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Top>Opinion>Next Marketing Strategy: From Need-based to Concept-driven Marketing


Toshihiko Miura

Toshihiko Miura [Profile]

Next Marketing Strategy: From Need-based to Concept-driven Marketing

Toshihiko Miura
Professor, Faculty of Commerce, Chuo University
Areas of Specialization: Marketing, Consumer Behavior

Are Japanese Consumers Tough?

Japanese people are said to be some of the toughest consumers to satisfy in the world. Indeed, Michael Porter, a professor at the Harvard Business School wrote in his book, "P&G tests new disposable diapers in Japan because Japanese mothers are the most quality-conscious consumers in the world." Japanese people also act in a somewhat unprincipled way, which is referred to as "hybridism of Japanese culture" by a Japanese critical writer, Shuichi Kato. While celebrating Christmas, they visit Shinto shrines at the beginning of the year and attend Buddhist memorial services. At home, they enjoy a mixture of various cuisines: Japanese, Western, Chinese, and more. Consequently, the wider the variety of items a store sells, the better the reputation the store has amongst Japanese customers. According to a person who worked for a Japanese department store, Takashimaya, in Singapore, Japanese department stores employ a "notorious" return-goods system to satisfy such customers. In addition, as demonstrated by the fact that Nikkei's hit product ranking becomes a popular topic every year, Japanese people frequently hop from one trend to another due partly to their groupism, which makes them tougher consumers.

In today's advanced society; moreover, modern Japanese people gained a wide range of knowledge through many consumption experiences during Japan's high-growth period and a lot of information from the Internet in the e era. This greatly has narrowed the information asymmetry or information gap between businesses and consumers. Increasing knowledge produces discriminating consumers who are not easily satisfied. Japanese people are also said to enjoy ubiquitous consumption, referring to the availability of consumption opportunities anytime and anywhere, just like ubiquitous computing refers to the availability of computers anytime and anywhere. In this way, today's consumers can enjoy consumption any time using computers and mobile devices or shopping at flea markets and other places, which makes it exceedingly tough to catch consumers' eyes.

Concept-driven Marketing

In addition to becoming quality-conscious consumers who are interested in all kinds of products and frequently follow the latest trends, Japanese people have become information-armed consumers who enjoy shopping anytime, anywhere. So what kind of marketing engages such consumers?

What I propose is concept-driven marketing.

Marketing can be divided into two categories: needs-based and concept-driven marketing. Convenience store chains like 7-Eleven are successful examples of needs-based marketing. Using their POS cash registers, convenience stores collect and analyze data concerning consumers' needs to build systems capable of providing the right amount of the right products at the right price, and at the right time, which has brought them great success. However, concept-driven marketing is totally different. For example, Japanese fashion designer Youji Yamamoto told the Asahi Shimbun newspaper, "I have created the best fashion but I am satisfied to be accepted merely by people who can understand my fashion." What he is doing is presenting his concept of the best fashion he can think of. Fumikatsu Tokiwa, a former chairman of chemical and cosmetics company Kao, once said, "While existing products can be improved and upgraded through detailed analysis of data from our information system, revolutionary new products can never be produced using such information." In other words, revolutionary new products go beyond needs-based marketing, which is why he pointed out the importance of concept-driven marketing.

Where Do Such Concepts Come From?

So, how do you create such a concept?

(1) Use your company's ideas, for example, the ideas of your technicians. Like someone at Nintendo once said to me, "We do not research consumers because we know the most about games." Product suppliers can come up with great ideas and technologies from their perspective as professionals.
(2) Use consumers' potential such as customer competence. For example, by distributing the beta version of Windows 2000 to 650 thousand PC enthusiasts--professional users--around the world, Microsoft found a lot of bugs and desirable features. The company also took advantage of consumers' high knowledge to improve its competitiveness and create new ideas.
(3) Collaborate with other companies, especially those in other fields. Kao successfully improved the brand image of their Essentials shampoo, which was once a low-end brand, by collaborating with the fashion magazine CanCam. To appeal to the target demographic, Kao built a new brand strategy using both CanCam's articles and TV advertisements.

At the conclusion of this introduction to the characteristics of modern Japanese consumers and a strategy to attract them, I would like to introduce a statement by Isao Nakauchi, the founder of Japanese supermarket chain Daiei. He often said, "Best-selling items are those that are interesting and helpful." This means that, instead of an interesting but unhelpful item or a helpful but uninteresting item, Japanese consumers can only buy an item that is both interesting and helpful. The characteristics of Japanese consumers apparently originate from this very point. They are so tough that they only buy high-quality or helpful products/services that provide positive impressions or interesting experiences. Creating such a concept may bring a new era of Japan as No.1.

Toshihiko Miura
Professor of Faculty of Commerce, Chuo University
Specialty: Marketing, Consumer Behavior
Born in Kyoto in 1958, Professor Miura graduated with an undergraduate degree from the Faculty of Business and Commerce, Keio University, in 1982. He completed the doctoral course at the Graduate School of Business and Commerce, Keio University, in 1986. After working as an assistant, a full-time lecturer, and an associate professor in the Faculty of Commerce at Chuo University, he was appointed to his current position of professor in 1999. He was also a visiting scholar at the Columbia Business School, a visiting professor at École Supérieure de Commerce de Paris, and a visiting professor at Illinois State University. His major publications include Marketing Strategy Third Edition (co-author, Yuhikaku Publishing Co., Ltd), An Introduction to Global Marketing (co-author, Nikkei Publishing Inc.), Brand Design Strategy (co-editor/author, Fuyo Shobo Shuppan Co.), Slow Style (co-editor/author, Shinhyoron Co., Ltd.), and Strategy Principle of E-marketing (co-editor/author, Yuhikaku Publishing Co., Ltd.)