out. That’s not barracking – it’s just a fact.

Without supplying hard figures (see # 2 above) this is the state of play based on the topline charts for the same month (October, 2010) upon which Panasonic based its press release.

Total digital camera market:
# 1 in ‘Percentage of Sales Units’: Canon
#1 in ‘Value of Sales Units’: Canon (about a third of the total market)

#1 in DSLR/Interchangeable Sales Units: Canon (about a half of total market)
#1 in DSLR/Interchangeable Sales Value: Canon (even more!)

Compact (fixed lens’) cameras
#1 in Compact (fixed lens) Percentage of Sales Units: Canon
# 1 in Compact (fixed lens) Percentage of Sales Value: Canon (though Panasonic beat Canon on this measure for several months through 2010)

We are not being selective here – these are the only measures in the report we are looking at – the only report which the humble retailer has any chance of seeing – in which actual camera brands are measured. Canon scoops the pool!

So you can understand why Canon might get a bit miffed when a competitor makes claims which might lead your average punter to assume that Canon isn’t the clear market leader on almost all measures which count.

The only graph in which Panasonic – or any other camera company, for that matter – has an consistent edge over any decent period of time is in Average Price per camera by brand. Now if Leica was measured in this chart – it doesn’t even get a mention, nor does Ricoh – it would doubtless blow both Panasonic and Canon out of the water. All this says is that Panasonic cameras on average command a higher price.

This little storm in a teacup highlights two much broader challenges in the Australian photo retailing: An appalling lack of reliable, shared market data – and a related lack of transparency.

We contacted GfK to find out their response to Canon’s criticisms. No reply as yet.

– Keith Shipton

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