IKEUCHI ORGANIC Inc., Sales Div. Manager / Towel Sommelier, Takeshi Mutaguchi
Bigbeat LIVE Speaker Interview #5
IKEUCHI ORGANIC Inc. Takeshi Mutaguchi
IKEUCHI ORGANIC Inc. is an Imabari towel (a high-quality Japanese towel) company that makes its products using 100% green energy and makes baby products that have passed the highest safety tests and are safe to be put in babies’ mouth. They provide the products with the highest quality and design.
Takeshi Mutaguchi is the Sales Div. Manager and manages IKEUCHI’s owned media ‘The IKEUCHI People’ and fan community. He is also involved in the creation of advertisements for IKEUCHI.
Before he was a marketer at Amazon and CCC (Culture Convenience Club) where he fought with data when implementing their marketing plans. He says, ‘even if you are unable to gather 100% of the data, it is the mission of a marketer to look at the customers.’ Bigbeat’s Director of Marketing, Mizuki Nogita, was able to talk with Mutaguchi about his views on marketing and data.
The base of marketing should be ‘ to make the customer happy.’
Nogita (N): You were first at a movie production company, then CCC, Amazon Japan, and now you are at IKEUCHI ORGANIC. What have you emphasized during your career?
Mutaguchi (M): When I was a student, I worked a part time job at a movie theater. At that time, I wanted a career in entertainment starting with movies.
At the root of it, I wanted to work a job where I can produce a variety of content. And then using that content I want to make the customer happy. For example, you go and see a movie with someone else, and it makes you feel something, and you are able to meet new people, and other things that can make the viewer happy. I wanted to work a job where I could do something like that.
‘Don’t look at the numbers, look at your customers.’ My time at CCC.
N: Could you tell us how you went from working in movie production to becoming a marketer at CCC?
M: If you are talking about getting content out to your customers, then there are no companies that are better at that than CCC and Amazon. I was also interested in marketing during college and wanted to train at a top-class company.
At first I started in TSUTAYA Shop Buyer, by my own request was moved to TSUTAYA online. I was put in the marketing department.
N: What kind of work did you do?
M: I did the standard marketing that you find at EC websites. I would implement marketing measures based on analyzing ‘How can we sell a lot of products?’ And ‘what products do the consumers want?’
At first, we naturally would use the online data we gathered for our analysis. But CCC is a company that has strong physical shops. So, we started to combine our data from the online and the physical stores and made our marketing strategy.
N: It’s what you would call omnichannel.
M: That’s right. Depending on the item and the timing, people split their buying between online and offline. So, it seems obvious that you have to look at both sets of data.
N: But Amazon is only online right?
M: Yes. (Laughs). I worked as a ‘Site merchandizer’ at Amazon where I was basically a web director and producer. I would look at data and plan the marketing strategy for publishing companies and advise on how they should make the merchandise page.
But whether it is CCC or Amazon, you have to hypothesize on how the customer’s behaviors will change, verify it, and then take action to respond.’ The work that was required didn’t change. During my time at CCC, I would extract data from the database, and I was able to use that skill at Amazon where they had huge sets of data.
A superior of mine at TSUTAYA online would often tell me ‘Don’t look at the numbers, look at your customers. Data is just numbers. But the customer’ change depending on their emotions. So, you have to look at them too.’ So, whether I was at CCC or Amazon, I was trying to take a picture of the customers emotions and not only the data we had. I think the principle didn’t change at either company.
How the IKEUCHI ORGANIC brand was established
N: Could you tell me why you decided to work at IKEUCHI ORAGNIC.
M: There was a time when I wanted a job at a company that made Japanese goods. And I wanted to work at a company where I could confidently face the customer and provide them a good product.
Amazon was really exciting, but there was too much data and was difficult to see the faces of the customers. After 3 years I began to think ‘for whom do I want to make who happy?’
I was introduced to IKEUCHI ORGANIC by someone named Arai from eumo. I was really impressed by them. I never realized there was a company in Japan that was producing a product this natural and considerate to the customer.
At that time, the company only knew who its core users were and I was thought that was such a waste. I thought I could use all the skills I had developed over my career and really contribute. That was 4 years ago.
N: In 2003, IKEUCHI ORGANIC filed for bankruptcy. After that they completely shifted away from OEM production to properly establishing their own brand. And in order to strengthen the imabari towel brand, they hired creative director Kazumi Sato.
Why do you think IKEUCHI ORGANIC was able to successfully brand themselves as an ‘individual?’
M: By involving Kazumi Sato in the branding, IKEUCHI ORGANIC was able to raise the fame of its imabari towels. There are over a hundred companies who manufacture imabari towels and each company differentiates the way they make their towels. But there are a lot of people who thought that only 1 company manufactures imabari towels. Our CEO was posting on social media and in blogs to raise our brand awareness.
From our OEM time we have had very few core fans. But our CEO and other employees have a lot of pride in our product. But you must do branding first before your product can have any power in the market.
Our President, Ikeuchi first worked at Matsushita Electronic where he was the planner for a turn table brand call Technics. He has been involved in manufacturing products that are loved by the customers for a long time now. I think there has been the idea that if you make a good product, then the customer will come to you.
In 2014, we changed our company name from Ikeuchi Towel to IKEUCHI ORGANICS. At the same time, we hired Nagaoka Kenmei to help us with our branding and we established our world view. By changing our name to organic, we were establishing that we committed to making all our products organic.
By focusing on branding instead of focusing on packages and promotions, we were able to separate ourselves from the competition.
We established ourselves as individual.
Even without getting all the data, you can still see your customer’s emotions.
N: After listening to you I think it is easy to say that you have emphasized the value of ‘looking at the customer’ both in your career and at IKEICHI ORGANIC.
M: I think so. At very large companies, they will split the organization up into different divisions. And there are cases where it becomes hard to find the opportunity to see the customers’ faces and hear their voices. But in my case, the office and store are in the same location and I will go and help at the store when they are busy. I also get to talk with the customers during events. I am really happy that I work in an environment where I can hear the customer’s voice.
N: I think it is a little surprising that you hear that companies whose employees are involved in a lot of different type of work do well. Small to mid-sized and start-up companies tend to be more like this.
M: but I think it makes sense. I think that by trying to capture the customers feelings as something for yourself, then it changes things. No matter what the industry is, many people think it is difficult to have a real understanding of how the customer feels. But those who understand the issues are the ones who have the easiest time doing their job.
N: What kind of data is IKEUCHI ORGANIC collecting and analyzing?
M: On the EC side we are using Google Analytic. On the store side we are using the POS data. Using those two we can gain a grasp of our customers. But just like my time at Amazon, there is no way to collect 100% of the available data.
It is of course important to base your actions on facts and numbers. But it is important to know just as much about the customers emotions as it is the numbers. When I am in the store and talking with the customers, I ask ‘where did you learn about IKEUCHI ORGANIC.’
Personally, I don’t think it is right to collect data on a large scale. I have failed a number of times, but I think that making data your main goal will cause you to fall in the future. Even if you can’t get 100% of the data, if you listen to the customer’s voice, you will be able to get some kind of truth out of it.
Marketing that co-creates value with the customer through conveying the brands values.
N: IKEUCHI ORGANIC is currently building a strong fan base, but could you tell me what things you’re are focusing on when distributing information?
M: We are thankfully receiving the support of our fans, but it is not like they are always cheering us on constantly. Depending on the timing, we have waves of support. We do not actively follow it. The goal is for them to buy our products. And if we are constantly pushing them to buy our product, then both parties tire of each other and it becomes an unhealthy relationship.
We don’t just distribute out content that says, ‘we recommend this towel.’ We release content that explains how to properly wash the towels, what the towels are made from, and what kind of people are making the towels. We don’t want to hide anything about our product, so we get the information out there. If we think it is something that the customer would want to know, the we need to make the information accessible to the customer as soon as possible.
N: What is your understanding of the marketing work?
M: I think it is the type of job that Naoyuki Sato advocated for. I think the from now the ‘fan base’ is going to be a necessary element of marketing. I think that caring for your fan base and building a long-term relationship with them is an important part of marketing. And I don’t think this changes between BtoB or BtoC. I don’t think the relationship ends with the customer buying something. I think that is when the relationship begins.
Right now, at IKEUCHI ORGANIC we are currently considering setting up a towel maintenance system. Depending on how you wash and dry the towel, its durability changes drastically. If you want to use your towels for 5 or even 10 years, then we want to help provide the correct maintenance. The end result would be us caring for the customer’s property and building a long-term relationship with them. We don’t just want to sell one towel; we want our customers to use our product over and over again even if it is just for a year. We want to the customer to have the IKEUCHI ORGANIC brand be apart of their everyday life.
From there, because they are reusing one item for a long time, it means that we are saving on the natural resources required to create a new product. We make our products out of organic cotton, but to make one towel, it requires 70 m² of land to grow the cotton. Another mission of our company is that we make long term durable products that cut down on the consumption of natural resources. And we want to share that mission with our customers and create something for the next generation. I also see this as a part of my work as a marketer.
N: Thank you. For your last remarks, could you give a message to those who will be attending Bigbeat LIVE?
M: I think there will be a lot of people who come to the event and think ‘there were a lot of good sessions.’ But it will be a waste if it just ends there. I’m sure the other marketers are saying the same thing, but after the event I think it is important to take action. Don’t just remember what was said or take notes. I want people to start doing something after the event. And don’t worry, you have gained at least one ally in your goal to act, and nothing would make me happier if you were to become a fan of IKEUCHI ORGANIC. (Laughs)
N: Thank you for today.
I use an IKEUCHI ORGAINC towel at home and once you use it you’ll never want to use anything else!
I’m looking forward to your presentation at Bigbeat LIVE.