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Nihon Marketing

The concept of marketing is not driven by clever strategies and/or tactics but more by ensuring customer satisfaction and loyalty

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Unlike Kaizen and Kanban, Japanese business processes that the west has embraced, not much is written about marketing in Nihon (Japan). I believe, marketeers could benefit by observing Japanese marketing practices too.

When I first arrived in Japan, over a year ago, I was bewildered to hear Iras-shai-masse (one word) whenever I entered a shop or a restaurant. Most often the entire staff present said it in unison and very loudly. 

Took me a while to figure out that Irasshaimassae is an honorific Japanese word for welcome and/or may I help you. To have all staff present say it in unison, not only reflects teamwork but demonstrates their attention to each individual prospect entering the premises.

Long queues outside restaurants, is a very common site, across the Japan. Diners can have to wait anything from 15 minutes to an hour for their turn. 

Loyal customers, willing to queue and wait get preference over occasional prospects inclined to book a table beforehand.  Majority of restaurants do not have a booking system. 

In 2017 in Nagoya, home to Toyota, the No 1 spot on Tabelog (Japan's most popular dining website) was held by an invitation-only restaurant.  

To me all this suggests that marketing success in Japan is not akin to having market share or premium pricing. It is having loyal customers who will flock to your restaurant, by invitation or in person.

The concept of marketing is not driven by clever strategies and/or tactics but more by ensuring customer satisfaction and loyalty. 

Aligning all staff (from the chef, the host(ess), including the janitor) in delivering a great experience, to enhance reputation (not to be misunderstood as being a brand), is what the Japanese focus on. 

As a marketeer, I have come to believe, brands are about intent or promises. Whereas reputation in Japan is about actions.

Outside of Japan, not always, but often, one finds gaps between articulated intentions (brands) and actions taken (reputation).  

Inside Japan, the entire organisation (not just the marketing department) is built on delivering an experience that enhances business reputation. 

When you book a car rental or a hotel in Japan, all they ask you is your name, which room or car and when you would like to avail the service.  Unlike most other countries where I have rented cars or booked a room, they do not ask for credit card details to hold your reservation, in case of a no show. 

In Japan, they respect your word and your custom. Every time. Everywhere!

The taxi drivers are not only smartly dressed but will open the door for you and help with the bags, every time.

I continue to be taken aback at the consistently high level of service one receives everywhere in Japan despite the staff having no financial incentives; tipping is a taboo!  

In an attempt to understand the Japanese way of marketing, I summarise:

  • Marketing is not a department, it is the entire organisation. 
  • Attaining higher market share is an outcome, not a goal 
  • Serving and satisfying existing customers is a higher priority than attracting new customers. 
  • Preserving and building reputation (not brands) is a matter of life and death!

For the Japanese, their reputation is paramount. They believe that ‘one brands, one’s reputation’ and not the other way around.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.


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Deepak Suri

Deepak is an avid traveller, a global brand expert and Int’l business manager living in Tokyo.

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