Strategy Session: Add Value by Putting Images in Perspective

Strategy Session: Add Value by Putting Images in Perspective


Doesn’t it seem that when faced with change, our first instinct is to go with the old adage “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”?

If you stop and look back for a moment on just the last five years in the imaging business, you might be amazed at what has changed. For example, in 2008:

  • The iPad was still two years away
  • Android was still an alien creature in a sci-fi movie
  • Blackberry had a 55% share of smartphone market sales
  • DSLRs just started shooting HD video
  • Minolta had just pulled out of the camera business
  • My kids still thought I was cool

Some might not consider those changes dramatic, but it’s clear that technology is now moving at breakneck speeds. And if we don’t adapt, it might turn out to be Kodakian—an adjective I made up to express the blind premise that everything will be okay if we just say we’re “digital.”

I’m finding we need to recognize that not only has our industry changed but also, most important, our customers have changed. As much as we hate to admit it, they like taking pictures with their smartphones, they’re getting more and more used to not printing their images, and albums are becoming one of those things our mothers did. Today’s consumers are shopping on the web more and more, and they’re price shopping to find the best deals from the comfort of their living rooms.

I hear all the time that photo specialty retailers are suffering because the Internet is killing their ability to compete. And, in many cases, that is absolutely true—but only if you don’t believe in added value.

I’ve been preaching about the photo specialty channel lately, because I believe this channel is well positioned to win back the hearts and minds of the imaging consumer over the next few years. And it all has to do with added value.

While in many cases change is imminent, oftentimes consumers adapt their lives to new technologies because they think they should—but then they return back to their comfort zones. I’ll give you my personal case in point. I’ve been an avid New York Times reader for as long as I can remember (which is getting both longer and shorter, if you know what I mean). About six months ago, I decided to give up my newspaper delivery and start reading the Times every morning on my iPad. Not only was I going to save a lot of money, I was also doing my part in adapting to the new world order—that being, if you can do it on your iPad, why not just do it.

After three months of totally convincing myself that my digital New York Times was the answer, I faced the truth. I wasn’t happy. I longed for newsprint on my fingers. I craved my slow, leisurely turning of the page. And I found myself yearning for the “news perspective” that I had abandoned.

You see, on the iPad, all news stories take on the same importance. Each story was a small picture with a series of paragraphs. One was no more important than the other. The presidential debates took on the same perspective as the latest pothole repair on the George Washington Bridge. My New York Times newspaper had always given me the proper perspective on what was most important. Bold headlines. Big images. The mere location on a page offered the perspective I needed.

Does this sound familiar? What do images on Facebook and smartphones have in common? They’re all the same size! Your grandmother’s 90th birthday is given the same respect as a picture of last night’s dessert. Does your newborn deserve the same frame of reference as your college beer pong fraternity shot? There’s no sense of scale, no perspective.

It finally hit me. The latest technology is dumbing us down. Handwritten notes (remember those) have been replaced by e-mails with misspelled words. Hallmark cards (and the implication that someone took the time to buy one) are being threatened by e-cards (and the implication that someone ran out of time). Even the simple phone conversation is now an inconvenience; it’s easier to text than to call.

In our world of creating images, our added value is showing the possibilities that only a better quality image can offer. Every time someone wants to do things simple and quickly, we should enlighten them on what their long view should be. Pictures are too important to be discarded to the junk pile we now refer to as Facebook.

Perspective comes with you providing added value. Grandma deserves an 8×10 with a double-mat border. The precious expression on your new daughter’s face should be preserved on a beautiful metal print.

We’re at the point where most people now don’t need a DSLR or compact system camera. If all they want is to take a quick snapshot and send it to their friends on their smartphone, then that’s all they really need.

But your added value is letting them know they’re short-changing themselves and their memories by dumbing down the process. Anyone can snap a picture on his or her iPhone, but with a better camera and just a little extra effort (and some help from you), they can create a lasting memory. One that offers some perspective on what’s important versus what is just a fleeting moment in time.

We need to present perspective and added value when it comes to images. Our channel needs to compete on levels that don’t exist in other channels. In many cases, we can provide added value at no additional cost. And at that point, our added value becomes our competitive point of difference.

While an iPhone picture will be shared today, an 8×10-framed portrait will be preserved forever. There is a place for converging technology in imaging, and we can’t turn the clock back five years and pretend that smartphones are merely communication devices. They are now an accepted form of photography. But by providing perspective for today’s consumer, you may just be able to turn back the clock to when images meant something more. And when memories were created to last a lifetime.