When the presenter at the DJI reveal last week reached into his jacket pocket, channeling his inner Steve Jobs as he pulled several new Mavic Air drones out of his pocket, just how far this industry had come was starkly apparent. Formerly the preserve of only the biggest tech firms, the unapologetically glossy launch event evoked memories of a confident Apple at their peak- not a young company in a fledgling industry. That young company, however, has dominated the market, throwing off the likes of 3D Robotics, GoPro, and Lily with ease.
Today, the consumer drone market has been nearly monopolized by DJI, with only Parrot and Yuneec offering any kind of meaningful resistance. In this piece I ask why has this happened- and why is no-one keeping up?
DJI Drones Are Just Better, Period.
No other brand offers the range of technologies and features that DJI’s products do, and they consistently lead the way long before other companies can keep up. DJI drones are becoming nearly uncrashable in the hands of a reasonably competent pilot, and their ground-breaking obstacle-avoidance technology has shown that their efforts and investment into drone safety (and accessibility) are paying off. The built-in camera technology in DJI drones is generally the best in the world, with only larger drone platforms that can carry DSLR-equivalents offering better quality- and they are well out of the price range of the general public. Most recently, DJI had to beat off the challenge of GoPro’s cameras and their flagship drone, the Karma, and the aggressive release of the Mavic Pro pulled the rug out from GoPro’s great white elephant project. DJI probably needn’t have bothered, given how poor the Karma was (remember the total product recall?)! DJI’s victory was total, with GoPro announcing their departure from the drone market in January, along with the loss of nearly 300 jobs.
Rapid Product Development. After the announcement of the Mavic Air, plenty of people argued on social media that DJI are releasing products too quickly, eating into their own product share and ‘turning people off’, in the same way that rapid phone developments did a few years back. On the contrary, DJI’s strategy is genius in that they are enveloping the entire consumer drone industry by not leaving a gap in the market, and then always releasing a newer, better drone before competitors can even consider keeping up. They may be at risk of alienating a few customers, but the drones they are releasing have nearly all been significant improvements on previous models, ceaselessly driving drone technology forward. This strategy is merciless for other drone companies that simply don’t have the resources or funding to keep up, for with every drone that DJI release, the further and further the other companies get left behind.
Every Corner of the Consumer Drone Market Covered It has taken a few product cycles, but DJI now has a compelling, leading product at every price point. From the £100 Tello all the way up to the £2500 Inspire 2, there is little escaping their dominance of the market, and their rapid product cycles have helped to capture a greater share of the market. Clever pricing strategies have seen the older but very capable Phantom 3 series become the cheapest option for many, whilst the newer Phantom 4 models (Standard, Advanced and Pro) all offer significant steps up in capability for the additional cost. Perhaps the only section of the market DJI doesn’t have cornered is the sub-£50 category, but whether there is any point in them doing that is another matter entirely.
Strong Influencer Marketing. Much more than other brands, DJI understand the value of influencer marketing as well as mounting the glossy campaigns typical of other brands. Millennials, in particular, are much more likely to trust their peers when buying products (70%), and so using social media influencers heavily to market their products has been a masterstroke by DJI. Casey Neistat is arguably their ambassador-in-chief, with a mighty 8 million youtube subscribers and with him regularly releasing videos on DJI products or even just using DJI products that attract millions of views at a time, he is an invaluable asset to the company. The Mavic Air saw DJI expand this program further too, with the likes of IJustine giving them access to a wider market. People identify far more with these types of ‘star’ who found fame through youtube and social media itself than with the obviously-paid for traditional celebrity ads. Social media itself is DJI’s best friend too, particularly on Instagram- even England cricketers are showcasing their best drone shots on there! This momentum will just keep DJI rolling forward at… Genius!
Now I don’t think that DJI can monopolize the drone world forever, and I think everyone would like to see some more competition at the top. Despite this DJI’s internal competition to produce better drones continues to develop drone technology at pace, and they continue to push the envelope far more than any other brand. For now then, the consumer drone industry is in safe hands, but I worry that only the likes of a huge technology company at the scale of Microsoft, Google or Samsung will be able to keep up.
DJI are the rulers of the drone world, yet the technology world can change very, very quickly. Who is waiting in the wings to dethrone them?
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