In Japan over the past couple of years, we've seen washable wool in everything from Konaka men's suits to sweaters by UNIQLO.
And now it turns out that manufacturers of women's suits are getting in the game too. Last week a Nikkei article mentioned that Isetan recently teamed up with Inéd, a popular brand amongst Japanese office ladies, to offer limited-edition, washable Inéd suits at prices comparable to the brand's regular offerings.
In tough economic times, shoppers start thinking hard about justifying each purchase they make, and providing a "reason why" allows them to spend more freely. "Just think about how much I can save on dry cleaning costs. . ."
Although it's not an answer for everybody, leveraging new technology like this may be one way to get Japanese consumers to revisit your brand. It's worked before on products that were technology-oriented to begin with, and also on items like fashion and sweets—normally not the kinds of things sold on functional benefits in other countries.
Product size is often one of the first things international food brands have to adjust when entering the Japanese market. Not only is the average Japanese home too small to store western-sized jumbo packages, Japanese eating habits are typically different from their overseas counterparts.
But it's not just foreign firms that learn optimizing package size can lead to more sales.
A couple of months ago Japanese condiments giant Kewpie reduced the volume of its salad dressings from 200 to 170 milliliters--and was surprised to see a 5% increase in order volume versus the same period last year.
According to a Nikkei article, the company attributes the bounce to the fact that the package better suits current Japanese demographics. With household sizes shrinking, too many people were consistently throwing out bottles whose "best by" date arrived before the product could be entirely consumed. Plus, many more kinds dressings are available at supermarkets these days so consumers have a larger variety at home, resulting in extended usage cycles for each bottle.
However, Kewpie cut the price to reflect the 15% reduction in size, so it could be that stores are ordering more to satisfy consumer demand for cheaper products of all types--something Kewpie apparently adamantly denies.
For eight years in a row, revenues have been dropping for Japan's convenience store industry. The country is nearing saturation with something like 45,000 locations nationwide, and people in the industry have seen the writing on the wall for some time. Eventually there would have to be some consolidation because smaller chains (those with only a one or two thousand locations) are susceptible to the majors who can fund multiple shop openings in key areas to drain sales from weaker rivals.
So it was no surprise last week when Japan's second-largest operator, Lawson, announced that it had come to terms with am/pm to purchase and then merge with the smaller company. Lawson will take am/pm on as a subsidiary at the end of this month, and the full scale merger is expected sometime during the summer of 2010.
While this is noteworthy in an of itself, the real M&A drama is probably just beginning.
Valentine's Day is just a little more than a week away.
In Japan, the holiday has traditionally been a one-way street, where only women give chocolate or homemade sweets to men (who are expected to return the favor in a Japan-created holiday known as "White Day" that falls on March 14).
However, according to one research study I read recently, something like 20% of Japanese men plan to give presents to women on Valentine's Day this year, and now a couple of Japan's major confectioners have included in their lineups new products targeting male purchasers.
The product shown above is a clever example from Morinaga. Splashed with a blue ribbon that roughly translated says "This year, give in reverse," the package makes a playful appeal to men with English language product copy that's printed backwards.
A few months ago, Japanese convenience store chain CircleK Sunkus came out with a branded line of pasta bentos (boxed lunches).
The name? Rubetta.
If you know just a little bit of Japanese you can figure out the origins of this moniker.
Rubetta is a Japanese-style semordnilap,* which is a fancy term that means a word resulting from another word spelled backwards. For instance, Oprah Winfrey has named her production company "Harpo," which is actually "Oprah," spelled backwards.
Semordnilaps in Japanese are unlike their English counterparts in that Japanese is a syllabic language. So when you reverse spelling order, you are actually reversing syllables.
This is much easier to show than explain.
In Japanese, "taberu" means "to eat." If we were reversing the spelling in English, we'd end up with "urebat," which is nonsense in Japanese.
To reverse the word properly in Japanese, we need to take the three syllables ta-be-ru, and reverse them, producing ru-be-ta.
After this, the copywriter merely added a little flourish with an extra "t" (perhaps wanting it to have an Italian ring), resulting in Rubetta, which as we've already established, means "to eat."
* Semordnilap is itself a semordnilap and derives from the word palindrome.
Even with the best products and advertising, you can't maximize revenues and profits without an optimized sales strategy and a high-calibre sales team.
If your organization is under-performing thanks to sales issues, you may want to attend an upcoming seminar in Tokyo hosted by marcus evans.
New Sales Force 2008 will be held November 18 and 19 at the Four Seasons Hotel, with executives from Fuji Xerox, Kirin, Nissan, Kagome, Calbee and other companies presenting on topics such as:
- Best practices in sales force management
- Gathering and leveraging customer data, building and sustaining customer relations
- Exploring and improving channel strategies
- Recruiting, training, and motivating high performers, fostering powerful teams
- Achieving top management buy-in to ensure implementation of long term strategies
- M&A-related sales force issues
Speaking of holes (see October 3 post), here's an eye-catching train poster from National (Panasonic) for its Kireone skincare device.
Kireone uses high-frequency sound waves to clear oil and dirt from the pores of your skin to keep it looking silky and smooth.
As mentioned in last Friday's post, ana（穴） means "hole" in Japanese. Conveniently, the word "pore" is expressed by combining the Kanji for "hair" (pronouncedke 毛）with the Kanji for "hole", giving you 毛穴 (ke-ana).
In Romaji, the poster's main copy reads Anata no keana taisaku ni, ana wa arimasen ka? (click visual to see an enlarged version).
A direct translation would be "Might there be holes in your hair-hole (pore) countermeasures?"
Naturally, a direct translation isn't particularly mellifluous or compelling in English, but you can see how the copywriter leverages the use of ana twice to produce a clever, rhythmic headline in Japanese (where, trust me, it sounds a lot better).