Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Brand Japan


All of us love a good hierarchy, but none less than Japan. Venerable Futurebrand and its Country Brand Index (CBI), an organisation which pits the world's nations (well mostly the first world ones it turns out) against each other and ranks them on several criteria. To be expected, the media in each of the named countries 'retweets' this and one Friday in late November a few comments are swapped over the respective beverage, a handful of folks go home glowing, and it's all over until the next year, or the next ranking.
But Japan ? The number one country for tourism ? “Japan has always been a strong country brand and enjoys enormous popularity as a destination for business and leisure" it is said.

The CBI is a comprehensive study of approximately 3,000 international business and leisure travelers from nine countries-the US, the UK, China, Australia, Japan, Brazil, the UAE, Germany and Russia. This is the sample chosen, and Futurebrand is not exactly forthcoming with the distribution or the methodology behind it. Neither does it bother to distinguish business from leisure. If your clients or suppliers are in Japan, do you really have a choice as to where to go for business ?
Care should be taken also in the use of the word ‘destination’, as – and this is a function of airline activity – it sees not insignificant traffic when chosen as a ‘stopover’ en route to Europe.

Strange things happen when you throw the 'brand' word around at random. We suspect Futurebrand might be overusing it. It holds that the most important factors that truly differentiate a nation brand are its associations and attributes – the qualities that people think of when they hear a place name, or look at a photograph or plan a trip.
Natora interprets brand as a 'picture in mind that helps consumers chose your product over another'. One talks of 'well branded' and 'strong brands' and that is what this article is about.
Nations are all playing the tourism card and even post-industrial giants like Japan are investing heavily. Hundreds of countries are throwing resources at selling themselves in any market in which they see potential. This produces clutter, ups competition and calls for smart branding alongside smart marketing.

Lamentably, the CBI information appears to be being taken very seriously by tourism promotion bodies in some countries who work with this to focus on strengths, as if they are unable to soul-search themselves.

Of the many criteria for selection, the concept of authenticity is noteworthy - experiences which are unique and cannot be replicated. Early tourism stressed this. Well healed tourists would travel to locations, however remote to see superlatives; the highest, the lowest, the biggest, the smallest.
Japan is unique yes, but so is Korea and so is China. The modern world sees instant replication of anything which works commercially meaning authenticity is harder and harder to find.

How do the experts do it ?
The US is no expert. To date and thanks to the movie theatre, television and other powerful media, we've all known about the US, and the pull is strangely strong. They simply haven't had to think too much about pulling even more folks to their shores. But they are now. The Corporation for Travel Promotion (CTP) has started on solid ground and is building 'Brand USA'. Adopting the slogan “fresh, unexpected, welcoming and inclusive,” and featuring colourful dots joining to compose the letters USA, the logo was designed to remind the world that “the United States of Awesome Possibilities welcomes everyone”
The US has a branding job on its hand. No one thing can explain who they are as a nation.

Use of personal pronouns you and me is fashionable, and acknowledges that no two travelling styles are alike. Asian tourism giants have been using a single adjective such as 'incredible', 'amazing' and we see the sophisticated marketers moving into personalisation using You and Me. FijiMe is a case in hand which has been extrapolated to ‘RomanceMe’ and others.
From its 'Uniquely Singapore' beginnings, this island state is now particularly impressive. It's 'YourSingapore' destination branding has outranked others. The Singapore Tourist Board (STB) is careful to bring in diverse stakeholders into executing ideas.  Singaporean images are already strong, and in successfully reinventing the city thereby securing more material for the brand, the STB is now encouraging visitors to 'scratch below the surface' to 'rediscover'.

New Zealand is regarded as a maverick. It's '100% PureYou' message regularly receives accolades and is meticulously 'stewarded'.  Until recently, this read '100% Pure New Zealand' as they highlight the many individual experiences available. Beautiful scenery and the environment is now taking becoming the backdrop as New Zealand focuses on what it feels as its actual leads.

Australia is going beyond branding for tourism purposes to a national brand per se. Simon Anholt of the Anholt City Brand ranking has stressed, “I have never seen an example of a country in all the years I’ve been working in this field that has succeeded in altering its image through marketing communication”

Branding can and does take place at regional, prefectural, metropolitan levels as well as at groupings with essentials in common. The city of Sydney is growing its brand, and involves stakeholders in business, culture, tourism, events and education as it embodies the stature, spirit and strengths of the city. The Anholt City Brand ranking has awarded Sydney the number one spot for a number of years.
Australia's Port Stephens has an interesting take on branding as it makes use of the initial letters in 'PS I Love You'. Simplistic yes, but the research has revealed that the locals have an affinity with the town which might endear them further if presented as a 'post script'.

Elvis Presley was a brand. These days, a country aspiring to grow its tourism activity needs to be Elvis: stand out and stand for something distinctive; do iconic work, one big thing at a time; making sure that it is part of the future.

Brand is organic and it can no longer be constructed unilaterally from on high without the input of actual travellers. Social media conversations these days are market research and are used to fine tune the brand as in “Is the message you’re communicating the message your guests are receiving?”

A brand its logo and tagline should have the clarity of a bell as it conveys the soul, or DNA of a country.  A brand is one of the most valuable assets a country has. Brand equity is that portion contributed by a country to supplement existing consumer knowledge. Where knowledge is scant, the opportunity is great to build this equity, and with it, value.

In searching for what Japan is, a useful angle is to isolate what it isn't. Few Asian countries have managed to contain 'chaos'. Japan has. Developing Asian nations thrive on noise and sheer numbers. Japan has these, but is able to contain them. Its people share a quiet dignity and certainly don’t share brashness, but is this marketable ?
Island nations such as Fiji and Tonga play the friendliness card and it generally works. 'Polite and kind' are adjectives often applied to the Japanese, but is this marketable ? Yes it is 'civilised', a label we hear less and less as a descriptor for a society.

Natora sees the brand dialogue as vital. We pursue the following sequence in order to construct brand:

1. Identify Japan’s core competencies – the successful habits ingrained into Japanese society and culture.
2. Identify the key focal areas being developed to strengthen the Japanese brand.
3. Understand awareness of these competencies and areas of focus by the target audience (visitors).
4. Understand what additional expectations are desired from these people.
5. Which of these can be credibly owned and become a reason for visitors to habitually choose Japan?
6. Which key habits does Japan need to develop so that the brand promise can be delivered on at every touchpoint (and which habits need to be erased)?
7. What are the key touchpoints that need to be created / improved to provide a consistent, positive experience?
8. Is a change to Japan’s visual identity necessary?

Natora is starting to see Japan addressing the branding task. Currently it has ‘Japan – Endless Discovery’ and uses the predictable red globe, with cherry blossoms even though these latter are not immediately recognisable as a Japanese icon. Japan persists in using ‘Visit’ in its campaigns where others have left this behind.
Regionally, Shizuoka is commendable and has at last branded itself ‘The Fuji State’ although the message as yet to get out. Few other examples exist.
Nationally, Fotopedia from its US origins has partnered with Hakuhodo for the Narita Airport Authority and is exploiting new platforms such as iphone and iPad, considering these ‘the modern watering holes of the traveller. Japan has stopped short of labelling itself on this occasion, and we suspect it will be the users and how they interact with the content who will give birth to something of value, Brand Japan.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

How to squander an opportunity: a Japanese favourite, the questionnaire

Natora was recently at the annual Japan Festival in Sydney, Australia. We tried hard to understand what the the Organisation to Promote Japanese Restaurants Abroad, the JRO below was thinking in this questionnaire. Question five is a die hard from time immemorial, and well, expressing a favourite as a dish just doesn't come easily does it. Kudos to the JRO in the Iron Chef mention. This is one Japanese export which has captured the world's imagination.
Food glorious food ... might one way to a potential visitor to Japan be through his or her stomach? Natora thinks so and is putting its money where its mouth is in supporting the burgeoning JapanTourist network, a large scale initiative designed to 'remake' Japanese tourism from the inside out. JapanTourist will be covering the nation as it canvasses establishments including eating houses in English, followed by Chinese and Korean.
JapanTourist is kick starting the process which will see users generate their own content in the form of reviews and ranking of these establishments. This on-going coverage goes on to become a vital reference source for the visitors of the future to Japan. It is envisaged that a given establishment may receive such a glowing review as to incite travel to that region, wherever it may be.
One could realistically surmise that anyone who steps foot in a restaurant serving Japanese food abroad is predisposed to that country, and that if the right chords are struck, could be tempted in some way to go in search of the 'real article'. We've all seen them ... the JAL posters of Fuji and cherry blossoms in perhaps the not-so-endowed Japanese eateries abroad. If done in a tactful, tasteful way, and in the name of 'experiential tourism', surely the darling of the industry worldwide, Natora can see options for campaigns, either spot of on-going in the sector.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Japan inbound tourism - where to? A case for intelligent branding

Japan is slogan land. 'Beautiful resilient Japan' runs alongside 'Ganbaro Nippon', a couple to keep the spirits up. Inbound tourism has been decimated it is said, and folks at home just haven't been willing to go too far afield for fear of being seen as 'escape artists'. It's perhaps time to bring back the 'wish you were here' line which found its way onto postcards and other media of the day several decades ago.

Just how bad is it? Natora spoke to Inside Japan Tours Ltd, based in Bristol UK and was told of the three things making life difficult for their tour operation:
- Ongoing radiation fears and lack of clarity / closure on Fukushima situation
- Very strong yen making Japan more expensive*
- General economic issues making people tighten their purse strings and forego some discretionary spend
*Mr King was quick to add that it is still good value once people actually get to Japan.

We next talked to Mr Endo, Director of Sales at Park Hotel Tokyo, a favourite of UK visitors. It would appear that while numbers were hit on the advent of the quake and radiation with the traditional April peak sustaining the biggest drop, there has been some recovery into the Japanese Summer. It remains to be seen how the October peak fares, as September was two thirds the number received in 2010. King at Inside Japan Tours was optimistic saying, "despite this, we have seen a steady improvement in departure, enquiries and bookings - September was only about 15% down on 2010 on all 3 counts"

Slogans should not be taken lightly. Japan's 'Enjoy yourself in Japan' goes nowhere, and it is this which graces the current VisitJapan programme, visible at
The 'Visit xxx year' campaigns are now well and truly tired with only a few countries persisting where others are getting scientific about the visitor attraction exercise.

Australia's been at the slogan game too, as that country sees a dearth of inbound visitors relative to the numbers of its own nationals going abroad. There's been the much-lambasted 'Where the bloody hell are you', but then that sort of language was never going to go down in PC-Japan. For quite some time now Australia has been running the 'no leave, no life' slogan, and it has gained some traction although the message here is to get up and about in generic terms, with no push onshore nor offshore.
Other slogans come to mind which resonated well in their era, including 'don't leave home until you've seen the country', designed to reacquaint a local with his or her locale.

The director of Japan Association of Travel Agents believes the recovery of outbound travel from Japan is the first step towards recovery of the inbound market.
“Cheer Up Japan, Smile Through Travel” campaign has been launched to get people traveling and, in turn, help the economic recovery in the country.
Poster displays at mainline rail stations are encouraging Japanese to travel and those going overseas are being encouraged to take part in a postcard distribution campaign. Another odd, almost quaint attempt, perhaps one might surmise being sponsored by the postal service?
The idea goes that Japanese travellers are to hand the postcards - which bear the message “Hope to See You Again in Japan” - to their overseas friends in the hope of stimulating inbound travel to Japan.

Shizuoka's branding efforts brought a smile to our eyes. Mt. Fuji is one icon that the whole world can identify with and Shizuoka is home.
But before plucking a motif out of the air and branding a region should come data mining. It is incumbent on authorities to, well, not be so authoritarian, and to listen to public opinion, expressed in the form of User Generated Content, or UGC. Called 'brand auditing', this process should pre-empt the actual formulation and communication of brand which should be done via modern channels.
Natora firmly believes in the language of brand. Now more than ever in a tourism world cluttered with marketing messages, intelligent branding machinery must be deployed.

Robert Scott

T 0415.140.430 Vodafone
T 0413.363.135 Optus
02.8014.8229 ext. 878
Skype: rbtsct

Friday, October 14, 2011

Ehime Prefectural Budokan

The echo of a shout and stamping foot lingers in the air long after the action is finished.


10,000 Free Tickets to Japan

We all remember Captain Kirk getting damage reports from the engine
and other rooms after each Clingon attack. The Enterprise sustained
damage but teams went to work to soon restore it. But the Japanese
tourism effort after the quake and ensuing radiation episode ? We've
had our reports and well .. we've sorted of fixed a few things. In the
meantime, tourism, namely the movement of people into, out of, and
around a country for in the first instance, leisure and recreation,
has all but hemorrhaged.

Crisis management is a label used for containing the fallout from a
catastrophe, and is inherently reactive. This suggests that a
definitive goal is reached whereby the crisis is no longer, and
therefore no longer needs managing. Japan's inbound tourist industry
is deemed to be in crisis as arrivals have plummeted from highs
reached just prior to the quake. The number of Australian visitors to
Japan had been booming in January and February, due in part to the
popularity of ski resorts in Tohoku and Hokkaido. These numbers
plummeted in March also, by about 47 per cent. A few months on,
tourist numbers remain well down, with 36 per cent fewer visitors to
Japan in June compared with a last year and about 42 per cent fewer
from Australia. Domestic tourism has also suffered; Matsushima - one
of the three most famous scenic spots in Japan (along with Kyoto and
Miyajima, near Hiroshima) - has recently been receiving only 20 to 25
per cent of the usual tourist numbers.

There are good explanations, of course. Travelers feel diffident about
holiday-making in a region hit recently by such tragedy. They don't
want to intrude on grief, or perhaps get in the way of relief efforts.
In the case of Australia now, the flavour of the month is the US and
the media is wasting no time in fueling this binge.

The word 'crisis' embodies 'turning point' and little negativity can
be felt in that label. Japan is fond of making reference to
'Phoenix', and rising from the ashes. What better a way to ponder
Japan's touristic future than to look to the past ? A report of a
Tokyo Radio broadcast on September 4, 1945 - about a month after the
Hiroshima bombing and about three weeks after the surrender - quotes
Gyoji Arau, the director of the Japan Tourist Industry Association. He
announced a "new start" for tourism in Japan and urged his members to
pay attention to hotel facilities and supply of souvenirs.

The quake and the ensuing radioactivity crisis gave birth to the
coinage 'flyjin' referring to the flighty 'gaijin', Japan-resident non-
nationals. A derogatory term used of residents who flew the coop, the
label might usefully be applied to a Band-Aid measure Japan is
concocting right now.

Preposterous even to the countries who rely on tourism for their
livelihood - which Japan does not - Japan is proposing to fund the
airfares of 10,000 'overseas tourists' to visit the country in 2012.

The Yomiuri Shinbun has revealed, "In an attempt to boost the tourism
industry hit by the nuclear disaster following the March tsunami, the
Japan Tourism Agency plans to ask would-be travellers to submit online
applications for the free flights, detailing which areas of the
country they would like to visit. The agency will select the
successful entrants and ask them to write a report about their trip
which will be published on the Internet. Tourism authorities hope that
positive reports from travellers about their experiences in Japan will
help ease international worries about visiting the country, the
newspaper said. If approved by the Diet, they will start accepting the
applications via online. After the trip, the winner may be asked to
complete a survey and asked to give suggestions to JTA".

Calamities occur almost on a daily basis now, and see tourist
recipient nations jump into recovery mode. They very quickly go to the
travel trade and sponsor visits to reassure agents of the safety
aspects. The JNTO is currently inviting 60 Australian agents as part
of a campaign to convince the industry that it is a safe holiday
option. Australia has been Japan's sixth most important market behind
South Korea, China, Taiwan, the US and Hong Kong, and numbers have

Turning members of the travelling public into publishers via their
respective social networks is the ostensible aim, as JTA is hoping
that the winners would help promote Japan tourism by using social
media and/or blogs. It is handing out candy in the hope that these
'writers' would 'leave breadcrumbs' to borrow an internet marketing
term, and it courts nasty issues, not the least of which the
possibility - God forbid- that some of these writers would like it
enough to 'overstay'. The communiqué continues by saying, "The
applicants must submit their travel plan in addition to the passport
information. The Japanese government will judge the plan, and
investigate if the applicant has the intention to overstay illegally
or not. If the applicant passes, she or he will given a free round-
trip ticket to Japan"

Not long ago, well thought out PR campaigns would create viral
conditions which would see participants feverishly record their
impressions for all and sundry to see. The award winning 'The Best Job
in the World' campaign done in Queensland is one such example, but
here we have Japan doing something it can ill-afford to do, and
something only it would consider doing. While the statistics confirm
the sources of tourists - and one could argue demand is at a developed
stage - there are hundreds of other countries with populations
unexposed in a latent demand situation. It will be interesting to see
which countries are 'allowed' to send a would-be ambassador, and how
these visitors are spread geographically.

One could also surmise that this is in fact a gigantic PR exercise
designed to go viral and if so all kudos to Japan.

Content is king so they say, whereever it resides. Well-thought out
initiatives are already in place inside Japan such as,
a ranking/reviewing engine which promotes discussion at the grass
roots level thereby swaying consumer behaviour. The constant stream of
items gives a feeling of activity and effervescence, and with
stringent quality control bolsters credibility. Unlike the 'one-off
hit' which Japan is considering, this approach feeds off itself and
creates momentum which endures, something Japan desperately needs
rather than a Band-Aid.

Begging the world's public to produce content, stealing or borrowing
it from other sites raises the 'artificial' flag very quickly and
would do more harm than good.

Japan is nothing if not resilient. Arrivals into Japan will quickly
spot the two mottoes 'gambaro Japan' and 'Beautiful resilient Japan'
which hail this, but much much more thought needs to go into campaigns
which are poised to indebt the Japanese taxpayer even more. High level
assemblies such as the WTTC Global Summit to be held in Tokyo April
2012 will see lesser meetings held in Sendai to focus on risk and
crisis management, with the WTTC President saying "The recovery of
Japan is one of the most compelling issues facing global travel and

Robert Scott

T 0415.140.430 Vodafone
T 0413.363.135 Optus
02.8014.8229 ext. 878
Skype: rbtsct

Monday, September 19, 2011

Neglected shrines

Not all shrines are equally well loved. Indeed, the landscape is dotted with Shinto markers that are returning to nature. Sometimes, this return is subtle -- a gentle submission to the force of gravity. In other instances, it can be rather shocking -- Good God! What is that?

On this shrine, one of the katsuogi*, the ornaments on the ridge of the roof is all skew. One wonders if anybody is ever going to be moved to fix it.

* Among the characteristic features of shrine architecture, the ornamentation of the roof with chigi and katsuogi is the most unique and striking to foreign visitors. For the shrine worshipper these add a peculiarly mystic quality to the atmosphere. The chigi were originally formed by an extension of the end beams of the roof which cross at both ends of the ridge and continue upward at an angle for several feet. The short logs, which are now made of finished wood and taper at each end, are called katusogi, because of their resemblance to the shape of the dried fish (katsuo-bushi).
From Shinto the Kami Way by Sokyo Ono

Visit Japan Card - Enjoy yourself in Japan

The Japan Tourism Agency has begun a discount service, presumably for foreign tourists. The Agency has a web page about it with its usual bad translation and oddities like double-byte 'rice mark' asterisks which aren't displayed properly on foreign PCs. The card can be printed, emailed to your iPhone, or downloaded as an Android app. The cards are also being given away at tourist information offices - I picked one up at the information centre in Dogo.

JTB in the UK is sort of giving the impression that the card is sort of exclusive to them, without actually saying say so.

There's a PDF which lists all of the currently affiliated businesses and tourist sites. Ehime has about 25, one of which is the "Kurushima Strait fast flowing stream watching the tide ship". If they had employed a native speaker to translate that, it would have come out differently.

Since there don't seem to be any terms and conditions attached to use of these cards, it will be interesting to see how businesses choose to erm ... discriminate ... between (or against) users. As a resident, will I be allowed to use it? Will my Japanese wife? And my 'half' son? This should be interesting.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Itami Airport wine and sake shops

Returning from a recent trip to Sydney, Australia, I passed through Itami Airport in Osaka. The airport has scores of attractive shops, but two booze shops especially caught my eye for their thoughtful and intense presentation.

The sake shop looks almost like a museum or art gallery with its bottles presented as precious artefacts.

However, the shop has a very practical aspect for 100 yen, a vending machine will serve you a shot of one of about 40 different sakes from the Kansai region, which you can taste on the spot. That's the wall-sized machine on the left in the photo below.

The shop features many traditional elements such as the country farmhouse 'stairs n' storage' behind the counter, a serving lady in Japanese clothes, and the sake brewery's evergreen bush symbol hanging in the entrance.

The colourful menu board outside and the very well-stocked open fridge are more modern touches.

After hovering about pondering the joys of sake, I was then induced to think about wine, by Messrs. Gracias. Quite a broad swathe of travellers were likewise engaged.
At the back of the shop is a little counter serving a selection of wines and snacks. Two businessmen were twirling and sniffing at large glasses of red.

The wines come with a personal introduction and a photo of the vintner. This doesn't apply to all of them, but the shopkeeper has obviously made considerable effort to achieve reasonable coverage in this regard.

In some cases, the wine is even wired this wine comes with dedicated QR-type code for wines. Download the app and point your smartphone at the picture of the grapes, and you could read about the wine on your phone.

The story-telling and social integration goes even further. The shopkeeper has carefully prepared a display that links the wine with a successful and trendy manga for adults. This creates a very engaging appeal.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Kokura Gion Daiko Festival

I was in Kokura for the last day of the Gion Daiko (Drum) Festival. Groups perform in various streets of the city with drums and small hand cymbals, while many of the public don yukata to watch them.

The Self Defence Force marching band was also getting about playing marching music on the move, and Japanese pop songs when they halted.

Even the very young take part in the drumming. They go at it until they flop.

A drama with drums and flutes is played out in the shrine inside the castle grounds.

Some groups depart from the castle pulling wheeled festival carts mounted with drums.

It's mostly girls and young ladies who wear yukata, but some stylish young men are seen wearing them too.

The drumming goes on constantly and can be heard everywhere.

Not all groups are the same. As soon as this group set up its drums and flags, a file of policemen appeared and surrounded them, gradually blocking them off from the audience. Presumably they are one of the 'antisocial elements', maybe be bosozoku or yakuza in training.

This group were pretty rockin'.

The drumming went on after dark. This crew was taking apart their wagon at 8pm before adjourning for drinks under a tree in the local park.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Around Kokura and Mojiko

At the end of a row of warehouses is a vision of Byzantium. Or maybe Venice. It turns out to be a very grandiose wedding establishment.

Tanga Market has some of the scruffiest shops I've ever seen. Next to this unappealing meat shop is an even more unappealing whale meat shop.

Some parts of Kokura are glamorous and new...

...others are not particularly glamorous or new.

Kokura seems to have more than its fair share of very naughty children. Well, it was very hot.

There's a lot of steel around Kokura. The Sumitomo steelworks raises its chimneys behind a heap of scrap metal.

In the docks areas, everything has its number. "Please tie up your ship, the No.18 I believe, at No. 46, and put your goods in Nos. 7 and 9".

And if your goods or ship should catch fire, here's the fireboat.