Printer Comparison had the wonderful opportunity to sit down with Katsuichi Shimizu, Canon’s Chief Executive of Inkjet Products Operations at Canon Expo 2010. Also present for the conversation were Michael J. Duffett, Senior Director of Inkjet Printer Marketing in the Consumer Imaging Group, and Hiroyuki Shimizu, Marketing Planning Director for Printer Marketing.
Despite English not being his primary language, Mr. Shimizu was extremely clear and candid about Canon’s Inkjet line, the global market, and Canon’s plans moving forward.
Here is our conversation, which has been partially edited for clarity.
Printer Comparison: The Canon tagline “We Speak Image,” What exactly are you trying to convey with that?
Michael J. Duffett: We’re basically using it in our promotional activities because we think it comprehensively talks about the entire company.
Depending upon what media we’re talking to, you know, they could be covering maybe our business side or maybe our copier business portion, or our camera business. We also have a very large and growing medical business… So depending upon whom you talk to, there are many different faces of Canon.
“We Speak Image” kind of brings that all under focus and under one umbrella. Everything that you talk about with Canon, be it a medical x-ray or photo print sample being put on a big screen or being produced in one of our large copier production equipment pieces, its’ all about that image itself. So that image kind of is the bedrock and foundation that we build all of our products and our core technologies off of. How to understand that image, how to use the image, how to improve the image, and how to employ that in new ways as things evolve.
PC: Last year, “Green” was the marketing message that a many printer companies were pushing. This year, there seems to be a push to market “value.” That is, a competitor might say their product is less than another considering total cost of ownership. How might Canon position itself in that market?
Hiroyuki Shimizu: At Canon and Canon USA, we are trying to give you value in the quality of the image. We have tried that honorably as a basic camera manufacturer from the start. So we don’t compromise on value of the images. We really want to focus more on how we give the satisfaction to the end-user by giving a higher quality image.
MD: And one thing I’d like to add to that, you mentioned, “last year’s program was this'” from some of our competitors, “this year’s program was this’.” That’s not something you’re going to see from a company like Canon. We’re going to be consistently moving forward with the marketing messages we’ve done because what the customers are really looking for is at the beginning of the process.
We started looking at “green” back in 2001 and 2002 with our development team saying “these are the things we needed.” So, we are very consistent as we move forward. So that’s kind of the hallmark of Canon marketing and Canon product development. We’re not going to be looking at the day’s flavor. We have a strong feeling about the environment as you’ve seen throughout the last couple years. We’ve talked about it, you’ve seen that messaging from Canon ink.
In general, we think we are going to stand the test of time more than today’s particular marketing element.
PC: Is there a challenge in educating consumers about high-quality printer? In consumer tech, we often talk about the “good enough” product.
Katsuichi Shimizu: Good enough’ is not our mentality. Think about France, China, Japan, or the consumers of Dubai. They are now getting very, very careful. In the past, when you go to Best Buy, you look and say, “Oh, this is nice, lets buy.” But not today.
People are getting very careful. You go shopping at Best Buy, look around, and say “Oh, this is Canon or HP Printer, looks good.” You then check the price, and ask how much? Then, you back home and check the website or Amazon to see how the price compares. And then, once again, back to Best Buy and so on. Finally, you then decide which one to buy. This is the general tendency of different countries.
But in China, as like past Americans, they go to the shop and say, “it’s okay, I’ll buy.” So therefore… the customer will find which one was best.
PC: I’ve noticed on the technology side Canon also has incorporated touch panels and touch technology. And there are two other trends we see in printing , cloud printing and mobile apps for printing.
KS: Looking back at the history of printers, in the first stage every printer competed in image quality and speed. Because printers started as just document printers, then some graphics, and then photos. And then, wireless… the past two or three years, wireless. Maybe in next four or five years, cloud printing.
PC: But you don’t think we’re there yet?
KS: We see cloud printing as having a lot of potential, we have to do something. To make cloud printing, HP proposed wide ideas, [which include] giving email address to the individual printers. This is one of the ideas. But, as we investigate, this is not always one of the best solutions for cloud printing. So we may take different ways.
PC: Do you see HP as having an advantage because they create laptops and other computing hardware?
KS: No, no I don’t think so… The cloud environment is very standardized. I don’t see HP having any advantages or taking any outstanding positions in cloud computing intersections, because other players do working cloud.
HS: So there’s various infrastructures that you can utilize in the market already. It doesn’t mean that because they have it, they have everything. There are other choices, options.
KS: And HP is basically a hardware vendor, the cloud is not controlled only by hardware. There are companies like Microsoft and Google. So we don’t think we have any disadvantage to HP.
PC: I’d like to shift over to your Pixma line. The Pixma brand awareness has had some trouble taking off in the United States. So what are some of the challenges that you face?
MD: Number one, if you look at the staple of brands that Canon brings to the table, Pixma is the youngest of those brands. So, Powershot, and some of the other brands we have, are more established and have had more time. We’ve been very successful since we’ve launched Pixma, and it was not existent before 2004. And of the printer companies that are in business today, only Canon has increased each year, 2005, ’06, ’07… even during the difficult times of 2008, 2009. Today, we’re still growing the business.
That means customers are getting the products in their hands, and one of the most effective means of building our brand presence and awareness, we’ve learned from our camera experience, is to get those products in more people’s hands.
With the advent of social media out there, that is helping us develop that ground swell of information on the web, in social areas, that our customers are using.
Now, in addition, we as Canon, need to do more to get the word out. And you’ll see us be more aggressive throughout this year and hopefully in the next couple of years to put that in different channels… We’re also going to working with our partners to help elevate that brand perception….
KS: The awareness, generally speaking, depends on how much money you spend in the market in total. United States is a home ground for Hewlett Packard. We are away, not home. [ed: Canon is based in Japan]
So if you go to England, you go to Germany, both are not home ground… If you go to China, we are closer to China than HP. So we are a little bit beyond HP in China.
PC: I ask this to any printer company I talk to, how do you make a printer more exciting?
KS: Even though you only print sometimes, the total print work in the group market is increasing. Since I graduated from university, ordinary people have said, “We’re [printer companies] disappearing.”
But look at the realities: we [Canon] still remain and print population is growing… Our revenue of the printer press is growing maybe because of ink cartridge consumption. Even with sometimes printing,’ the total consuming growth of ink is growing. Inkjet is working mostly with consumers, and the business side is coming back very quickly.
PC: And do you think there’s a good market opportunity in the small-medium sized business market for Inkjet?
KS: Yes, probably working home and home office. Not smaller business, it’s generally covered by the laser. But there is some gap between low-end laser and high-end InkJet. That is emerging, that space [between laser and inkjet].
So the Inkjet players are challenging this space. That [space] is for Inkjet… So Inkjet, HP, Epson, and Canon are challenging. And the laser is coming there, but not yet.
PC: What sort of products are we going to see from Canon going forward? Is that hole, that area that you just referenced, is that where the Inkjet products, the future of Inkjet products for Canon are headed?
KS: We are trying.
PC: Maybe as soon as CES?
KS: (laughs) Not this year, maybe next year, or maybe by 2012.
This interview was given by Technology Guide Editor Jamison Cush.