Nikon Naming, Again

I spend a lot of my time doing the same thing that Nikon marketing does: answering questions about cameras and how they’re different. Nikon’s naming schemes don’t make that particularly easy. Try explaining why we have a Df, D4s, D610, D750, and a D810 in the same period. Obviously, generational clues via the naming are a bit off with the FX bodies, though they’ve been reconciled a bit in the DX bodies (partly because there are really only now three ;~). 

Generally, you want to persuade someone to buy up from their initial inquiry. You come in thinking you want a D3300 and you get upsold to a D5300 (or D7100; oops, there’s that generational naming problem again: why isn’t there a D7300?). But these days you can come in thinking you want a D610 (cheapest FX body) and be upsold to a Df, D750, or D810 (not to mention getting offered refurbished D600, D610, D800 and D800E bodies). 

Confusion at the sales counter is actually a marketing technique that some companies use. By putting more detail and more confusion into the purchasing process, the sales person can usually control exactly what is bought. Very paternal. 

Unfortunately, things aren’t going to get easier in the naming respect. Because Nikon staggers updates across a line (e.g. D3300 updated at a different time than D5300) and the schedules for updating lower end cameras are quicker than at the higher end, it will be impossible for Nikon to fully reconcile their current naming scheme. Quick, should the eventual D7100 replacement be a D7200, D7300, or D7400? Each choice has problems.

Throughout these pages I have to every now and again do a “generational” check. In the camera section, “current camera” tends to mean only the latest on-sale variation of a model, even if the previous generation is still on sale. Still, it’s getting more difficult for me to handle explaining what’s current and what’s not, so it must be getting more difficult for Nikon marketing. 

Personally, I’ve always hated the model number approach to naming. Numbers don’t tell us a lot unless they’re very carefully managed, and Nikon isn’t all that careful, frankly. You’ll note that there was never an Osborne 2. That’s because when I officially took over the task of product management at the company, the name of the first product had already been established as Osborne 1. Subsequent products were not named 2, 3, 4. Instead, the followup, higher-end version of the computer was the Osborne Executive. I believe product names should do one or more of the following: (1) tell you what it does, (2) tell you who its intended for, (3) tell you how it fits with the other products, and, of course, (4) be memorable. 

Nikon fails on #1 and #4. You can only tell #2 and #3 if you have the decryption table for the numbering scheme, and even then it can be iffy. Consider this DSLR chart, which is about as good as I can come up with with Nikon’s current models:

Nikon’s naming has been variations of the numbering method for over fifty years, and that’s the way it is today still, so it's very likely that it will be that way in the future. So we deal with it. But frankly, I don’t know how you do modern marketing with numbers (“Hey, see how sweet the 7356 is? Yeah, you want it, don’t you?”). 

Which brings me to a different point: Nikon has to market Nikon. As in “if you want a camera, you want a Nikon.” Problem with that is: lousy customer service, lousy QA, and lousy reputation at the moment. So in the end, it doesn’t matter what names Nikon gives products if it can’t re-establish its brand reputation. 

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