Invasion Marketing: How the Japanese Target, Track, and Conquer New Markets

Invasion Marketing: How the Japanese Target, Track, and Conquer New Markets

by Johny K. Johansson, Ikujiro Nonaka

By now, the scenario is familiar. Domestic competition in a volatile market has cooled off, with a pecking order established and shares firmly in place. Suddenly, a Japanese multinational arrives and quickly secures a beachhead; soon after, more Japanese firms join the fray, pouring new product lines into what seemed a saturated market only months before. As Japanese…  See more details below


By now, the scenario is familiar. Domestic competition in a volatile market has cooled off, with a pecking order established and shares firmly in place. Suddenly, a Japanese multinational arrives and quickly secures a beachhead; soon after, more Japanese firms join the fray, pouring new product lines into what seemed a saturated market only months before. As Japanese consumer goods gain footholds in diverse market niches, European and American firms seem unable to assimilate the motivations of their Japanese rivals or to emulate the tactics that serve Japanese multinationals so well in winning new customers. That situation is likely to change with the publication of Relentless. A trenchant analysis of Japanese marketing strategy in the international arena, it denotes a unique collaboration between Western and Eastern marketing expertise. Professors Johansson and Nonaka present their detailed study of Japanese life in general, and domestic marketing in particular, to reveal the imperatives of Japanese marketers abroad and to sum up the fundamental themes of Japanese marketing philosophy. With anecdotes as vivid as an Escher print, the authors explore the Japanese marketing mind to show how it uniquely defines each business relationship and motivates every action, inverting most of what Western enterprises do and think. The result is a penetrating insight into the ego of the Japanese marketer and a vital tool for any Western manager who faces Japanese competition now or in the future.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal - Library Journal
In Japanese companies, market research is done not simply by underlings but by everyone in the firm, thus relaying the importance of this task. Market-research collaborators Johansson and Nonaka offer insights here into the dualism between producers and sellers, engineers and marketers, professionals and amateurs evident in the mindset of U.S. firmsdualisms which only create a gap that hinders effective marketing. Among other things, the authors successfully argue that because the Japanese don't acknowledge these dualisms, they have been able to introduce new products faster, make real improvements on existing products, and train distributors properly, viewing them as the first customer. Extensive endnotes and graphs enhance the text. Recommended for international business collections.Lisa K. Miller, Paradise Valley Community Coll. Lib., Phoenix, Ariz.

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Harper Business
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Breaking the Mold

The Japanese Marketers

Many customers are surprised to learn that marketing is a technical business function and an academic discipline. Like the engineers in Silicon Valley described by Geoffrey Moore in Inside the Tornado, they might think of marketing as salesmanship or voodoo, with the associated negative connotations. But in the modern corporation in the West (by which we basically mean Western Europe and North America) marketing strategies and plans can be as elaborate and well-researched as the offensive game plan for a team in the Super Bowl. For example, before Buick introduced its upscale sports car the Reatta in 1988, the GM division, according to one count, had conducted seventeen different studies between 1981 and 1987 to help identify the most effective positioning against competing makes.Despite this effort, the positioning remained uncertain, and the last two studies just before the planned launch split between a "luxury" position and a "sports car" position. Reatta was positioned as a "luxury car for two" and had some initial success until the Mazda Miata from Japan was introduced and lowered the price/value ratio for sporty cars.

As marketing becomes more important and global competition affects their companies, some managers reluctantly recognize that, to do their jobs, they need to learn more about marketing. When they open up a standard text of marketing management, they are impressed by the bulk of material and awed by its complexity. Marketing seems to be a science, and serious marketing is a game for professionals only. Or is it?

The "Science" of Marketing

The fact is that manynonprofessional marketers with strong intuition—Mary Kay's cosmetics, the Body Shop, Benetton—have done very well, while many professional marketers—Coca Cola with its New Coke, Ford with its new Edsel and new Taurus, and Reebok with its "Be yourself" campaign—have stumbled. While some professional campaigns are very impressive, the next effort by the same agency easily falls flat. Thus with IBM's PC (a successful launch with the DOS operating system) and OS/2 (its second operating system, a failure), with Disney in Japan (very successful) and Disney in Europe (Euro-Disney has been having its share of setbacks), with Miller's Lite (a success) and Miller's High Life (with weak sales, positioned against Budweiser), and with Procter & Gamble's Pampers (global leader in disposable diapers) and Citrus Hill (P&G's discontinued orange juice).

The Professional Nonprofessionals

Japanese marketers are not professionals in a technical sense; they seem to consider marketing too important to leave to experts. Marketing is a concern for everybody in the organization. Every employee of the company is a marketer when interacting with the outside world. This is similar to what happens in a few odd firms in the West, like Wal-Mart, Scandinavian Airlines System, and Ritz-Carlton. But it is the rule in Japan, where most companies still do not have marketing managers or marketing departments.

That marketing is a business for everybody in the organization, not a professional function, is emphasized by the autobiographical reminiscences of corporate leaders such as Akio Morita at Sony or Eiji Toyoda at Toyota, but also by more broadly based studies. The common Japanese practice of entry-level hiring and subsequent rotation of job positions is predicated on the lack of position-specific skills. These practices help account for the fact that many individuals with engineering backgrounds are involved in marketing in Japanese manufacturing firms, an important factor in their marketing research, as we will see. At the same time, however, in-house training to develop skills is extensive and continues intensively until the middle management (kacho) level is reached at about age thirty-five to forty.Even though a rising number of managers are educated in marketing abroad, and Japan is also developing business schools, the entry-level hiring practices and the development of company-specific skills in-house have made MBAs difficult to assimilate, and they are mainly used as internationalization (kokusaika) catalysts, rather than as skilled professionals.

Marketing by the Japanese, in Japan and overseas, is fundamentally an application of common sense. The Japanese "marketers," who carry out the marketing tasks as the West defines them, view themselves basically as amateurs when compared to their Western counterparts. They do use professional help for specific purposes, including marketing research and advertising in Western markets. But for the most part, they prefer synthesizing over analyzing, common words over professional jargon, and simplicity over sophistication. The Mazda Miata, for example, was suggested to the Japanese by a designer in California who longed for a traditional British sports car, but with Japanese functionality and quality. Mazda obliged without losing much time on market research.

Why do Japanese marketers lack professional identity compared to the marketing specialists so common in Western firms? The typical answer is that Japan does not have business schools where marketers can be trained—a feeble answer because the Japanese do send students to foreign business schools today. The explanation lies in their conception of a customer. A customer to them is a special guest, a god whose visit is the best compliment a businessman can wish for. To treat the guest right means to be simple, create good feelings, and speak in common words. But to be "professional" means setting oneself on a higher pedestal than the customer. Stories about the pampered customers in Japan are well-known also in the West.

The Japanese marketers keep close to the customers naturally. They build relationships, create loyalty, troubleshoot, and erect barriers to entry, all at the same time. You can easily visualize how this process works with industrial business-to-business products and services, where there may be few customers to keep happy. In the consumer goods markets, the Japanese use the same approach to maintain good relationships with distributors and other middlemen. As for the final consumer, the Japanese do adapt their approach and use mass media, but the ultimate marketing purpose remains the same: how to keep our guest entertained.

Much of the Japanese marketing thinking grows directly from this "simple" approach. Marketing activities such as execution of an in-store promotion may be difficult for professionals (who do not want to get their hands dirty) but come easily to amateurs. Concepts such as seeing products as "bundles of attributes" that professionals quickly grasp seem beyond the reach of amateurs. While professionals emphasize analysis and a priori thinking, amateurs aim for direct experience and trial and error.

This latter difference is why the Japanese, although nonprofessionals in a technical or academic sense, are actually very professional marketers. They have "savvy." In marketing, they simply trust their experience more than their book learning: Marketing is not a science, but an art or craft, perhaps. In contrast, of course, for "professional" marketers in the West, nothing substitutes for analytical learning.

Intuition and Professionalism

Good professionalism means not only mastering a set of principles, but also putting those principles into action. The good doctor knows anatomy and can make the correct diagnosis. The outstanding lawyer knows the criminal code and can apply it to a particular case. The successful marketer knows how to research target-market preferences, and can translate these into the appropriate product positioning. Acting professionally means applying the guiding principles of one's profession with a cool head and objective rationality. It takes practice as well as book learning.

But what about intuition? Does not the practice of marketing, especially, but also the practice of medicine and law, require a great deal of intuitive skills, such as understanding people? A good doctor must sense a patient's mental state and how it will affect the successful progress of a course of treatment. A lawyer must intuit how a jury will react to a particular witness. Similarly, marketers must be able to predict how actual and potential customers will react to a new product or advertisement. But two aspects of marketing differentiate it from medicine and law, and together the two make professionalization suspect, if not fraudulent.

First, the purpose of marketing everywhere is to influence voluntary human behavior. "Voluntary" is important here, because medicine and law also influence human behavior. But in medicine, the principles of the profession relate to how the body reacts to a treatment, and in law the principles relate behavior to the established codes of conduct. Marketing principles attempt to relate various theories about human behavior to individual or organizational customer response. Not surprisingly, the professionalization of marketing has been accompanied by—and driven by—progress in the behavioral and social sciences attempting to predict human behavior.

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What People are saying about this

Philip Kotler
"This book calls into question the most cherished ideas about Western marketing. . . . Johansson and Nonaka are to be congratulated for vividly describing a radically different and highly successful marketing mind-set."
George S. Yip
"Brilliant and original . . . This book should be read by everyone concerned with marketing and strategy."

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