Sony has been a powerful consumer electronics brand for a long time, and their impact on digital imaging cannot be overstated. The emergence of the Alpha brand has complemented the continued strength of its compact Cyber-shot point-and-shoot models. We sat down with Brennan Mullin, senior vice president of the Personal Imaging and Audio division; Kristen Elder, director of the Alpha DSLR business; and Karim Noblecilla, senior business manager for Cyber-shots, to discuss the complete Sony line.
JG: With the increasingly impressive showing of the Alpha digital SLR line, Sony seems to be hitting its stride once again in the DI category.
BM: The 2010 CES was a very successful show for us; the seven products we introduced were very well received, and it’s nice to see that the R&D we invested in that space is paying off very well with the press, as well as with consumers.
We came off a very good Q3 holiday season, and we expect that momentum and trend to continue, which speaks to the strength of our lineup.
The industry overall should have a great year. And while CES is a huge show in the electronics space, at PMA we’re able to really talk with our constituents and to showcase some of our new technology. So, we’re excited about this show.
Let’s talk about the Cyber-shot business. You have always been strong in the point-and-shoot arena, but now that the category has matured, what do you see as the components that will allow this category to continue to grow?
BM: From a consumer perspective, it’s a great time to be buying cameras, given what you can get at terrific price points. But how do you keep it moving? You have to keep consumers interested not only in the cameras themselves but in the technology. As you know, we have invested in technology, resulting in such breakthroughs as our Exmor R CMOS sensor, low-light shooting and sweep panorama—as well as the incredible video capabilities of our cameras, which we take from our camcorder side. We continue to set the bar higher; that’s what Sony does. And the technology that continues to make these products easier to use, while delivering better images, will keep consumers engaged.
It’s getting to be a pretty crowded category. What will entice people to choose Sony over some of the other brands?
KN: Sony has such a strong background—not only in point and shoot but also in Alpha and camcorder technologies—we’re able to share many of the features that cross all of our imaging lines. For example, we offer AVCHD capabilities in our point-and-shoot cameras that came directly from our Handycams. Backlight correction, originally introduced in our Alpha models, is now available in our Cyber-shot line. That kind of integration allows us to be unique in the market and offer these kinds of solutions. We’re trying to make it as simple as possible.
BM: Another advantage is that the step strategy for us is very clear: if you want a simple point-and-shoot model that will take fantastic pictures, we have that for you; if you want a camera that has manual controls, we have that as well. Depending on the consumer’s preference on how they want to use the camera, from manual to full auto, we have it. Important also is the ecosystem around the camera. We’re trying to add more fun, like transferring images with our TransferJet, so it’s not just about the shooting experience, but the post-shooting experience as well.
How important are styling and colors, and how does that play into your strategy?
BM: The lineup has received great feedback on its sleek design, which is hugely important because people want to personalize their cameras. Whether it’s color or size or the case it comes with, people are looking for ways to differentiate, and we’re able to deliver on almost every facet of that desire.
I applaud your resolve to step into a very crowded but narrow DSLR category and take it head on.
BM: Obviously, this is a very important category for us in terms of its importance to the whole line. We’re introducing DSLRs and technologies/features at price points perhaps consumers haven’t seen before. In such a crowded space, it forces us to be innovative, which has always been a Sony strength. It sets the bar high for us. It’s exciting because it’s growing, and we continue to be very hungry in this market.
KE: This year, we’ve focused on some step-up features both for the first-time buyer, making it easier for them to use the products, as well as some advanced features for repeat buyers. The luxury that we have at Sony is to be able to share technology across the digital imaging group, so you’re starting to see features coming from Alpha into Cyber-shot, and then conversely seeing features like face detection and Smile Shutter technology come into the Alpha line.
What do you want the Alpha brand to stand for in the market?
KE: It’s really an extension of our overall DI business. We look at our business as a whole, and we see it as the extension that offers the ultimate shooting experience. With the camera and all of the lenses that we offer—and all of them being image stabilized—consumers are able to more easily take better pictures. If they step up from a point and shoot, we make it easier for them, and we also want to be able to give them the performance they equate with a DSLR, like speed of focus, continuous shooting and having live view while shooting continuously.
BM: Even though we’re simplifying things through our unique user interface, we are still able to deliver superior performance.
Do you think you’ll be more successful getting people to trade up from Sony point and shoots or over from other brands?
KE: I think it’s both; we still see a lot of the growth in DSLR coming from the first-time buyer, so we want to make sure we’re meeting their needs, and stacking up versus the competition, along with helping consumers overcome some of the hurdles they may face. But there is also an opportunity to sway other brand owners as well. We see from our research that consumers aren’t as committed to a system as they once were, so there is that opportunity. We’re appealing to both the step-up consumers as well as the brand loyalists.
Your Artisans of Imagery program is very impressive. In terms of the pro market, are you trying to enter that segment or use the pro market as a halo for your brand?
KE: We see the pro market as very important in this space, not only for sales but also for their influence in the market. Our Artisans have just been delighted by the product and are really happy to partner with Sony. We want to be able to use their experiences to help others make a decision toward Sony, whether they’re a beginner, enthusiast or professional. We are building professional-grade products, so we want to make sure we’re getting them into the hands of professionals too.
Many of our readers are photo specialty dealers. Why would they look forward to carrying Sony products?
KE: I think they are best equipped to tell the technology story in most of the step-up products. Explaining a technology such as auto high-dynamic range shooting is not that easy, so we rely on that channel to help us tell that story, as well as our value story. For example, we offer a full-frame camera below $2,000, and the more customers understand the tremendous value of that, the more they’ll move toward our products.
BM: Few other channels can tell the story of all of the features we can offer consumers. No other channel can do it better than photo specialty. Our value story is something that photo specialty dealers can more easily explain and demonstrate, and I think consumers really trust that channel to know the products and to be able to explain them better.