Questions With Christian Erhardt: Vice President of Marketing Photographic Division, Leica Camera USA

I recently had the pleasure to chat with Christian Erhardt who is Vice President of Marketing Photographic Division, Leica Camera USA. On the agenda were questions about how Leica has changed recently with the success of their new products, their growing userbase, and tactics to lure in the average American consumer. Hit the jump for the full interview.

Chris: The Leica M9 and X1 have been extremely successful in terms of sales, have you found that Leica’s userbase has evolved or changed any from what they previously were with the M8/M8.2?

Christian: The Leica customer base remains essentially the same: serious amateur and professional photographers who demand the best and finest. The M9, however, entices film photographers to go digital. The M9’s full-frame, 18-megapixel CCD image sensor allows photographers to capture the full 35mm format without compromises. When utilizing M-lenses, photographers are now able to enjoy the same angle of view as when shooting film. The X1 also widened Leica’s customer base by attracting the professional photographer who is looking for a compact camera to accompany him/her everywhere without compromising on image quality.

Chris: Leica has a Facebook and a Twitter, things that are for the most part, dominantly used by people around the college age level. How has Leica been trying to market themselves towards college students and young adults like myself?

Christian: Leica appreciates all supporters. We have always valued the input of younger generations and are happy to communicate with our fan base in whatever manner they desire. Leica has always enjoyed dialogue and we welcome opportunities to grow in our offerings and recommendations on how to better serve our customers. Additionally, today people of all ages use Facebook. Leica Camera can certainly see that in the active demographic of Facebook users.

Chris: What has Leica been doing to attract new customers to the S2 system? It has been receiving very positive reviews so far, do you feel that Leica has started to take a much stronger stance in the category since “shaking the industry with it?”

Christian: The S-System is indeed a spectacular tool that sets a standard in professional digital photography. Our most recent initiative to promote the S-System is the Leica North American Road Show. It has proved to be a great way to educate our customers and offer them an opportunity to test this ground-breaking camera. We have found that once customers experience the S-System, either through one of the demos at an authorized Leica dealer or one of our many local and national events, it becomes addictive to continue using this unique product. Leica Camera has delivered every camera that has come out of production and certainly the S-System is well on its way to becoming the most popular product in its category due to its ease of handling, compactness and incomparable image quality.

Chris: Mike from Luminous Landscape recently issued an “open letter to Leica” offering some ideas on how to improve the products and one of the point he made sounded very similar (if not dead on) to creating a Micro Four Thirds camera. Does Leica have any similar plans and if so what segment of the market would it be aimed towards?

Christian: Leica Camera welcomes any suggestion from our customers and loyal Leica followers. Leica’s focus is to provide the best possible image quality and therefore we have chosen to focus on using only two different sensor formats, the full format & APS-C size sensors. Based on the positive interest that our latest products the LEICA M9 and the LEICA X1 have received, we believe that we have made the right choice of sensor sizes.

Chris: In regards to your consumer line, rival camera companies have been dropping the prices on their point and shoots to accommodate to the economic recession. Leica has always been known as a company that creates premium and costly products involving fine craftsmanship. How are you trying to target/market these products to consumers who are cutting down on spending and don’t want to spend the equivalent of an entry-level DSLR on a camera?

Christian: Leica cameras are the result of the best German engineering and provide its users with a unique photographic experience. We are known for the legendary quality of our lenses, the simplicity of our designs and focus on essential functions. Our goal is and will always be to offer our customers a series of cameras that meet the highest quality standards and decades of photographic delight. This dedication to excellence comes at a price.

Chris: As I saw with my review of the Panasonic ZS-7, the average American wants simplicity in their cameras. Leica has boasted simplicity with their cameras as they have very few buttons and are very cleanly made. How do you reach out to those people specifically and what are usually the responses as the average American once again wants something that’s always more affordable.

Christian: The Leica customer has been and will remain essentially the same: serious amateur and professional photographers who demand the best and finest. There may exist more affordable cameras. We are focused on creating the best.

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