A snapshot of Canon’s use of Salesforce to replace a dying camera market

Martin Banks Profile picture for user mbanks May 21, 2017
Until 2015, camera sales were a booming business for Canon, then with growing market saturation a and the boom in smartphones and their cameras came the ultimate disruption – a market imploding. So the company has made the step into a new marketplace, providing the cloud-based image management services that everyone – from happy snappers to professional photographers – can find a use for.

Historically, Canon was a pretty big fish in the imaging hardware business, particularly in terms of both cameras and printers aimed broadly at the higher end of the consumer marketplace.

As Alessandro Stanzani, EVP of the company’s Consumer Imaging Group, EMEA, notes, for 15 years from 1999 to 2015, the digital imaging business was booming:

But like many other sectors before it, the market rapidly fell into a double-digit fall. The camera market lost about one third. And when you go into such a massive market fall so quickly you become one of the many examples of big disruption.

This he puts down to three main reasons: market saturation, despite it being a market of around 60 million cameras a year in Europe alone; a slow down in innovation; and perhaps most of all, the vast improvement in the camera capabilities of mobile phones. With calm understatement, he describes this as a `bit of a shock’, but the kicking by the marketplace brought with it a positive response.

The company set about a change management programme that had a major goal in mind – re-design the company strategy, and re-design it quickly:

We were rich in consumers and we realised we had to work with them. We set in motion a big customer-centric regeneration project based on finding out what they are looking for when they buy cameras – as they say, what their 'journey’ was. At the same time we had to keep our channel engaged with a Business-as-Usual plan.

The answer Canon hit upon is not unique, but it does take what others have already done for camera-happy consumers and takes it to a point where it has real added value for a large slice of its traditional photo-hobbyist marketplace, as well as scope for plenty more added value. Indeed, what Canon now has available could well be of value to professional photographers, as well as users of the smartphone-based cameras that so damaged the company’s old market.

The key words here are 'cloud' and 'ecosystem'. Some of the most popular consumer cloud services are Instagram, SnapChat, PinInterest and other online services where users can store photographs they have taken. The convenience of the connection between the camera, the phone, the Internet and one of those services has created a world where consumers now snap away and either store the results online, or even send them to the likes of SnapChat, where they can then even disappear after just a few minutes.

Such services have some real downsides if the consumer wants to do anything else but show a snap on the original format of the phone. The images are severely compressed and this is where problems start, for all the consumer can do with them is show them to people on a phone. The compression is such that richer images – for example a photo taken on a Canon camera, in RAW format, where it could be enlarged to fill a wall in a big room – get reduced to blotches of unrecognisable oversized pixellation unless the image is kept to the compressed size.

In addition, many of the services which store consumer photographs are quite open about considering those images fair game to resell in the commercial marketplace. The photographer can lose all copyright control.

Solving these issues has become, therefore, the base camp for Canon in providing consumers with a significantly different solution. And the base level itself is a subscription-based cloud storage service for all photographers, not just Canon camera customers. This does come with a couple of obvious advantages, especially for anyone interested in photography, even at a rudimentary level.

First, and perhaps most important, is that by subscribing to the storage service, the copyright to all the photographs stored automatically belongs to the subscriber. So Canon will not be selling images onwards to commercial third parties or using them indirectly to sell more advertising.

The second is that the images are stored as is – there is no upload compression applied in order to save storage space. That means that the full MP3, TIFF or RAW formats are fully maintained in the storage process. This includes the metadata associated with each image that gives such information as the camera setting used to take the photograph.

Salesforce platform

The company has already added several layers of additional service to this base offering, most of which exploit the company’s use of Salesforce Sales Cloud as its key customer information management tool. This use does have an interesting twist to it, however, for while Salesforce is being used by Canon to manage the customers’ use of the service, it is also being used directly to provide those customers with tools and services to manage their images in the way they want to. Stanzani explains:

We want to provide them with a service that plays a part in every picture and help people use their pictures to tell the stories of their lives.

One of those services is Image Tagging. The company has built up a comprehensive set of search tags with which users can find specific photographs without having to know some specific file name or number. These are tags such as 'beach', 'landscape', 'group' and so on. So, a user can know they want to find a shot of a group of friends, and can narrow down the search by using the tags to get all the `group’ images displayed together as thumbnails.

Using Salesforce also allows them to get tuition and advice about the photographs they have taken. Working in conjunction with image analysis tools, Salesforce can be used to scan through a user’s collection and receive advice and guidance on the quality of their photographs and how that can be improved. This can be requested on specific photographs, or as an overview, and makes use of the metadata associated with each one.

The tools can take the camera settings used from that metadata, and use them as a basis for analysis of the image. It can then provide advice and guidance on composition, and the settings that can be used to obtain a better result.

This then opens up a wide range of additional services that Canon has its eye on, if not yet available. For example, it will be possible to add tools to change and enhance images without having to move image files to another application or tool, and discussions between Canon and such applications vendors are already under way. It could also become possible for future generations of cameras to download the settings advice through Salesforce and use them to reset the default settings for different types of photograph.

Printing and gallery services are also part of the package, allowing users to easily assemble the story of an event in whatever form is appropriate – from online gallery that is public, through one that is available to named individuals and on to printed books that can combine both photographs and a narrative.

The use of Salesforce therefore not only gives Canon management over a user’s accounts, logging and billing for the additional services they use, as well as providing the company with the obvious chances to upsell and cross-sell additional services. But it also allows the users to manage themselves and their relationship with the service.

And as a cloud service, it also allows Canon to add new services as and when they become available and there is market demand, as revealed by the Salesforce capability to communicate with the customers. And the services are as likely to come from specialist third party applications developers as they are from Canon.

My take

Here is an interesting view of dealing with significant disruption in a major global brand, grasping the nettle presented, and coming up with a new approach to the market that looks to provide both existing and new customers with what they need now.

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