Consuming Japan : Marketing
This image was scanned from a fax sent to John by Sato Kuniko, a now retired Hakuhodo account executive. In it he says that John’s presentation skills were responsible for Hakuhodo winning what ultimately turned out to be 30 billion yen worth of media billings from Buena Vista International. Forgive me, I, too, was stunned.
The gentlemen you see here are featured in the 4/15/07 issue of Senden Kaigi devoted to account executives, the people who do the ad agency’s hardest jobs. Each is an expert in one of the areas indispensable for those aiming to succeed in this increasingly challenging field. Read on to see what they have to say.
1. New Business Super Eigyo
UCC Coffee Marketing Bucho
織方恵介 Orikata Keisuke
Q1. What is the best way to approach a new client?
A1. Treat those you are talking to as equals.
Bring your own point of view to everything you observe, why frankfurters are sold in two-pack sets, for example, or why a package has this particular form. Don’t just thoroughly research the client. Thoroughly understand your own company’s strengths, since these are what you have to sell. Be confident in the strengths you discover. Never be fawning or excessively humble.
Q2. How do you avoid being nervous when interacting with a client’s Advertising Division chief?
A2. Be powerful.
It all depends on how you think about it. Put yourself in the shoes of the client’s president for whom the Advertising Division is only one part of the company. Treat the conversation as a dialogue, recognizing that the client may have different opinions about your proposals or access to information that you don’t have. Think “sharing.”
2. Orientation/ Presentation Super Eigyo
辻井良一 Tsujii Ryoichi
Q3. What should you pay most attention to when receiving an orientation?
A3. Don’t assume that the client is right.
Your goal at an orientation is to understand the issues confronting your client. My experience suggests that in many cases the client may be unaware of all of the issues at stake. An account executive must be ready to help the client discover and address those issues. Critical points to keep in mind include the division to which the person giving the orientation belongs and the source of the budget. Someone from the advertising department may be more interested in image-building. Someone from a sales division may be more interested in sales promotion.
Q4. How do you avoid giving presentations that miss the mark?
A4. Think carefully about your company’s position.
To my mind, the account executive is the top planner and producer and must take good notes at the orientation. Without a clear understanding of what the client wants, presentations may go astray. If you feel that you lack experience and are likely to miss something, be sure that other members of your team attend the orientation. Later, in the final stages of preparing a presentation, consider your own company’s position from the client’s perspective. If you are seen as the likely choice, throw a fast ball. If you are not the likely choice, try throwing a curve, instead.
3. Teamwork Super Eigyo
McCann-Erickson Japan CEO
中澤純一 Nakazawa Junichi
Q5. How do you pull external and internal staff together to form an effective team?
A5. To move people, you must first earn their respect.
An account executive must be able to sort out relationships with all sorts of people, both inside and outside his company and bring them together to form a theme. Their respect is indispensable. He must also be closely attentive to trends, observing not only the client’s activities, but also social and consumer movements. One could say the same, of course, of all marketers and planners, but this ability is essential in the one who has to lead the team.
An account executive must be a conductor.
Like the members of orchestras, people who work in the communication industries are highly individual. The art lies in combining their strengths, so that 1+1 doesn’t equal 2; it equals 4 or 5. This ability is not restricted to those who have reached a certain age. Sincerity is the key.
Q6. How do you restore morale when relations between client and in-house staff have soured?
A6. Things you don’t like, even failures, are opportunities for growth.
When you lose your positive energy, it is easy to feel depressed. My experience teaches me that whenever this happens I have an opportunity to grow. However hateful the people or the job, I can, at least, promise myself that I will never act like this. I can also tell myself that the sun will rise in the morning, tomorrow will be another day. There is no pleasure like work that goes well. I remember that as I move on to the next job.
4. Troubleshooting Super Eigyo
kazepro Representative Director
戸練直木 Toneri Naoki
Q7. How should an account executive handle relationships with client and staff when troubles occur?
A7. Every problem should be an opportunity!
Our work involves people, so problems are unavoidable. Regard them as chances to demonstrate how you, yourself, can do your job right. So, if trouble occurs, be ready to take responsibility for it, even if it isn’t your own fault. It is your job to deal with the client, come what may. Even if the problem is due to a company unrelated to your own, it is the account executive’s job to take full responsibility, to apologize and restore good relations with the client. This stance will improve your standing with your suppliers as well as your clients.
Adopt a consultant’s perspective.
Consulting means constantly asking yourself what is best for the client’s business. Putting the client first and taking responsibility will win the trust you need for your own business to succeed.
5. Relationship-building Super Eigyo
Shingata Soken Account Planner
松田康利 Matsuda Yasutoshi
Q8. What do we need to do to be more than just order takers?
A8. Charm and IQ. Both are essential.
Sales is seduction, so nothing is more important than combining charm and intelligence to create a comfortable mood. Charm alone will leave you just an order taker. IQ is also essential. Since it is natural, however, for the client to know more about the client’s business, the account executive should carefully study other industries and be able to offer success stories involving other firms. It is also important to consider every issue from the client’s president’s perspective and carefully present ideas that you are confident will be good for the client’s business. Don’t simply take orders from the Advertising Division.
Note, too, while ad industry people are often believed to offer consumer insight, that alone isn’t enough. What clients most often find lacking in ad agency presentations is business insight. They do want to see that you understand their industry and their business and can offer unexpected insights here as well.
Q9. Are there times when an account executive thinks, “If only”?
A9. When you don’t understand, be modest and ask.
No matter how much you study, there are always things you don’t know. Don’t be bashful when this happens. Modestly ask your client about them. Look for surprises. Even if you don’t use them immediately, jot down ideas and have them ready to use, at a half-year branding review, for example. Pick up key concepts from successful campaigns across a wide spectrum of industries. Combining them you are sure to find good answers for your clients’ needs.
“Capture the undecided, and you can move markets” is the core message of the special section in the March 1, 2007 issue of Senden Kaigi, a section created in response to the victoy of Higashikokubara Hideo (formerly the comedian known as Sonomanmah Higashi) in a recent gubenatorial election in Miyazaki Prefecture.
This special section suggests that Higashikokubaru won the election by adopting the strategy used by Asahi Super Dry, whose introduction radically transformed the Japanese beer market by appealing to consumers who were not strong adherents of Kirin Lager or Sapporo Black Label, the long-dominant brands in Japan’s beer market before Asahi Super Dry’s introduction. The former comedian presented himself as lively, modern, dynamic, fun and very much a man of the people, building on the image created by his stage name Sonomanmah Higashi, whose literal meaning in Japanese is “Higashi. What you see is what you get.” The contrast with the politicians who belong to Japan’s established political parties couldn’t be more striking.
When summer’ heat drags on for days, we like eating somen (thin wheat noodles). Once we do we want more, but at the supermarket both somen and somen sauce are sold out. In the noodles world of noodles, there is no doubt about it, somen is a winner! (From Michi Shioya’s Value Research Bulletin Board, No. 103)
What about hiyamugi (iced noodles)?
In the noodle section of the supermarket, we find shelves well-stocked with soba (buckwheat noodles), udon (thick wheat noodles), and somen. But hiyamugi are barely visible. If we don’t look hard, we won’t find them. They have no hardcore supporters. Noone who wants them no matter what. In the noddles world, they are losers.
Hiyamugi and somen: what’s the difference?
I don’t know the precise definition, but hiyamugi are usually thicker than somen, which are very thin. We might speculate that the thinner somen go down more easily in the heat of summer. But, no, that’s not it. Famous examples of somen from many parts of Japan are as thick as udon.
Udon are winners, too.
Udon are a little thicker than hiyamugi. But the hit movie UDON has strengthened udon‘s presence. The biggest reason is Sanuki Udon, which plays a starring role in the film. Its fame has put other local varieties of udon in the spotlight, too. Many have long histories, and numerous udon shops are renowned for unique tastes. The sheer number of examples throughout Japan is awesome. Thus, once you have tasted Sanuki Udon, enjoyed the rich taste and been startled by how inexpensive it is, you find yourself wanting to try the udon from other places as well.
Soba, udon, somen, hiyamugi, ramen
In contrast to other types of noodles, hiyamugi has hardly any supporters. When we think of ramen, for example, we think of Sapporo, Hakodate, Onomichi, Wakayama or Tokyo, all places that have given birth to distinctive varieties of ramen. (After Tokyo, Ehime Prefecture appears to have the most ramen shops.) Soba has local varieties everywhere. That makes it easy for for anyone to don a soba maker’s uniform, pretend to to make his own soba and present himself as a soba expert. No wonder soba is so popular.
In contrast, no one can pose as a hiyamugi expert. Localities in which the hiyamugi is famous are rare. It’s hard to make up stories about the special flour, the handmade, freshmade, or fresh from the pot qualities of hiyamugi.
Her name is Nimatsu Mayumi. She is 46 and produces a popular e-mail magazine for those seeking relief from sexless marriages. She married a doctor and had a son; but her husband was constantly busy and almost never came home.
Her story is a familar-sounding one to many middle-aged Japanese women, whose husbands spend most of every working day away from home, then, when they do come home, are too tired to do much but sleep. It was fifteen years ago that she became part of a group of women planning an event at a childcare center. That group expanded into a nationwide network with over a thousand members. In 1995, she founded her own marketing company, whose annual sales now exceed 100 million yen. Then, returning to where she started, wanting to do something to address the frustrations of housewives like herself, she started a e-mail magazine, offering advice on their sex lives to people with similar issues. There are plenty of issues to be addressed in the more than 100 e-mails she receives each month. There are women who say that it’s been years since they had sex with their husbands, and men who say that they can’t get it up with their wives. There’s enough material here to fill the book she is writing to urge young women not to settle for sexless marriages. And Nimatsu herself? Her first husband is history. Four years ago she married a man seven years younger than herself. (Source: Asahi Shimbun morning edition, 9/1/06, p. 14)
The story is no joke. Matsutake mushrooms are a seasonal favorite in Japan. Fall without Matsutake would be like Christmas without a turkey. But as shown in the chart reproduced here, in 2005 Japan only produced 39 tons of the 2881 tons of Matsutake consumed in Japan. 783 tons came from North Korea and 1,655 tons from China. But Japanese upset by North Korean nuclear sabre rattling are seen by the merchants involved as a threat to this lucrative trade. The result, a lot of North Korean mushrooms are slipped across the border to China, for reshipment labeled as Chinese mushrooms to Japan. That’s a violation of Japanese labeling laws and a cause celebre in Japan. Still, it all goes to show: Where there’s a buck, a won, a yuan or a yen, there’s a way.
Classic Japanese beer is a strongly flavored Germanic brew. In the 1980s, it was challenged by lighter tasting but more alcoholic “dry” beers. Then came happoshu, low-malt “sparkling spirits” designed to evade the higher tax on beer. Now is the era of the “Other miscellaneous (2)” beer-like “third beers” that contain no malt at all. But how are they being marketed? The 2005-2006 MCEI Marketing Excellence Award goes to Kirin Nodogoshi-nama.
The Japanese beer industry is squeezed in a trap with three sides. Consumer tastes continue to shift from heavier tasting, more bitter beers to lighter, “more drinkable” beers. Taxes raise the cost of beer at a time when Japanese consumers are increasingly cost-conscious. And the elephant in the room is the fact that Japan’s shrinking and aging population simply drinks less beer. In their home market Japan’s brewers are forced to launch new products that attempt to redefine their markets. At the presentation that won the Marketing Communication Executives International (MCEI) Marketing Excellence Award for 2005-2006, Kirin sales promotion chief Oki Tadahiko explained how Kirin Beer attacked this problem with the launch of what is currently the best-selling “third beer” in Japan, Kirin Nodogoshi-nama.
Research showed that price was a major consideration. The proportion of price-conscious Japanese women had risen from 35% to 61%, and Japanese women control the pursestrings of the working men who are heavy beer drinkers. Taste preferences were shifting, too. In a four-cell table with mild vs. sharp as one dimension and clean and flavorful as the other, the trend was clearly in the mild and clean direction (bad news for sharp and flavorful Kirin Lager).
Development of a no-malt third-category beer began in 2000. More than 160 experiments on 20 possible alternatives to malt were performed. Finally Kirin settled on soy protein. Meanwhile debate raged inside Kirin. Was creating a third category the right strategy? Wouldn’t the new product cannibalize existing brands, especially Kirin’s successful Tanrei happoshu brand? If competitors moved first, wouldn’t Kirin be stuck in a me-too position? But the critical question was still, would the new product be what consumers were looking for?
New Category Research
Research focused first on the issue of whether the new product would be mistaken for happoshu. Tanrei was launched with a message and packaging that emphasized its connection with Kirin. Its label featured the same Kirin, a mythical dragon-giraffe , as that on Kirin Beer labels. There was also the issue that 125 yen per 350ml can, the proposed price of the new product, was only 20 yen less than the 145 yen charged for happoshu. Attention turned to how to differentiate the product and offer consumers something truly new. The brand concept that emerged was “A beverage you want to drink a lot of with friends, without having to worry about it.” You’d like the taste and wouldn’t have to worry about the cost.
How to Make it Look and Taste Like Beer
A vital technological issue in producing a “third beer” product is achieving the right taste and color. Kirin’s solution, for which patents are pending, is browning, a process in which sugar is added to the fermented soy protein and then the mixture is heated, caramelizing the sugar and giving the beverage the color as well as the taste of beer
Designing the Brand
Instead of the mythical Kirin, Nodogoshi-nama cans are stamped with a logo that appears to be a large red seal. This design is carried through in 6-packs and other packaging. At the end of the day, though, a critical factor in selling the product was the TV commercials in which a comedian plays the role of an earnest Kirin salesman who works all out to help his customers sell the product. He’s here, he’s there, he’s everywhere, always dressed in his yellow jacket and full of smiles and optimism when it comes to his product.
Down-home and Upbeat
This is a point that Oki stresses. Kirin’s edge in Japan is still its huge distribution network. To the audience he was speaking to, he didn’t have to belabor the fact that Kirin hadn’t been feeling very good about itself, ever since the disastrous 1980s when Kirin Lager, the brand that had truly been the king of beers in Japan, had been dethroned by Asahi Super Dry. The success of Tanrei had helped to repair its image, but there was still work to be done. Nodogoshi-nama would not only be tailored to the shifting tastes and growing price-consciousness of Japanese consumers, it would also become a symbol of a mood at once down-home and upbeat. The not-too-bright but comically cheerful salesman is a Japanese Everyman. He works hard and is always pleasant and helpful, but he doesn’t take himself too seriously. The contrast with Asahi Super Dry’s hard-charging international journalists, photographers and businessmen is striking and seems somehow a better fit with the mood of Japan today.
But that’s only speculation. The fact is that Kirin Nodogoshi-nama is No.1 in its segment, and the segment is growing―a success by any business measure.
The material reported here is extracted from the MCEI Bulletin, No. 448, May 2006. More information on Japanese beer categories can be found by Wiki-ing Japanese beer and happoshu. Images and additional information (Japanese only) can be found at the Kirin Nodogoshi-nama campaign site.
Specialty shop or jack of all trades, what’s a retailer to do? Thoughts from the Value Management Institute’s Michi Shioya.
“Perhaps it was staying home during Golden week. The rebound was ferocious. I felt sharply the sinfulness articulated by such sayings as “Too much is as bad as too little” or Muda, muri, mura (wasteful, over the top, too inconsistent).
“From spring through early summer the streets are filled with the color black. You see “Freshmen” (students and new hires) all over the place. They all look so sharp and determined. It’s sad that after a little while they will fall into familiar corporate habits and disappear from sight.”
This is the way Shioya begins his VMI Genki Mail Bulletin Board, No. 95. The style is very Japanese, starting with a reference to the season and seasonal events. In this particular season, new seasons and new hires remind us of a recurring debate in recent years: Which is better for a company, the generalist whose flexibility makes him easy to move from job to job, acquiring the experience that will make a good manager, or the specialist who brings valuable skills to one particular job? Mostly this debate concerns new hires employed by large corporations. Shioya relates it instead to the restaurant and retail industries and notes the difference between starting a business in a big city versus starting a business in a town in the countryside.Read More >>
Based on Dentsu Consumer Research analysis of 2005 hit products, market trends in Japan can be summarized in five key words: Gorgeous (華), Connection (連), Clever (賢), Mature (熟), Different (異).
The April, 2004 edition of the Marketing Communications Executives International (MCEI) Bulletin reports on a presentation by Dentsu Consumer Research chief Shojiro Ishikura analyzing hit products in 2005 and projections for 2006. The focus is on five key words: Gorgeous (華), Connection (連), Clever (賢), Mature (熟), Different (異).
“Gorgeous” reflects the consumer desire for self-indulgence in small, visible luxuries, made possible by an improving economy.
“Connection” reflects the proliferation of networks stimulated by cell phones, broadband and wireless Internet.
“Clever” reflects consumer sophistication, coupled with a desire to avoid waste and risk.
“Mature” reflects Japan’s aging society in which, more than ever, purchasing power is shifting to older generations.
“Different” reflects the cultivation of small, cultlike special interests.
Writing in the April 1, 2006 edition of Senden KaigiDentsu corporate identity planner Yoshiro Okada makes the case for social marketing in Japan.
Okada begins by writing that social communication is imperative to counter the consumer distrust created by a continuing series of corporate scandals. He argues, first, that corporations need to renew consumer trust by communicating ideals that consumers can believe in. Second, they should note that today’s stakeholders are constantly reevaluating companies and their brands, so continuous communicated is needed. Finally, he asserts, public expectations concerning the role of corporations is changing. It is no longer enough to make and sell good products. Companies must communicate their commitment to public as well as corporate welfare, understanding public welfare in terms broader than economic growth alone.
In a market where CVS are literally almost everywhere, chain owners search for growth is leading them away from the male-oriented fast food that has been their stock in trade to fresh food in small quantities for women and seniors.
The 4/16/2006 morning edition of the Asahi Shimbun frontpages a story about convenience stores. As the chart shown here illustrates, CVS total sales growth (the blue bars) is slowing, and sales growth at existing stores (the red line) has dropped sharply year-on-year. Historically, chain store customers have been 70% male and heavy consumers of the prepackaged ready to eat or heat and serve food products. In their search for new growth, CVS chain operators are testing new stores that target women and seniors with fresh vegetables and fresh meat, sold in small quantities tailored to the needs of singles, DINKs and empty nesters.