Rangefinder

Views on the photographic universe by Erwin Puts

Luxury brands listing 2015

Every year the German luxury companies are ranked according to a range of criteria. The 30 companies listed represent the luxury brands based in Germany and comprise watch manufactures, fashion houses and furniture companies. The only optical company is Leica that dropped from place 9 in 2014 to a shared place 10/11 with Poggenpohl, a kitchen furniture maker in 2015. The overall comment by the bureaus for mark branding: German companies excel in their focus on luxury materials and precision manufacture, but lack superior design and that elusive quality “Thrill and Entertainment” or the German companies are not ‘sexy’. As far as I know companies can never be sexy, because this characteristic is reserved for a handful individuals of the human race. See Esquire if you are in doubt!
Exclusive materials and precision engineering are indeed the main characteristics that distinguish Leica from its competitors. Design is not Leica’s forte: see the recently introduced Leica SL. “Thrill & Entertainment” is only applicable to the dwindling number of aficionados and ambassadors and ‘sexy’ is of course not at all appropriate.
Being listed as a luxury company was anathema for the Leitz family, once the owners of the Leica brand and factory. It is indeed remarkable that choice of materials and precision engineering is now part of a luxury profile. In the classical Leitz days, materials and precision engineering were elements of the functional requirements of the camera and lens because it ensured the high quality and durability of the equipment as required by the photographers.
The overall comment about German luxury brands is the focus on functionality and low profile. The three top companies are (3) Burmester (entertainment electronics), (2) Glashütte (watches) and (1) Lange &Söhne (watches).
Leica’s place in the luxury brand listing is a recognition that they definitely have shed their profile as a dedicated manufacturer of precision engineered photographic products. The Leica T is a good (bad if you wish) example of the strategic confusion between luxury (sexy?) and functionality that the current Leica management has not yet solved. The luxury market is very lucrative and commands prices that can be twenty times higher than one pays on average for mainstream products. That is why Leica can ask such elevated prices for their products. The real technical or performance differences with the competition are becoming less important. This is then the true dilemma for the Leica owners and managers: stick to the high prices (needed because of the profit margin) and stay in the luxury market or evolve into a company that manufactures high-performance photographic equipment for the twenty-first century, as Leitz did for the twentieth century. And if you wish to see real Thrill & Entertainment the current range of camera made by Fujifilm is a fine example.