The photography industry is so drastically different today than it was just ten years ago that if you’re going to survive, you absolutely have to be dynamic and ready to adapt to the things quickly. You have to find your niche and go for it full force or risk failure. Hasselblad is doing this with their form-over-function Lunar and Stellar. Yet I’m left thinking… Hasselblad, I’m not certain you thought this latest set of moves through. I’m not certain you know what’s happening to your brand. I’m not certain this is where you need to be.
I think I can put myself in Hasselblad’s shoes pretty easily. Based on the moves they have made in the last year, I feel like I have a decent hold on what happened to get them to this point. Here is my guess:
1) Due to the economic downturn, consumers started spending less money, especially on high-priced “luxury” items.
2) Hasselblad saw a decrease in sales. Decrease enough, and for long enough, that they got worried. They reorganized their US distribution and partnered with Broncolor to try and stem the tide.
3) Knowing this won’t be enough, Hasselblad decides to expand their market. But the only way to go was something far cheaper. Wanting to save their “high quality” brand status, they needed to keep prices higher, but not out of reach.
4) Hasselblad partnered with Sony to save money on researching and developing their own cameras from scratch. To save even more money, their partnership only allowed them access to cameras that had been on the market for a certain amount of time.
So here we stand now, with Hasselblad’s access to older, but still petty good, Sony cameras. Put a little lipstick on them, and voila! Cheaper, smaller Hasselblad. Simple, effective and guaranteed to earn them lots of money.
Except I’m not convinced that any of that is true.
If Hasselblad had slightly more foresight and invested in their own R&D early on and produced 100% Hasselblad original compact cameras, I’m pretty sure we would all be singing a different tune today. But they didn’t. In fact, it’s painfully obvious how not original their cameras are. The image quality produced from a Hasselblad Stellar is absolutely no different than the original Sony RX100. By the time the Lunar hit the market, Sony already had a better version of the NEX-7 on the market. Not only are you paying more, but you’re paying more for technology that’s already on its way out. You’re paying 100% for name recognition in a market where specs and performance are king.
Let me compare the decision to a different industry. What if we took a cheap but well-performing car... say, a Toyota Corolla. Let's say this car retails for $18,000 or so, which is pretty low these days. Here it is:
It's a fine car, has its particular audience and performs just fine. Now, lets say Lamborghini partnered with Toyota in an attempt to broaden their audience and sell to more folks. They took a Corolla design, but jazzed it up a bit. Added some wood accents, and tossed the Lamborghini logo on it. The end result is the Lamborolla, a clever mix of high-selling and luxury, all for the low-low price of $60,000:
Except it's not clever. It's stupid, it's ugly and it causes irreparable damage to the Lamborghini brand. What is the difference between this farce and the Hasselblad Lunar and Stellar? There is none. It's exactly the same situation (except Lamborghini is too smart to make such a terrible decision).
The way Hasselblad is talking about their new cameras scares me. They are daring to tell me that the Stellar is “unlike any camera on the market” when it is quite obviously not. They aren’t even trying to hide the fact that it is just a re-skinned camera, but simultaneously trying to convince me that it is special and truly original.
And I don’t think there is a soul out there that is buying their lie (literally and figuratively speaking).
My main point is that I’m concerned for the welfare of Hasselblad in the future. Their current strategy is highly indicative of a bold move to prevent their own collapse, yet the decision to go with just decorating existing cameras is damaging the one thing Hasselblad relied on to make money: their reputation. They are dramatically cheapening a reputation that can’t afford to be cheapened.
Even though these cameras have no direct link to a standard Hasselblad H5D, the feeling of discontent with the cheaper cameras will spread to the overall feeling of the brand, eventually cheapening arguably the best medium format camera on the market. That’s a side effect Hasselblad simply cannot afford to let happen, and yet they created the environment where this snowballing cause and effect situation cannot be avoided… unless they right their ship- and soon.
Hasselblad, I really like that you’re trying to widen your audience. It’s the smart thing to do when the walls are closing in on you. However, the way you have decided to go about gaining more customers will not only fail, but will drag the only thing that you have down with you: brand value. You need to stop your present course, reassess what Hasselblad really stands for, and bring us more affordable cameras that match that. Right now, your brand is highly conflicted and confusing to consumers. This is the absolute worst place for any brand to be, and you need to address the situation immediately if you plan to survive past the next five years.
[Hilarious Corolla Photoshop by Noam Galai]