You're a major player in the office products market, but time and again, your name conjures up images of shutterbugs. For years, Minolta Corporation has been known for its professional 35mm cameras. Lately, however, sales of copiers have become a major strength for the company and, unfortunately, a major secret from the world.
"Not a lot of folks knew we were in the copier business," says Dan Gallagher, director of corporate communications for Ramsey, New Jersey-based Minolta. The company, a subsidiary of Minolta Co. Ltd. in Osaka, Japan, has a solid reputation within the photographic business and maintains a healthy relationship with many photo specialty retailers, says Neil Portnoy, senior manager of Intelect ASW's Imaging Group. However, most consumers had no idea what the brand stood for or what its products could do for them.
Last year, Minolta ranked third in single-lens reflex camera sales, with an 18 percent market share, behind Canon and Nikon, according to Intelect ASW. Holding a 9 percent share, the company tied for fourth in the point-and-shoot camera category with Kodak and Vivitar. Canon, Olympus, and Pentax lead that category.
On the copier side, Minolta had about a 4 percent market share last year, running even with Ricoh, but behind Xerox, Canon, Mita, and Sharp, according to International Data Corporation. That's because Minolta has lagged behind its competitors on the up-and-coming digital copier side, says IDC program director Keith Kmetz.
The company's identity crisis had to be resolved. A major advertising push was in order, Gallagher says. But how bestto convey Minolta's range of products while still capitalizing on the brand's good name in the camera business?
"We tried to define the parameters of the brand, what we stand for in 1999," says Gallagher. To achieve this, the company enlisted The Planning Group in New York City to create targeted focus groups for both Minolta's consumer products group, with its camera products, and its business products group, which includes copiers, fax machines, and its laser print business.
Key executives were invited to participate. Four groups of seven to eight individuals were held in each of six major markets: Atlanta, New York, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Seattle. The executives were asked one simple question: Who is Minolta?
The answer was positive: Minolta was a valued product. But "the people on the copier side felt we were the best-kept secret on the planet," Gallagher notes. "They felt that they discovered it, and they were proud to share it with others." People who owned the cameras felt that "they were getting high tech and quality at a fair, reasonable price," he adds.
Another promising discovery: People loved the attention they and their companies were given by Minolta's service groups. "They [the service groups] were very supportive," according to the focus groups, says Gallagher.
The votes were in. The company turned to Boston-based Hill, Holliday to design an all-encompassing advertising campaign to boost awareness of the Minolta name for all its products.
The long-standing tagline, "From the Mind of Minolta," had successfully associated the company with cutting-edge technology. But the new generation of consumer is solutions-oriented, says IDC's Kmetz. "We've moved in this market [copiers] from talking about speeds and feeds, focusing on the `box,' to now `what can this copying device, what can Minolta, do for me?'" he stresses.
Hill, Holliday's psychographic research confirmed that target audiences felt a need to contribute and make an impact in their work, and to use their ideas to change and grow. These "growers," according to Hill, Holliday, represented an untapped frustration that Minolta could acknowledge and validate with its business products.
On the consumer products side, the agency identified a group of "connectors" who use photography to express how they feel and interpret the world around them. By targeting this group, Minolta could tap into the needs of an audience ranging from parents taking pictures of first steps to professional photojournalists.
The new tagline, "Do Something Important," applies to every division and product line that Minolta sells. The Office Systems print campaign, which first appeared in The Wall Street Journal in April, will continue into next year, featuring the work of photographers Elliott Erwitt, Mark Seliger, William Wegman, Mary Ellen Mark, and Leen Thijsse. In addition, the ads will appear in several business publications, including Wired, Business 2.0, and Fortune. A direct-mail campaign to promote the company's copier business is also planned.
The Camera Products Group campaign, which began in June, features work by photojournalist Philip Jones Griffiths, Nick Kelsh, and Terry Heffernan. It will appear in leading photo industry publications, as well as consumer magazines such as National Geographic, Modern Bride, and Vanity Fair. In addition to the print ads, two commercials directed by Oscar-winning cinematographer Janusz Kaminsky are being tested in select cities.
Although the campaign has just begun, internal feedback from the company's dealers has been positive, says Gallagher. "It has given our sales force a feeling of pride in that things being said in the ad are things they believe in," he reports. The campaign has been budgeted between $10 million and $12 million. (Last year Minolta spent $8.8 million on U.S. advertising, $4.3 million of which was for its copiers and copier/printers, according to Competitive Media Reporting.)
What the Critics Say
With its emotional appeal and focus on the power of the individual, the campaign is a 180-degree turn from its predecessor. But will it work?
David Krysiek, vice president and partner of The Brand Consultancy in Atlanta, doesn't think so. "Anytime one is trying to build a brand, it's important to stress the functional attributes - the goodness of what's in the package - but also wrap it nicely with communications that have emotional striking power." Minolta's campaign, he says, is purely emotion, but "says very little about why I ought to consider Minolta over other business products and cameras. Any one of their competitors can be making the same claims."
Krysiek points out that the former tagline stressed technology leadership and knowledge, and let consumers know what they could expect from the product. He questions the value of a campaign that crosses such diverse categories of products. "They're forced into a big, broad message that's relatively meaningless within each category," he says.
Although it might create some initial talk value, Krysiek says he sees "very little residual benefit" coming from the new campaign. "I think you'll see them move to something else fairly quickly," he predicts.
But consumer trends expert Audrey Guskey, professor of marketing at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, says the U-turn from high-tech to high emotion may work, simply because it's so unique. "The strategy may be to compete against Kodak" - which has long emphasized family, feelings, and values, she notes.
The focus on the individual, Guskey says, is indicative of recent trends toward individualism and away from corporate ads based solely on improving business or one's status within the company. The ads may especially appeal to Gen Xers who are seeking balance in their lives that their fiscally driven parents lacked. To Gen Xers, "business isn't all that important, it's helping people," she says.
However, such a full-scale reversal in approach could take too much adjustment time, Guskey says, which may be a liability in the fast-paced technology products field. "I don't know if this is going to increase the awareness and do what it wants to do in the corporate world," she notes.