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Samsung lets rumours ruin camera business

Have you heard? Samsung is pulling out of the camera business. (Rumour.) At least it is in the Netherlands, Germany and the UK. (True.) And mail sent to Samsung Australia camera group executives is being Returned to Sender. (True.) PhotoCounter has been unable to elicit any response on this issue from the digital imaging group manager Craig Gillespie in the past six weeks. (True.)

Giant fail: The 28-megapixel Samsung NX1 was one of the top camera releases in the past 12 months. But without marketing support and brand credibility in cameras, followed up by rumours of Samsung givng up on cameras altogether, it hasn't had the success the deserves.
Giant fail: The 28-megapixel Samsung NX1 was one of the top camera releases in the past 12 months. But with Samsung lacking brand credibility in cameras, firm relationships with enthusiast retailers, with no marketing support, and then rumours of Samsung giving up on cameras altogether, it hasn’t had the success the deserves.

No wait! Samsung is actually on the verge of announcing a NX2 early in the New Year, probably at CES. Might even be full-frame. (Rumour.) But then again, it might have sold its camera technology to Nikon in the meantime, so Nikon can fast-track release of a FF mirrorless model. (Rumour.) But that can’t happen because apparently Korean and Japanese companies don’t do that sort of thing. (Don’t ask me!)

Whatever the truth is regarding the status of the Samsung camera division – and I suspect it will all spurt out fairly soon – Samsung’s handling of the uncertainty regarding its camera business is worthy of a Harvard Business School study on exactly how not to handle corporate and marketing communications. In over three decades in working in either corporate affairs or journalism, I’ve rarely seen such incompetence from an organisation with the resources and scale of Samsung.

The Samsung executives sitting on their hands watching from the sidelines as this snowball of rumour and conjecture gathers speed and size seem to have decided that the best communications strategy is no communications at all. Which has been proven time and again to simply leave the lines of communication open to idle speculation or mischief-making from competitors. Leave a vacuum and it will be filled.

Whether this cack-handed communications management is due to fear, incompetence or arrogance will be up to that Harvard corporate communications guru to decide, but the end result is the same – whatever reputation Samsung was developing in the photographic industry among retailers and enthusiasts is trashed.

Retailers who stood back with a wait-and-see attitude when Samsung vaingloriously announced its intention a few years back to dominate the enthusiast camera market must be pleased with their caution.

Those who believed what turned out to be hype and took on a lot of Samsung inventory must be hoping that the giant conglomerate will do the right thing by them and take it all back. ‘Buyer beware’, as always, but how could an honest retailer sell a $2000+ NX1 kit to a customer without noting that Samsung has withdrawn the camera in certain markets, there are rumours it is quitting the camera business altogether, there are only a few lenses available, no new lens releases in over 12 months, no new cameras since February, etcetera, etcetera?

It’s interesting to note that digital imaging isn’t the only Samsung business unit having ‘issues’. Six models in Samsung’s washing machine range are subject to a mandatory recall after 200 incidents of fires (in Australia) since 2013.

An initial how-can-we-get-out-of-this-as-cheaply-as-possible ‘plastic bag and tape’ fix for what the ACC has defined as a ‘major failure’ led to an outcry, more house fires and an eventual change of policy to offer what they should have in the first place – a refund or replacement.

Samsung has been letterboxing suburbs in which it thinks there are a lot of its faulty, fiery washing machines with free laundry detergent, as an alternative to a more effective (but embarrassing) advertising campaign.

There are still over 40,000 of the faulty machines in the market – and that’s only the Australian market! It’s quite possible that injury or death will be added to house fires before the saga is over. Washing machines which spontaneously combust are a bad look for any home appliance company – even the biggest in the world. But Samsung’s initial reluctance to admit fault, its willingness to force customers to seek compensation via the courts when its washing machines have burned down their houses, and bullying consumers into accepting its ‘el cheapo’ plastic-and-tape repair point to a company which doesn’t only have design and manufacturing problems, but a weak and deceitful corporate culture.

– Pity, they were really on to something with the NX1 and the also impressive NX500. I think the Samsung people genuinely thought that their NX1 was so good – so much better than anything else in the market – that consumers would beat a path to its retailers’ doors to buy one. (This is what happens when marketing people don’t talk to anyone outside of executive suite – they start believing their own press releases.) The fabulous reviews following a lavish three-day media junket to NZ would be a massive ‘push factor’. No need to convince photo specialist retailers that it was a genuine, long-term player in the enthusiast camera marketplace, no need to even try too hard with marketing communications support.

When I asked Samsung Australia earlier this year how exactly it was going to win a share of voice in the photo specialty channel, the response was to show me the features and benefits of the camera. There was no channel strategy, except a vague awareness that photo specialty would be critical. When the channel didn’t salute, and sales didn’t reach the level that the unarguably impressive cameras deserved, there was no plan B except, it seems, to take the Samsung bat and ball and go home. It’s hard to be humble at the best of times. When you are global #1 or #2 in a range of consumer electronics categories, it’s nigh-on impossible.
– Keith Shipton


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