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How Can Companies Win Japanese Consumers’ Hearts and Minds?
—From “Consumer Trends 2017”—

At the end of each year, Dentsu Innovation Institute (DII) issues a ranking titled, “Hit Products in Japan.” This is a list of products, content, events and social phenomena that have captured the zeitgeist or caught the public’s imagination during the year. DII also issues “Consumer Trends,” which offers insights into the likely directions and features of consumption during the coming year.
In 2016, DII announced that the trend toward Content Styling Consumption had accelerated during that year. In the following article, the author explains Content Styling Consumption, and proposes approaches to product and service development that enterprises should consider in light of this trend.

1.Content Styling Consumption

In the past, consumers generally accepted, without question, products and services offered by marketers. The level of acceptance even included ways suggested by marketers of using or enjoying the products and services provided. However, driven by the widespread penetration of social media, consumers have become adept at networking, communicating with each other, and sharing information.
As a result, today’s consumers use products and services based on much freer thinking than was common in the past, and are finding new ways to enjoy the products and services. Furthermore, through social media, consumers can easily share the ways they, personally, have found to enjoy products.
That companies have adapted to this new environment is apparent from their efforts to develop products and services flexibly based on the demands of consumers. As a result, products and services may be seen as a form of content, which continues to evolve based on consumer demand. Hence, consumers have become both adept at using products and services with a high degree of freedom, and accustomed to “styling” products to suit their particular needs. DII has named this phenomenon Content Styling Consumption. The term specifically refers to consumers’ initiatives in using a combination of products and services based on their own ideas and to suit their needs. This, in turn, leads to the ongoing discovery of new ways to enjoy products. In 2016, the DII research team observed that Content Styling Consumption was evolving and spreading, driven by an iterative process involving enterprises and consumers.
As an example of the Content Styling Consumption trend, let us take the case of Nissin Foods’ 10-minute Donbei noodle product. Well-known comedian Makita Sports tweeted about a new fad that he had heard about: Some people had discovered that, if after boiling water had been added to Nissin Foods’ Donbei instant noodles and they were left for 10 minutes (instead of the recommended five minutes), the noodles became even more tasty. Reacting to this buzz, Nissin Foods officially recognized the new discovery by posting a note on the company’s website saying, “We didn’t know that.”
Immediately after the statement had been released on Nissin Foods’ website, there was an exponential increase in the number of tweets about 10-minute Donbei. Within a few days, there had been such a rapid spike in popularity that retailers started to sell out of their Donbei noodles. The large jump in sales and subsequent buzz led to a marketing success story.
Another case is that of the stylish BRUNO Compact Hot Plate. Since 2016, the product had been profiled in several magazines primarily aimed at housewives, giving it major audience exposure. On the product’s website, a range of ideas was offered on creative uses of the product. The suggestions included making al ajillo dishes on a hot plate originally designed for making takoyaki (octopus dumplings), and making cake pops.
The product’s design makes it very attractive on the dinner table, and this led to many users posting photos featuring the hot plate on Instagram. The introduction of a wide variety of usage ideas by the company marketing the product further sparked the imagination of users, resulting in even more diverse usage suggestions being posted on various user-generated Internet media.
The above two cases are examples of consumers styling products or services to meet their own needs. They also show that the companies have a good understanding of the dynamics involved, and are working to respond effectively based on appropriate communication strategies.

2.How Can Marketers Win the Hearts and Minds of Consumers?

In 2017, what kind of product and service development should marketers aim for if they are to win the hearts and minds of consumers? Below, we expand on the three proposals made in the Consumer Trends report.

Proposal 1:

Details Matter—Focusing on the Little Things

Proposal 2:

Have a Convincing Story—Telling a Clear Narrative Based on How the Product Came About

Proposal 3:

Individually Tailored Offering—Consumers Develop a Strong Attachment Because a Product Has Been Made Just for Them

Proposal 1: Details Matter—Focusing on the Little Things

Nowadays, products and services are becoming increasingly diverse, and it is getting more difficult for enterprises to achieve clear differentiation. In this environment, attention to detail becomes an important strength. In the successful animated historical drama, In This Corner of the World, much preproduction effort went into thoroughly researching the era in which the film is set. Extensive interviews were conducted with people who have a good knowledge of the era, and the thorough preparation can be seen in the production’s attention to detail. We have heard many opinions, not only from anime fans in general, but also from people who know the Kure City of the time depicted in the drama. Many have commented that the movie is “just like the Kure City of that era.” Together with movie itself, such impressions have become major topics of conversation, thereby helping sustain the movie’s popularity.

How Can Companies Win Japanese Consumers’ Hearts and Minds?

© Fumiyo Kono (Futabasha Publishers Ltd.) / ”In This Corner of the World” Production Committee

Another recent case, in which details have been shown to matter, is that of luxury cruise trains. The trend was kicked off by JR Kyushu’s luxury train, Seven Stars in Kyushu, which has been operating since 2013. In May 2017, JR East then in June 2017, JR West, plan to follow JR Kyushu’s example by launching their own luxury train experiences—Train Suite Shiki-shima and Twilight Express Mizukaze, respectively.
The luxury trains’ journeys offer meticulous attention to detail—regarding the trains themselves, the on-board cuisine, and the rail cars’ furnishings. This has proven highly attractive to certain customer segments, who want to experience the luxury even if the price is high. In this way, not only do these services provide a high level of customer satisfaction, but they also generate interest, widely driven by word of mouth and users’ social media communications. This reinforces the extreme importance of attention to detail.

Proposal 2: Have a Convincing Story—Telling a Clear Narrative Based on How the Product Came About

The story of why a product was developed, and on which aspects the manufacturer focused greatest effort, are becoming increasingly important for product marketing. For example, the major hit product BALMUDA The Toaster bills itself as cooking toast to the best aroma and texture possible. On the product’s website, the company CEO, Gen Terao, relates the story of the toaster’s development.

How Can Companies Win Japanese Consumers’ Hearts and Minds?

BALMUDA The Toaster

In the area of traditional crafts, the neko chigura (cat basket) made in Sekikawa Village, Niigata Prefecture, has enjoyed significant popularity for many years. The marketer goes to much effort to explain in detail about how and why the product came into being, and why it takes quite a long time from order to delivery.
As the above examples show, stories attached to products become an important means of connecting a consumer to the manufacturer.

Proposal 3: Individually Tailored Offering—Consumers Develop a Strong Attachment Because the Product Has Been Made for Them

We also see many examples of customer satisfaction resulting when customers are given a choice concerning aspects of products that can be customized. Products made to order, while long available, have become more readily accessible to a wider audience, thanks to the spread of web-based technology.
For example, UNIQLO markets semi-order-made shirts and jackets through the web. The company offers customers a full range of product sizes and size combinations, including sleeve length and neck size. In fact, offering consumers a large number of choices when it comes to fashion goods and accessories is attracting considerable attention as a marketing strategy.
A Japanese watch manufacturer called Knot offers 7,000 product variations by letting customers select from a large number of watches and straps, which can be freely combined. After their initial purchase, customers may, if they wish, change the strap to give their watch a fresh look. By offering this type of mix-and-match product lineup that gives consumers a wide range of choices, the marketer has succeeded in creating a hit product.
The Content Styling Consumption introduced in this article reflects the direction in which consumption is headed. The relationship between marketer and consumer is being transformed into one that is more interactive than previously was possible. If just the right approach is found to attract consumer curiosity—so that people want to touch and try a product—a product or service will become a focus of discussion and topicality among consumers. This can drive excitement within the market.
We hope that the insights we have offered here will contribute to the development of products and services that create new consumer trends and generate excitement in many markets.

Project member

How Can Companies Win Japanese Consumers’ Hearts and Minds?

Yasuaki Matsumoto

Dentsu Innovation Institute



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