Industrial Marketing

Having worked in the food industry as long as I did, I got pretty familiar with consumer marketing – how to sell Maxwell House Coffee, Jell-O, Becel, Hellmann’s Mayo – but how do you flog a water heater? That lies within the purvue of Industrial Marketing and it’s quite different.

I thought about the differences lately when I had to get a new water heater at home. There were some clues of course on the company website but also on the appliance itself.

First of all the main customer for water heaters is not the consumer – it is the HVAC installation company. My installer’s logo was front and center on the tank – right next to the Energy Star label. So the industrial marketer keeps the installer happy.

Second, there’s branding. In consumer markets, branding is – well, basically everything. In industrial markets, not so much.

My new water heater is a Bradford-White. My old one was a GSW. Does that mean anything to you? Does the fact I now own a Bradford-White make me fulfilled as a consumer? I think it must be pretty tough to build brand awareness in this market.

Third, a marketer still has to differentiate his product from the competition – if only to sell the installer to feature his brand. How does Bradford-White do this?

It begins by wrapping itself in the flag – the fact that the units are US made is important to some – like The Donald, for instance. Next, the tank water entry system has an innovative mixing capability that reduces sediment, mixes cold water efficiently with the hot water that’s already there. This apparently means that the heater doesn’t have to work as hard or as long to keep a good supply of hot water on tap. This makes sense to me theoretically. Whether it’s of any practical significance we’ll see. Bradford-White has some interesting videos on its website in addition to the logo on the tank – but if I had that much crud in my hot water tank I’d have more problems than simply keeping it in suspension. The marketers at Bradford-White call this mixing system Hydrojet – which I think is a cool name. I don’t think it would motivate me to insist on a Bradford-White water tank – but maybe the installer appreciates it.

There are lots of other household items that need Industrial Marketing – furnaces, roof shingles, siding, gas fireplaces to name a few. You might even include toilets and sinks in the list – at least the ones that the builder selected for your house in the first place. All these have to be sold by somebody to somebody – and believe it or not, that takes Marketing.

 

Fail

This isn’t so much a post about photography as it is about how a technology-driven company can make products that are a marketing and financial disaster if they don’t understand their customer.

Nobody can dispute Nikon’s place as an optical and camera giant. They started out in the 1940s by knocking off Leica rangefinders, created legendary single lens reflex cameras and lenses and ended up going head to head with Canon for the lead among Japanese manufacturers. They have a legion of devoted users. Count me in.

However, Nikon has never been a big winner in the point and shoot market. Coolpix always trailed the Canon point and shoots feature for feature, and with smartphones taking over, Nikon’s non-DSLR market was decimated.

But I digress. The camera above – Nikon Coolpix A – came out 5 years ago. It was an attempt to bring the mid-range DSLR technology into the compact Coolpix form. It had a large DX type sensor and a prime (non-zooming) lens which was better than the consumer “kit lenses” that Nikon sold with its low-end digital single lens reflex cameras. It was compatible with Nikon’s excellent flash technology. It had a solid metal body and a quality look and feel. Its menu system was easy to understand and quite similar to the familiar DSLR way of thinking. It was compact and lightweight. It made great images. It failed.

There are a number of reasons why but in summary it came down to a series of marketing problems caused by the camera:

  • Limited consumer appeal. Most point and shoots have a zoom lens, this one did not. About the only person who would be interested would be someone who had a large DSLR and lenses but wanted a small walking around camera. This is a fairly restricted group to be sure.
  • Overpriced. Initial MSRP for the Coolpix A was about twice what you could get a cheap DSLR and kit lens for – a setup that had a zoom capability. A competitive compact product from Ricoh was priced hundreds of dollars less.
  • Unappealing design. Fujifilm had a competitively priced X100S rangefinder that was a beautiful camera – similar to a classic Leica film model in design. The Coolpix at heart looked like a cheap point and shoot camera.
  • Slicing the salami – Nikon omitted a viewfinder and remote flash command to keep their costs down. Even a cheap Coolpix had the ability to control remote flash units but the Coolpix A – nope. The optional clip-on viewfinder had no connection with the camera and was very expensive. The camera did not offer image stabilization either – something that the cheapest point and shoots have today and a must for low light photography.
  • Lens too wide and not competitive – the lens on the Fuji X100S was faster and had a better focal length for general photography. The Coolpix A did great at landscape photography, but you had to get pretty close for portraits and people. Not every subject likes a photographer in their face.

To be blunt, this looks a bit like Wag the Dog business at work. Here Marketing, we’ve made this great camera, now go flog it.

Initial expert reviews were positive, although it was pointed out that the Coolpix A was overpriced compared to a comparably specified camera, and lacking in the design elements of the Finepix X100S. The Coolpix A was also seen as rather a specialist model, lacking broad photographic appeal.

Within a few months, the price of the Coolpix A was discounted 25-30% (not good from Nikon’s viewpoint.) By the time the camera was discontinued, the major camera stores in the US were selling it for 70% off the initial MSRP. Often they threw in the expensive clip-on viewfinder as a bonus.

No replacement model was announced or probably even planned.

But that’s not the end of the story. In subsequent years the Coolpix A has become a bit of a cult classic. It is difficult to find a used model at the price that the last ones were sold new. Nikon has sold some refurbished Coolpix A cameras in the US – maybe they had new old stock somewhere in their warehouses. If you look on Amazon, you can find expensive Coolpix As which can be imported from Japan. Coolpix A’s principal rivals – the Finepix X100 series and the Ricoh GR series – are still on the market and have been upgraded from their original models. So there is a market out there. It’s much smaller after the perfect storm of smartphone cameras, but it exists.

So would I buy a Coolpix A – maybe at the lowest discounted price. It is built like a tank, is compact and I can’t deny it is engineered for making great images. However I do have a good travel camera with an impressive zoom, and I also own a mid-range Nikon DSLR that would do everything the Coolpix A would do – and more. I would never have considered the Coolpix A at all when it was introduced. And when a Nikon fanboy rejects your product, you have more than just a marketing problem.

 

Chillin’ and Grillin’

BBQ season isn’t a year-round thing up here in the Valley. You are lucky if you make it from May to October most years. That said, we do get a lot of use out of our gas grill during that time.

I’ve had a natural gas BBQ ever since we moved to Georgetown in 1979 and discovered a solid old Charmglow grill cemented into our backyard patio. When we got up to Almonte I was sold on NG so I had the furnace guys run a line out to the back of the house. Shortly after that we went to Home Depot and got our venerable Broil-Mate.

It’s now 12 years old and showing its age – igniter broken, warming rack rusted away, hood looking seedy, cooking grates worn to bare metal, rubber gas supply hose getting ready to fail. I have already replaced the cooking plates and burner and I have no intention of doing it again.

So we headed off to check out our local fireplace/BBQ dealer and we found what we needed to replace the old Broil-Mate. This is it – a Napoleon Rogue 425K Ambiance.

It’s a simple 3 burner unit, an entry-level Napoleon for sure. Maria liked the black porcelain finish. I liked the rotary igniter and the stainless steel grate. We both liked the fold down stainless shelves.

The friendly BBQ store will assemble, deliver, and set the grill up plus take our old worn out grill away. Simple as that. They even threw in a nice stainless Napoleon BBQ set.

This particular Napoleon is made in their factory in China unlike the really large high-end ones which are assembled in Barrie – but we get the same warranty so that’s OK.

Looks like chillin’ and grillin’ will have a whole new dimension this summer.

 

Hamburgers and History

Maria’s away in Kingston visiting her mother, so I went out for lunch today in Carleton Place. Dropped in for a burger and root beer.

On the way back I took my favorite country road and decided to stop at the historic St James Anglican Cemetery just north of town. It’s a historic place – British to the core.

Didn’t spend a lot of time there though – it is cold, wet and sleety outside and the cemetery will look and feel a lot better in a couple of months.

 

Here is a good example of that early 20th-century British pride. This is not a normal grave marker. It’s more of a cenotaph to honor probably the only guy in Carleton Place who fought in the Crimean War.

Thomas Dunn was born in Ireland in 1834. He joined the British Army at age 18 – just in time to go to the Crimea. Mr. Dunn spent three years there and saw a lot of action – but survived. He came to Canada in 1856 and joined the Royal Canadian Rifles. He was still in the British Army (Canada was a colony and the R.C.R. would only accept 15-year British veterans into the ranks. He probably participated in defending against the Fenian raids after the Civil War.

When the Rifles disbanded in 1870, Mr. Dunn moved to Carleton Place where he and his wife Bridget raised their family. By the time he died in 1908, he was so well respected that the citizens of Carleton place raised the money for this memorial.

This is Mr. Dunn’s actual gravestone with his wife’s inscription on the other side. A little bit of local history to go with my burger today.

Camera Detective

My grandma’s family album contains many photos such as this one of the younger folks in 1917.

A lot of the pictures are quite large and are obviously enlargements of the original camera negative.

The camera which took these photos was a very good one for the time, and I believe it must have belonged to my grandmother’s Uncle Weston – a dentist and nutritional scientist. But what sort of camera was it? Let’s play detective.

There are a couple of things we can infer from the start:

  1. Judging from the how it was put to use, this was a compact camera for the time. Most of the pictures are snapshots taken at either the ancestral farm in Camden or at Uncle Weston’s rustic lodge near Bon Echo, on Mazinaw Lake.
  2. There is overwhelming probability it was a Kodak camera. Kodak was the dominant domestic and international brand in the early 20th century. The Germans were making and selling optical parts but they hadn’t really begun to sell cameras in the US. The Japanese hadn’t even got started yet, except in lenses.
    There are some photos in grandma’s album dating from ca. 1910 which are smaller – about the size of a print straight from the negative. These are 6 X 11 cm (2.5 X 4.25 inches) That corresponds to prints made from Kodak 116 film. Kodak camera model 1A used type 116.
  3. This was a Kodak Special model. George Eastman believed in selling cheap hardware and making his money on renewables (sort of like the modern computer printer manufacturer.) But he did have a line of expensive cameras called Special. These had the latest materials like aluminum and Bakelite to reduce weight. They also featured imported shutters and Zeiss designed lenses made under license by Bausch and Lomb in Rochester.
    The lenses corrected for astigmatism much as today’s eyeglasses do and gave a sharper image, allowing more light to enter the camera. A Special camera cost upwards of $50 in 1910 or close to $1500 in today’s money. Only someone as successful as Weston Price could afford one.

So based on the above I would guess that Uncle Weston had a Kodak Special 1A folding camera. It took pictures like this:

Even with the expensive hardware, it wasn’t easy to be a 1910 photographer. In spite of the advanced lens design, a Zeiss Anastigmat f/6.3 was a slow optic and combined with slow black and white roll film needed a lot of light for best results. There was no flash, the shutter speeds were quite long – the fastest speed was 1/100 sec. You could use a tripod indoors and take longer exposures I suppose. Or possibly stand the camera on a table.

There was a rudimentary rangefinder but all that did was show you what you could get in the picture. You had to set the aperture and shutter speed based on a rough ambient lighting estimate – no light meter. The focus was done by moving the lens assembly back and forth on the rails according to a distance scale. Then you cocked the shutter with one lever and released it with another. After that, you cranked ahead to the next exposure. You got 8 images on a film roll. Hopefully, they turned out. Some obviously did.

Whether Uncle Weston had the same camera from 1909 until 1920 is unknown. His pictures got clearer and brighter as time went on – but that could have been because of improved film technology as much as from improved optics. Kodak didn’t change the basic folding camera design until the 1930s – although they did introduce another 1A “Autographic” Special model in 1914. Maybe Uncle Weston just got more experienced as a photographer.

I find these images remarkable – for their quality, the effort that went into making them, their longevity, and the way the bring my long dead Victorian aunts back to their youth.

I wonder if Uncle Weston would ever have dreamt that 100 years after he took these photos a future descendant would treasure them and try to figure out what equipment he used to make them. Ah, probably not. Life in 1910 was lived one day at a time – just as it is today.

 

 

 

 

Is It Spring Finally?

It’s been a month on the calendar, the trees haven’t got their leaves yet but today was the first real sign of spring in Almonte. It’s been a long time coming but I think it’s here. I felt so confident I got the winter tires off the Jeep today.

The spring run-off is in full swing, over the new weir for the Enerdu power station.

And the powerhouse is virtually complete.

Water flows over the rebuilt dam at the old Thoburn textile mill.

While the former water turbine at the mill sits idly by in retirement.

The kids are out enjoying the fine weather.

Another sure sign of spring – cleaning up the patio at the pub.

The main falls are roaring with the spring freshet.

While Almonte’s main power station gets all the water it needs – and then some.

The historic “Black Watch” sign gleams in the spring sunshine.

No more trains will cross this bridge after 150 years but it’ll be part of the new rail trail.

The Riverwalk is as inviting as ever.

And this old water pump that used to be part of the Thoburn Mill fire system is just taking it easy now. A perfect thing to do on such a fine spring day in Almonte.

Image or Experience?

When I started out in photography and for many years after I just had one camera at a time. First I had a cruddy old 127 roll film compact, then a 35 mm rangefinder, and finally a Nikon film SLR. During this time I was obviously shooting film of some sort and didn’t travel all that much – especially by air. So there wasn’t a decision to be made about which camera to take along.

As time went by, my SLR kit got bigger and heavier to the point where I was toting along a camera body, 4 lenses and a flash in a good sized bag. It was getting ridiculous. Aside from the heavy kit, there was also the risk of theft in vacation destinations. Also, the airlines were getting skimpier about the amount of baggage you could carry on.

Well, I went digital finally. And aside from the fact that I didn’t need film any longer, I got the choice of the type of camera to bring along. I still have a DSLR and a bunch of lenses. But I also have a nice little travel camera. A lot of folks don’t bother with either and just use a smartphone.

It comes down to the choice of concentration – image or experience. On a vacation, the emphasis is on experience. You don’t want to mess that up by hauling a heavy kit around, worrying about somebody stealing it or getting it ruined by salt water and sand.

On the other hand, when you are asked to take photos of a child’s once in a lifetime event, you want to concentrate on the image.

I am pretty sure my great-great uncle concentrated on the image at my mother’s baptism 100 years ago.

So I did the same 100 years later.

The photographer isn’t having the experience here. The child is. So the photographer should concentrate on the image and do the best possible to get that right.

In my case, that means bringing the Nikon and its lenses plus a big flash. Might not need all the lenses but you never know. The flash comes in handy for family photos – it eliminates red-eye and shadows.

These are snapshots, not posed portraits but I still wanted to concentrate on the images as best I could.

There were about 30 people taking photos at the church after the First Communion. Of those, I was probably the only one with a big DSLR. Everybody else used smartphones. Maria thought I was nuts to bring all that equipment. But I hope 100 years from now somebody will appreciate the fact that I concentrated on the image.

 

 

More Gyrations with Mr. Rogers

No, not that Mr. Rogers – I mean Rogers Communications. That’s Ted Rogers, not Fred Rogers.

Cable TV and satellite providers in Canada keep moaning about the fact that customers are thinking of cutting the cord. Do they ever think that their own stupid policies may influence that decision? Probably not.

Here is a typical Cable TV customer scenario:

  1. You sign up for a package of channels you like, along with an Internet package.
  2. After a year your package expires. The provider never lets you know in advance that this will happen.
  3. Your bill suddenly goes up. This is your first clue that things have changed.
  4. You contact the provider, only to be told your package is now obsolete. You can’t get a discount any longer.
  5. Provider offers you a new package which isn’t the same as your old one. Thanks to regulatory changes in the industry you now have to mix and match channels to get what you want.
  6. At the end of the day, you get back what you had – but it’ll cost you. You get a faster Internet package but since most of your devices connect via wifi you won’t see any change in speed.
  7. Get ready to do this all over again next April.

Add to this the fact that you’ll waste an hour or so sitting in a chat queue, or on hold when you make a phone call to Rogers.

All the fol de rol about the CRTC changes benefiting the customer are just that – nonsense.

Cutting the cord isn’t really an option either, at least not where we live in Canada. We don’t get Hulu or any streaming service that gives us over the air TV channels. We have Netflix but it is a shadow of its US operation. Why? Ask our regulators and Cable companies. They want to stifle competition.

As if we have competition now. My choice in Almonte is cable or satellite. I don’t want a satellite dish hanging off my roof, thank you. Besides the satellite provider offers old-fashioned phone service and pokey Internet.

The good news is that things seem OK now. The bad news is I’ll be back at this in a year’s time. Argh!

 

 

That’s the Bag I’m In

There’s an old saying that a woman can’t have enough handbags and a (usually male) photographer can’t have enough camera bags.

I suppose that’s true in the case of the photog anyway. I mean, I have 6 in my closet  – 7 if you count the ancient canvas bag I used with my Nikon FE 30 years ago. I have used them all off and on, and I still have some use for every one.

Just like the travel camera, there is no perfect camera bag. There are different styles, depending on the maker and the way the photographer uses it. Photographers make the wrong choices too. Tell me about it.

When I got my first Nikon autofocus system back in 2002, I had the camera, two zoom lenses and a flash to carry. My old canvas bag wouldn’t work and besides, it gave limited protection to my shiny new stuff. I also had the plan to pick up a couple more lenses someday, so I wanted a bag I could grow into.

So I settled on the above bag – Lowepro Nova 3. Lowepro was the most common bag you’d find in camera stores back then – good value, pretty well made, lots of padding. It was a big bag, but nowhere near the largest Lowepro made.

I took this bag with my camera equipment on a number of overseas holidays, and it was soon apparent that it did not travel well. Back then they didn’t quibble about carry on bags or checked baggage but even so, this camera bag took up a lot of room under the seat. It was bulky to carry around as well, and it was obvious that it was a camera bag holding decent equipment – a security risk. It was heavy on the shoulder too – a day of carrying it around Brussels was not fun.

This bag is still in use though. All the things that make it a bear for travel are perfect for home storage. Right now I keep my complete mothballed film system in there; if I want to use my great manual focus Nikon glass on my DSLR I know where to find it.

I decided to try something else. I got a good deal on a Lowepro Orion waist bag. This is a fairly large kidney shaped bag that hugs your hip and has a waist strap to take some of the weight off your shoulder. I liked this bag a lot for comfort, and it wasn’t bad to get your camera in and out. The problem was that the Orion was not really suited to my style of urban photography. It was great for hiking in the boonies but I felt like a doofus in the city with the waist strap and shoulder strap. It was sort of like wearing a belt and suspenders – plus you were always fiddling with the camera bag instead of your camera.

I use this bag for additional storage; it holds obsolete flashes, digital and film cameras and other assorted gear. It doesn’t get out much.

Now for some bags I actually use when shooting pictures.

The third time was the charm when it came to my SLR and DSLR systems. I got a bag from a different maker this time. It is a Tamrac Velocity 3 messenger bag. This is a shoulder bag that is less bulky, still gives good protection, and does not look like a camera bag. It took my film SLR and 4 lenses to the Baltics. I use it now for a digital SLR and 3 zoom lenses. The Velocity 3 does not have a really comfortable shoulder strap, and you cannot change it, but I manage. I’m not really carrying the whole system around all day.

I don’t do air travel with a DSLR, so this one gets taken by car to mostly family events, or to spots where I want to take wide-angle photos.

In addition to this Velocity 3, I have a Lowepro TLZ-1 holster bag which is good for a DSLR and just one lens. I used this bag a lot with a Fuji fixed lens “bridge camera” a few years ago, but the DSLR system has replaced that. This bag gets used from time to time but not as much as it once did. My son in law has the same bag with hios Fuji and uses it all the time. A good bag for sure.

Back when I got started with digital, I had a Nikon Coolpix 5000 and a small flash. I got a Lowepro D-Res 420 AW small shoulder bag to carry it around. Although I have retired the Coolpix, I still use this bag to carry batteries, chargers and voltage adapters when I go traveling on airplanes. It fits nicely in a backpack and holds all the little things that would rattle around at the bottom and get lost. Handy but not a camera bag anymore.

Finally my go-to travel camera – Lumix ZS50 – goes in a tiny Lowepro Tahoe 25 II case. This is strictly hand carried – no strap at all.

So right now I have 6-7 bags, use 2 for cameras and the rest mostly gather dust in the closet. I don’t think I’ll be getting any more for a while – I’ll need to cull some stuff in the closet first.

Live and learn. Oh yes – anyone want a tripod? That’s in the closet too.

 

 

 

 

 

The End of the Beginning

This is the third and final blog post about digital photography in 2018 – at least as I see it.

Consumer film photography was in its heyday for 100 years. The age of the consumer digital camera has now been around about 30 years. It’s fair to say that the film camera is at an end for most practical purposes. How about the digital camera? Is this the end, or – as Churchill might say – is this the end of the beginning?

The lovely Samsung NX-1 pictured above is no more – and it was the finest mirrorless camera on the market when it was introduced. In fact,  Samsung – profitable maker of smartphones, tablets, DVD players, TVs, washing machines, and refrigerators – has decided to get out of the camera market entirely. Their market was destroyed by the smartphone.

Now I cannot deny that smartphone cameras have made huge strides in image quality. For the average user, smartphone snapshots are just fine. A smartphone gets smoked by a digital camera when it comes to sensor size, optical zoom, and creative settings but if you are the average person walking around with a phone on a selfie stick, do you care?

Here is one of my favorite photos from the recent cruise we took. I was happy to have my travel zoom along when we returned to the ship from Willemstad, Curacao. Yet I must admit this one could have been adequately photographed by a smartphone. A good one would go wide enough, be fast enough, and have enough pixels to capture the pounding surf and the cruise liner.

This one not so much. You needed the travel zoom’s telephoto capability to catch the Montjuic Castle in the morning sunlight.

A smartphone couldn’t do this either. This one has a DSLR’s capability and an ultrawide lens that isn’t available on a smartphone..yet.

Not to brag, but the average guy walking around with a selfie stick would not have my experience as a photographer. It takes a bit of skill to spot the right point to take an image, plus see things in the right light. You may have to get down and dirty with the rocks in the foreground as well.

A camera does not make a photographer, but I believe that the fact that you do have a good picture appliance along gives you a bit extra motivation to get things right. Plus I enjoy using a really nice piece of optical kit. In my case, a smartphone would not be replacing an el cheapo $100 digicam.

As I see it, it’s far too early to write the last chapter in the digital camera story. “Real” cameras are going to become niche items, maybe even luxury items. The vast majority of future images will be made and shared by smartphones. But just as film and film cameras have never truly gone away, I don’t expect that specialized digital cameras will either. At least they won’t as long as mossbacks like me are around to buy them.

 

 

 

 

 

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