The world’s most sought after camera

Brand is measured by one thing. Perception. Perception drives everything and it is the perception of value that drives the willingness for an individual to pay a certain price for a certain product.

The world’s most expensive cameras

For enthusiasts the world over, A Leica camera is synonymous with quality, passion, craftsmanship and the holy grail of equipment. It has commanded the high price because of the market perception. Just to see one in the flesh is enough to bring the kind of smile that shows pure excitement and joy to the face of a photographer. Leica has a cult like status in the photography industry. For those who don’t have one, they dream of owning one. For those who have one, they are passionate advocates for its quality and value.
Some years ago, digital SLR cameras flooded the market (DSLR for short). Consumers from all walks of life who had little to no camera experience now began buying and the likes of Canon and Nikon came out as the mass market winner with multiple entry level options to suit every budget. This mass-market uplift has moved the Canon and Nikon brands into the ‘pedestrian’ category and discernable buyers are left looking elsewhere.
The German made Leica continued to be a niche brand for those discernable buyers with a price range that precluded many from affording or understanding why when for $350, the entry level Canon EOS was at the camera store down the road.

People take notice when revenue doubles

In 2004, Leica was saved from the brink of bankruptcy and the new investor helped usher in its transformation into the digital era. So when Leica doubled revenue from $150 million to $300 million Euros in camera sales (that’s AUD $310 to $420 million for those reading at home), it deserved to be noticed. What’s more, with an expected turnaround hitting $500 million Euros (AUD $700 million) here is a company 100 years old and doing something significant. I wanted to uncover why and in find out just what makes a Leica the legend of serious photographers everywhere.

Building legend around a brand

Every great brand that has stood the test of time accumulates a narrative that tells its story. I believe that great brands have great stories because stories remain the most powerful communication protocol for people to engage with. The Leica story is a powerful one and holds the key to its legend within the photography world.
It was World War II and Leica introduced the compact camera to the market. It was a revolution and turning point in enabling photographers to capture moments. This was the birth of photojournalism.
 
Through the years and the creation of their famous M system, Leica became a benchmark of German engineering, sharp images and exceptional lenses. Celebrities jumped on board, prominent photojournalists all bought their very own Leica and with that history took over. To pick one up and use one is something special. It’s as if you’re holding the history of many photographers that have come before us and taken iconic images. Does this get in the way of creating an objective opinion of the camera’s quality? I think it does but perception is reality and in that sense, you’ll be hard pressed to find a hater.

Reinventing a company

It’s not enough to rest on the historical success and story that’s been built over years. Companies who have been around as long as Leica face a number of challenges that younger companies don’t and this almost cost Leica dearly back in 2004. Leica struggled to adapt and adjust to the digital age and so changes had to be made. Today Leica have done that and the result is unprecedented growth. What can we learn from the decisions they made? Here are my thoughts in the form of three questions we can ask ourselves:

1. Is it worthwhile considering expanding our market parameters?

The Leica niche was fairly small and you could argue they had a strong market share within it. By offering a number of new ranges to cater for a number of different budgets whilst still ensuring the same quality and workmanship was offered, they made the brand more accessible to those dying to get their hands on a camera with the red dot logo.

Lesson: Consider other market segments to spark growth

2. How can we leverage our brand story better?

The entire Leica brand is built on and centred on the power of its story. They do well to reinforce the things they are known for and not engage the things they are not known for. Leica aren’t trying to be something they are not. Unwavering unswayed, they hold the kind of prestige that continues to draw people to them.

Lesson: Know who you are and who you aren’t. Be that.
 

3. What’s my customer journey and how can it improve?

The problem Leica faced was that they lived on a shelf in a camera store with all the other cameras. A top of the line Leica body goes for $30,000 (no Lens included) so controlling the sales experience was a risk Leica took (just as Apple did when they launched Apple retail). For a brand with so much history, richness and cult status, designing their very own sales experience was key to building the brand and they plan to continue a mass roll out of Leica retail over the coming years.

Lesson: Control, optimise and improve the experience a customer has with your brand and it will pay off for you.

I love great brands

Leica is a brand with a story, and to be honest, I’m sold.
I want the camera that shot the sailor kissing the nurse on V-Day. I just want it.
Will it take amazing photos? Yes I believe it will.
But above all that, I’ll love it for just being a Leica.

All images sourced from www.leica.com

2 comments

  • Paul Claessen  

    A great post John. There is certainly a mystical quality that Leica holds, brands that achieve this quality seem to rise above price and feature set. I think the danger lies in the success, brands like Burberry seem to have suffered at the hands of their own success.

    • john  

      Interesting comment Paul. You’re right, Leica has done well to maintain their premium brand position as more spend has entered the DSLR market but as you can see, in order to capitalise, they built the entry level models and this helped significantly. In my opinion, Burberry face an economic challenge and their success will depend on their ability to navigate the economic issues for the luxury market, specifically the spending climate in China who are mass spenders in that category.

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