Kodak dedicates considerable time to researching the consumer, who is ultimately your customer's customer-examining the photographer, your customer, and trying to not only understand trends that labs see, but draw some conclusions about what those trends may mean.
Statistics don't lie, and generally, photographers are extremely happy with labs. The good news is that portraiture remains strong, healthy and very robust. The bad news is that the consumer is changing dramatically, and technology is entering their worlds and their lives at an ever-increasing pace, shaping what they will come to define and expect of portraits as memories.
For about 100 years, it was a great world for labs-every film exposure led to a print. Every film exposure led to film processing and proofing and sales for labs. The reality is that digital technology is changing consumers and how they value and want to consider memorializing life.
The Dawn of Generation Y
To the Generation Y contingent, the kids of today, defined and identified by Mountain Dew, skateboarding and X Games, longevity and image permanence are not part of their vernacular. It's not something that they consider. Print longevity, in the view of teens today, is about as long as they keep a boyfriend or girlfriend. It's up in the locker Monday and it's changed on Wednesday.Success with Gen Y will ultimately happen when labs are able to market the total experience. Gen Y wants the experience to be personal; they want it to be professional.
The imaging industry must understand who this audience is and what motivates them. Kids today are telling us it's going to be a different world; they get bored quickly, and yet have access to content real time, 24/7. It's about graphics, text, sound and motion. It's about information-real time, right now, all of it. They want memory books. They want albums. They want images to tell their stories. And they are looking for an opportunity to have more control and more creative input to the end product.
As the market evolves in the next 5 to 10 years, the American consumer may be a teen girl today but will be a young mom tomorrow. Is she going to want a single portrait print or will she expect digital files on DVD along with innovative output products, whether it's composites of 8, 12, 15 or 30 different pictures on a 16 x 20 or 20 x 24? Or will she want an actual storybook that shows her child and all that they experienced throughout the school year? Maybe something that captures the entire season. And by the time her baby reaches his senior year of high school, she'll want the story of that final year before they leave home for good, memorializing that last season, that last group event, that last dance.
Ultimately, we're seeing baby boomers and Gen X, which were easy to reach and easy targets to communicate to, being replaced by Gen Y. So what are the implications? Wayne Gretzky made a famous statement that the reason he thought he was better than anybody else was that he skated to where the puck was going to be, not where it was. And in this digital transition and era of pro labs serving a new digital shooter, a shooter who is serving a new Gen Y customer, one of a lab's challenges is to anticipate five and seven years from now-where is the puck going to be? How do labs see that? How do they get there?
The Wants of Gen Y
They don't want a single print or package where one image = n units. They want n images on one composite, or better yet, they want n pages with many images across each page as a memory book. They want a CD. They want it online. They want it on a cell phone. They want to share it with friends. That is going to change the way labs think and the way they price and differentiate their offerings. It is going to change how labs define their business, and their business model.
Gen Y is the noble savage in blue jeans, but it's also the future in the industry's face. Unlike the baby boomers, and even Gen X, it is a market demographic almost 80 million customers deep. If you consider the US population of 5- to 25-year-olds, then there are nearly 80 million future consumers-future portrait customers.
Kids today have access to cash and they have access to wealth. They are spending-and an independent research firm has documented this-$172 billion a year. Their primary purchasing decisions are made around entertainment, fashion, etc. So where does portraiture fit into their spending decision?
Most labs' use of digital was historically based on automation, workflow efficiency, printing productivity and almost a self-contained workflow analysis. As we look toward the next 10 years, we really believe that digital is going to change from a capture and print capability to something that will help labs in terms of marketing and marketing reach. Different tools will help labs work with photographers to account for who their customers are, what their customers want, how to reach their customers and how to give their customers creativity, control and greater flexibility.
Gen Y continues to demonstrate a desire to have professional portraiture as a key part of their memory experience. But they want to blend other pictures and use personal content alongside the professional images. More and more they want to lay images out on pages in all kind of ways that make no sense in a production environment where one 120 negative produces an 8 x 10 and two 5 x 7s, etc. What they want is one word: control. So whether it's little kids or sports, the end result is that kids today who will become moms and dads tomorrow will want to buy something other than an 8 x 10. It doesn't mean the 8 x 10 world fall by the wayside; it just means that in addition to the 8 x 10, which may be sold at a lower volume than today's rates, they want a greater range of products and services than just the traditional print. What they really want to do is memorialize life according to their definition of the memory experience, not the photographer's, and to produce a story of their event or experience-as they remember it, and as they want others to remember it!
Marketing to Gen Y
Labs have to help photographers find new ways to take advantage of technology. Photographers ,too, want greater control, they want to adapt a faster cycle time, and they are looking for more convenience.
Automated software tools, like Kodak's DP2, take labor out of the workflow and allow labs to do more automation and create more complex layouts. Labs can help photographers take advantage of digital where taking advantage of digital is not limited to replacing the film camera with a digital camera to save costs or have a greater range of exposure options, but is the front end to a whole new world of cool and compelling output for Gen Y. Web tools that help Mom use professional content to create rich and powerful keepsakes is a great place to start.