June 19, 2015 6:40 pm JST
Asian consumer survey

Japanese brands are reliable, not so cool

JUSTINA LEE, Nikkei staff writer

SINGAPORE -- To appeal to overseas consumers, Japanese companies need to do more to position their brands as a way to project one's status, outlook or personality, according to a report by J. Walter Thompson. The international advertising agency noted that while Japanese brands are thought of as innovative and reliable, they are "not seen as sexy, design-driven or cool."

     The report was based on a survey of 3,200 consumers, aged 20-49 from Southeast Asia, China, India and Japan. Two-thirds of those polled rated Japan as the country with the most impressive products. In addition, 64% said they like to purchase products made in Japan, as they are strongly associated with quality, superior technology, reliability and trustworthiness. Indonesians were the most quality-conscious in the survey, with 95% saying they are willing to pay extra for a quality product. On the other hand, 74% of Japanese consumers prefer to buy brands that they have used before.

All substance, no style

While Japanese products were ranked first in terms of quality, products from other countries such as South Korea and Sweden were perceived to be more trendy and innovative. And style is important: 8 out of 10 respondents said they buy brands that show their style. Although more than 90% of Southeast Asian consumers polled want functional products, more than 80% expressed a desire for goods that allow them to show their own personality. Japanese consumers are less concerned with self-expression in their purchases. Only 69% of Japanese said they choose brands to express their sense of style.

     "Japanese brands are too focused on aspects like the quality and technologies of the product in their brand communication. This creates an impression of reliability, which is good, but it also evokes a "rigid and boring" image, said Hironobu Kitajima, managing director of J. Walter Thompson's Japan unit.

     Kitajima said Japanese companies should leverage the country's cultural assets, including and J-fashion, to portray stylish and cool images that create an emotional appeal with foreign consumers. A strong majority of respondents, 70%, said they like brands that actively communicate with them online, compared with just 38% of Japanese.

     To encourage buyers to identify with its brand, Japanese casual wear retailer Uniqlo casts local celebrities in its overseas online and store marketing campaigns. Instant noodle maker Nissin Foods focuses on tailoring its products to local tastes, including chili crab flavored noodles in Singapore.  

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