The efficient and organised but tolerant and patient way that is so redolent of Japanese culture reminded Justine Cullinan of three big marketing lessons.
There is nothing like an overseas holiday to give you a new perspective on the media and marketing environment. It shows you different ways of utilising media platforms, suggests new methods of cutting through clutter and invites you to experience cultural nuances in messaging and buying behaviour.
I enjoyed 10 days in Japan last month and was gently reminded, in that very efficient and organised but tolerant and patient way that is so redolent of Japanese culture, of three big marketing lessons.
1. Everything is a potential billboard
Japan is home to 127 million people living on land that in size represents about 35% of the state of California. That’s dense. It means that a lot of people congregate in very small spaces, particularly when commuting anywhere. So advertising space isn’t very spacious and has resultantly become very innovative.
Now there are the usual spaces that are utilised such as the walls of trains and the sloping sides of underground platforms but the Japanese have taken out of home to another level. The construction bollards on the streets of Tokyo are carved into colourful anime characters that tell stories. The train station lockers of Shinjuku are a riot of colour and messaging. Even the manhole covers have imagery and iconography carved into them to communicate a message. In a city where space is at a constant premium, Japanese marketers have enhanced the idea of out of home in a variety of unconventional spaces.
2. People are valuable message carriers
Most of us marketers believe that positive word of mouth is the pot of gold at the end of the marketing rainbow, but many of us don’t actively drive that as a marketing strategy. We advertise, listen to our consumers through carefully managed customer service programs and feed the social media community management machine hoping that these efforts will result in positive word of mouth.
The Japanese have realised that people, all 127 million of them, are their most valuable and powerful source of media communication. Shop assistants are perfect representatives of the fashion and food brands they sell. They represent a perfect humanised likeness of the products they stock and bring any number of shelf-worn items to life in their embodiment. When you buy clothing in Tokyo or Kyoto, it’s the people wearing it in the stores who entice you inside. Shopping is a fully integrated experience in which the paying moment is the least important part of the whole journey.
3. Merchandising is an art form
The Japanese art canon is renowned worldwide. From black lacquer and gold leaf work to silk production, Japan has a proud artistic tradition. This is not lost in today’s marketing execution in urban Japan. There is an entire industry devoted to the production of lifelike food moulds that represent the dishes and menu items of Japanese restaurants. These moulds adorn windows and merchandising shelves so that as a customer, you can really get an idea of what you’re looking at which goes a long way to convert your decision to buying.
Boxes of Japanese confectionary are piled high in beautifully wrapped paper but a plastic mould mounted on the shelf can not only show you what’s in the boxes but gives you a cross section of the items inside that box. Restaurants and ice-cream parlours display plastic versions of their dishes and sundaes to entice people into a deeper relationship with their buying choice. Shopping is a feast for the eyes from the window to each and every artfully arranged shelf.
These lessons from the East are easily learnt and may be readily adopted by the South where space is far more plentiful, people are as important in the value chain and the African contribution to art worldwide is by no means insignificant.