By Abby Hall
Japan is world-renowned for having unique and highly specialised domestic markets. These markets exist as a result of domestic businesses recognising and fulfilling the demands that Japanese consumers create.
Many Japanese businesses operate solely in internal markets due to the fact that the products and services they offer have been highly targeted at a unique consumer base which does not exist outside their domestic sphere. Japan’s cherry blossoms, or ‘sakura’ that bloom in early springtime, provide an array of unique Japan-only opportunities for both domestic and international businesses.
Limited edition ‘sarkua’ goods are produced specifically for this season and even well-established companies alter their operations and designs to meet the increased demand for related products and services. But how exactly does this information benefit UK businesses?
By providing examples of marketing and operation strategies from global companies operating in Japan, this article will now shed some light into the potential opportunities that exist during this beautiful and beloved season.
Hanami Season and Japan’s niche makets
For centuries, the blossoming of sakura trees across Japan has been looked upon not just as a sign of springtime, but also a symbol new beginnings and the fragility of life.
To make the most of this brief but enchanting phenomenon, people across the country gather at parks and open spaces to ‘watch the flowers’ or hold ‘hanami’ parties. Over the years, hanami has become a huge part of Japanese culture, where family and friends come together to hold sakura-themed picnics, BBQ’s and parties under the branches of the cherry blossom.
This short-lived occurrence can mean big business for companies who can take advantage of the season to sell limited-edition and sakura-themed products. Both domestic and international companies in Japan are using sakura season as a means of increasing sales and brand recognition by adjusting their marketing strategies to align with the theme of Hanami as well as presenting their merchandise as being a once-in a lifetime deal that perfectly matches the transience of the season. Whether it is niche products or big brand names, sakura season brings about very distinctive opportunities that no company can afford to miss out on.
Take Coca Cola for example. Established in 1957 after several decades of highly restricted post-war trade policies, Coca Cola Japan has certainly become the most well-known drinks brand and without a doubt a common household name.
Its biggest debut after the rising of government sanctions in 1956 would be the Tokyo Olympics of 1964, where sales of Coca Cola doubled each year until the Sapporo Winter Olympics in 1972. One can only imagine the plans the company has in store for its collaborations with the impending Tokyo 2020 Olympics.
Coca Cola also happens to be one of the first drinks ever sold inside the infamous Japanese vending machines and remains one of the most profitable products inside them today.
Unlike its traditional roots, the Atlanta-born drink has taken on a whole new character here in Japan, especially during Cherry blossom season. As winter turns into spring, Coca Cola bottles and cases across the country become adorned with pink sakura blossoms and marketing slogans to perfectly capture the spirit of the season.
Slimmer bottles are even produced specifically for cherry blossom-viewing picnics, as they’re easier to hold while taking pictures. This springtime design is designed to represent all the good things that come in spring such as sakura, University graduation and entrance ceremonies and the Hina Matsuri Festival (Japan’s traditional ‘Girls Day’) that arrives in early March.
During this time, you can see Coca Cola on all forms of social media as the charming limited-time packaging is popular with younger consumers who view it as a lifestyle brand.
The changing face of brands
Similar to Coca Cola’s surprising Japanese persona, Whiskey brand Jack Daniels has also experienced a peak in sales during sakura season. Hanami parties and picnics are well known opportunities for co-workers, friends and family to let off a little steam and crack open a few beers while appreciating the air of spring.
In fact, Hanami season has become so synonymous with drinking alcoholic beverages that even liquor companies across the country join in with the festivities and Jack Daniels is no exception.
After the company’s successful, “It’s Jack” promotion during 2017, people were wondering how the company would fare during 2018 and exactly what tricks they had up their sleeve. The “black blossom” limited edition sakura-themed box that made it to shelves in February 2018 amazed customers across Japan not only because it was the first time that the brand has changed its packaging to meet the needs of the domestic market, but because coming from Tennessee, the image of Jack Daniels is considered as being quite masculine and raw- contrasting greatly with the Japanese springtime flower.
However, their marketing efforts were not in vain, the ‘black blossom’ box was highly successful and helped to change opinions about whiskey and its related drink as not being suitable for the season’s festivities.
Encouraging Japanese students
A divine miracle occurred the moment Kit Kat arrived in Japan back in 1973, after consumers realised that the brand name ‘Kit Kat’ sounds very similar to the Japanese phrase ‘definitely win!’.
For this reason, Kit Kat became an expected good luck charm for students taking high school and university entrance exams and the timing of these exams in early spring correlated perfectly with Japan’s cherry blossom season. It wasn’t long before the company capitalised on the opportunity to combine both events and developed their limited edition sakura-themed Kit Kat made with their own motivating messages for students taking the notoriously difficult examinations.
Phrases such as ‘Do your best!’ and ‘Kit Kat supports you!’ are etched into each chocolate bar specifically for this season, and Nestle reports a huge increase in sales every year as well as difficulty meeting the sudden and ever-growing demand. As such, the brand has become accepted as an integral part of the exam period, springtime and a representation of victory in Japan.
As far as positive brand association in Japan, Kit Kat are without a doubt reaping the rewards of clever marketing strategies which take into account the local context of their brand.
Japan’s unique springtime phenomenon of Hanami brings about remarkable opportunities for companies that look to capitalise on the brief but lucrative season.
Limited-edition goods, changes to product branding and marketing as well as different methods of customer engagement are all examples of the way international companies approach the season in preparation for increased demand of these specially designed, Japan-only, once-in-a-lifetime products.
It goes without saying that this season is not to be overlooked and while it only comes about once a year, it has proven time and time again to be well worth the wait both for companies who desire more brand recognition and consumers who demand goods that reflect their ever changing surroundings. Any company, whether it be domestic or international, has the potential to utilise this exciting season as a means to promote new products increase brand awareness or even change previous assumptions about what your brand represents.