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Fishing where the fish are

Publicly available data on photographic marketing and retailing is vanishingly rare in Australia, which is why we are always keen to publicise the results of Photo Review Australia’s annual readers’ survey on photo gear buying intentions and information sources.

The big camera companies probably still have the funds to do their own private market research, but given they continue to sink their advertising dollars into social media and ‘brand ambassadors’ – both of which are among the least credible sources of buying information, according to the survey, you would have to wonder about the quality of that research.

Photo Review’s survey is credible in terms of the percentage of the subscriber base which responds. According to Survey Monkey’s sample size calculator, there is a 95 percent confidence level with a 6 percent margin for error in the survey results.

Those surveyed split into 13 percent ‘Early stages’ photographers, 52 percent ‘Mid-level’ and 35 percent ‘Advanced’. Two-thirds are Amateur, 18 percent Semi-pro and  15 percent Professional.

The good news for the entire industry is that more respondents than not intend to buy one of the big ticket ‘Capture’ items – a camera or lens in 2023/4:

Increased interest in new cameras and lenses in 2023/24. (Source: Media Publishing.)

It’s interesting to note that DSLRs remain a relevant category. Low-cost DSLR kits are probably now the entry level path to a lot of ‘Early Stages’ photographers on a budget. This response from Photo Review readers correlates to the latest CIPA figures – roughly one in three interchangeable lens cameras shipped in 2022 were DSLRs.

When we look at the comparative figures back to 2020/21, intention to buy over the next two years is up in almost every category.

The charts for intention to buy ‘Post-Capture’ gear – photo editing software, scanners, etc, is also looking buoyant for the industry:

(Source: Media Publishing)

The marked increases in interest to buy from previous years are photo printers, photo courses and tours, scanners, colour management and monitors.

Who do you trust?

I am are pretty sure that many of the big photo companies’ customers – specialist retailers and professional photographers – read specialist publications like Inside Imaging and Photo Review Australia.  I suspect many of their marketing executives and advertising agencies would be less familiar, such is the disconnect between head offices and the actual market these days. So unfortunately, the message writ large here that they are spending their advertising budgets unproductively will probably not reach them. (All you marketing types and media buyers reading this give us a wave in Readers Comments below and I’ll stand corrected.)

Which is a pity, because wasted ad budgets do not drive potential customers into camera stores. ‘Growing the market’ needs effective marketing communications, not vanity projects which look good on the CV.

Here’s what the readers of Photo Review value when sifting through the various sources of information prior to the purchase of photographic gear:

Given the above, why do the big camera companies insist on squandering their marketing budgets on Brand Ambassadors and social media? (Source: Media Publishing).

Compared to the three previous annual surveys, there’s not a great deal of change – except when it comes to User Review websites, which have plummeted from a consistent 60+ percent rating down to 20 percent. Photo Review publisher David O’Sullivan speculated that this is possibly due to the question being slightly changed from ‘information source’ to ‘reliable information source’. It may also have something to do with consumers realising that User Reviews is an online industry in itself, with brands and retailers paying a ‘trusted reviews’ business to game the system.

‘This year we added the word “reliable” before “buying advice” – it might be why there’s a significant drop for “User review websites”. Expert review websites are still by far the most relied-on source, photo mags still strong, and camera specialist stores still a long way ahead of camera brand ambassadors,’ explained David.

‘And in the battle for the wooden spoon, even department stores are preferred ahead of social media when it comes to reliable camera gear buying advice.’

Retailers will be heartened by the fact that Specialist Photo Stores and Specialist Photo Store Websites are both rated significantly higher this year, off solid bases in the previous three surveys.

Admittedly there’s an inbuilt bias in the high levels of importance given to Expert Review Websites and Photography Magazines – the respondents were magazine subscribers, after all! On the other hand, these are the kinds of people who friends and family tend to ask for advice, as their magazine subscription defines them as people with a specific interest in, and knowledge of, photography. These people are the real Influencers, not some globe-trotting photographer dude who litters his Instagram feed with links back to a manufacturer’s website without any acknowledgement of a commercial arrangement. (Btw – that scam is just about up – the ACCC is on to it.)

David O’Sullivan thinks there is a role for Brand Ambassadors in the marketing mix, provided they focus on educational, rather than simple product association: ‘I do think there’s a useful role that Brand Ambassadors play, which is to show prospective buyers how they actually use the products under different conditions, and by showing the resulting images,’ he said. ‘This can also help the existing users of the products.’

Looking at the low levels of credibility ascribed to Social Media and Brand Ambassadors in particular, it beggars belief that so much of the industry’s marketing budget is sunk into these options. Whether through naivety or narcissism, the Australian photographic industry is not getting a good return on its marketing dollar. We rely on the marketing departments of the Canons, Nikons, Fujis and Sonys to grow the market, not to conform to the prevailing fashion. There’s an old ad from the early days of PCs which had the tagline ‘No one ever lost their job by choosing IBM’. Look how that turned out! These days, no one ever loses their job choosing Facebook/Instagram/Tik Tok.

Perhaps they should.










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