Canon on reframing the business to avoid further smartphone disruption

Having relaunched its brand last year, Canon is now looking at how it expands its brand positioning into CRM and point-of-sale.

It is almost exactly a year since Canon relaunched its brand with the aim of making it “accessible” to a wider group of customers. The shift was predicated on a realisation that the organisation needed to move from being product-centric to more customer-centric, focusing more on how its cameras and printers meet consumers’ needs rather than shouting about the latest specs.

The most obvious sign of this was a TV ad (see above), ‘Live for the story’ created by VCCP, that positioned Canon as a storytelling brand. That was followed up by work with influencers such as Zoe Kravitz to tap into particular genres of photography, including family, travel and food.

“The underlying premise was how do we help you tell the best story of your life,” explains Lee Bonniface, marketing director at Canon Europe. “It’s an integration of the brand owning the space of storytelling and then the integration of our products and services to allow customer to be able to tell their story in the best way possible.

“It’s a higher order – it’s around imaging, not camera and it’s around video and reliving those stories.”

Canon saw a five percentage point increase in brand preference according to TNS brand tracking after the campaign launched. And that was against a wider competitive set that included not just its traditional rivals such as Nikon and Sony but smartphones as well.

But the TV ad was just the start of work that has gone into reframing the brand. Bonniface talks of creating a new “brand world” with VCCP and a visual identity that consumers relate to Canon. Much as EasyJet does with orange and O2 with blue, Canon used red to create a visual world, with ‘Live for the story’ the “picture frame that everything sits in”.

“We used to be known for cameras and printers. Now what we’re doing is allowing you to interact with any part of the imaging ecosystem – storing an image, sharing an image, taking a picture,” he says.

Tackling digital disruption

While there’s an obvious brand benefit in being known for more than cameras, Canon’s hand was also forced by market conditions. According to the Camera and Imaging Products Association (CIPA), sales of digital cameras have slumped over the past seven years – from 121.5 million units shipped in 2010 to a low of 24.2 million in 2016 – as consumers have shifted to smartphones.

Bonniface admits the market has been “challenging” but says the general perception is that sales have now “bottomed out”, with markets such as the Netherlands returning to growth last year. CIPA figures back this up, with global shipments up slightly to 25 million last year.

In a declining market, Canon has managed to remain the top digital camera company by market share in key markets including the US, Europe and Japan, according to the company. And it has branched out into new areas of imaging such as cars, machine automation, security and medical. But Bonniface says Canon has only been able to do this because of the “power” of the Canon brand.

People pushing the barrier of what a smartphone can do – that is the audience that is hot to Canon.

Lee Bonniface, Canon

That brand strength can be seen in consumer perceptions. According to YouGov BrandIndex, Canon comes fourth in a list of 36 ‘computing and home office’ brands with an index score of 23.4 (index being a balance of a range of metrics including value, quality and satisfaction). It is also in the top five for impression, quality, value and recommendation.

And the Reputation Institute has Canon at fourth in its global ranking of brand reputation, with a score of 77.4 putting it behind just Rolex, Lego and Google.

Amid rising competition from smartphones, as well as services like Instagram and Snapchat, Bonniface sees Canon’s “value proposition” in its focus on pictures. For example, Canon offers storage that doesn’t degrade the quality of a photo, unlike others that prioritise storage space. And it has new printing services so people can print at home and on-demand.

“If you download a picture off Facebook it looks awful, WhatsApp is even worse,” he says. “That doesn’t mean this is important to everyone, but as a brand it is quite a big thing for us because we believe your images are really important to you so we keep them at the highest quality.

“The point of our marketing and advertising is to say we offer an ecosystem, we have both the products and services to meet customer needs.”


While its marketing has a job to do to explain the full range Canon offers, Bonniface says there is also an opportunity to “inspire and educate”. Its analytics show that 40% of people are using the wrong lens to take a photo, for example, while a big barrier to people being more engaged is getting off auto mode.

To address this, Canon has created an app with tutorials on which setting on the dial to use, how to set an aperture, what ‘depth of field’ is. “Our aspiration as a brand is not to sell you a camera that you then keep on green square mode, our aspiration is to sell you a camera and make sure you use it to achieve the best result,” says Bonniface.

“I am not trying to sell every person in the world a Canon camera, that’s unrealistic. There will be people that only ever use a smartphone. But our companion app has loads of stuff that is relevant to a smartphone. People pushing the barrier of what a smartphone can do – that is the audience that is hot to Canon.”

Rolling out the brand positioning

Getting across this new positioning is a big challenge in retail. Across Europe, around 70% of Canon cameras are bought in-store, where Canon does not own the experience and relies on partners such as John Lewis or Currys.

“We’re in control of what we put on Facebook, what we buy for search, our website, our advertising. If we’re inspiring people all the way down the funnel, our retail partners need to help continue the message in-store,” he says.

To do that, Canon has just launched in-store toolkits that identify the four main genres of lens with the aim of “demystifying” the technical aspect of buying a camera. That will help retail partners offer “clarity through conversion”, he hopes.

It has also changed its CRM. Where previously someone that registered a Canon camera received an email that said ‘Thank you for buying this camera’, now they get emails showing what the camera will enable them to do.

“We are starting to really force those messages so storytelling comes through all of our touchpoints,” he explains.

If someone has just spent £700 with us we owe them something if we want to create brand loyalty and stickiness. We owe them the inspiration, content, education, support.

Lee Bonniface, Canon

There was a lot of work that went into the Canon brand before it could reposition. Canon implemented Salesforce as its CRM platform and evaluated where it was keeping its customer data and then what that data was telling the company.

It has also meant a big culture change, with Canon adopting more of a “startup mentality” and a culture that is prepared to fail. Bonniface admits it has been difficult for a company like Canon to accept that failure can be a good thing, but says he is implementing workflows like ‘do, learn, do’ and encouraging people to be vocal and move away from email.

That culture shift is also helping to attract the type of people Canon now needs in its marketing team. It has an office in London’s Shoreditch and works out of VCCP’s offices in Victoria so the atmosphere “doesn’t feel like a corporate office”. Bonniface also believes the brand remains a draw: “Having Canon on your CV is not a bad thing.”

That has been key as it shifts its marketing team away from product sales people. It has hired a lot more digital, performance and CRM marketers, as well as analysts whose job it is to understand how a campaign has performed and why customers have taken the action they have – whether that is buying a camera or opting out of comms.

Going into the summer, Canon has plans for a influencer campaign that is just being finalised. While ‘Live for the story’ stays as the backdrop to all its messaging, the theme for this year’s comms is around firsts, so the campaign aims to inspire people to do something for the first time and capture the moment.

It also has new products to push, including the EOS M50, a 4K mirrorless camera aimed at younger consumers that it will push through both “edgy, inspiring” content and education messages on topics such as the benefits of 4K.

“This is not an advertising campaign it’s a brand relaunch and repositioning and it’s around content and inspiration through the whole customer journey,” he concludes.

“We’re not sell all the time; if someone has just spent £700 with us we owe them something if we want to create brand loyalty and stickiness. We owe them the inspiration, content, education, support.”