On August 1st, 2018 we held our Bigbeat LIVE seminar at Kioi Conference in Tokyo. This report will include information on the contents of our speakers at last year’s event. Our presenters were Ms. Sora Yamakawa from NK Agri Inc, Mr. Takafumi Kurahashi from SmartHR Inc, Mr. Kotaro Nojima from WingArc 1st Inc, and, as our host, Mr. Ichiro Niwayama from Symphony Marketing.
As the host of our 1st Session, Mr. Ichiro Niwayama, who has around 30 years of experience in B2B marketing, took to the stage as one of his favorite songs, Eikichi Yazawa’s “GET UP,” played.
Since the theme of our 1st Session was “making marketing the best tool for management,” Mr. Niwayama asked the speakers to rather not “just tell cool success stories.”
“Cool success stories aren’t interesting. You can listen to those success stories anywhere, and it won’t motivate the listeners. All of us are in the same tough B2B marketing field. Stories that make you feel motivation and an urge to work harder have a much bigger impact. Cool success stories that just satisfy the listener aren’t enough. I want the presenters to show the struggle and fight they had to go through in their stories. I want to hear stories that make us think, ‘from tomorrow I’m going to take on new challenges.’”
So, for those of us in the B2B marketing field, what kind of struggles are going on?
Ms. Sora Yamakawa is the VCM (Value Chain Management) sales promotion and PR director at NK Agri Inc. She first started working in 2013 at Cybozu Inc. in the PR and advertising department. In 2017, she joined NK Agri Inc.
NK Agri Inc. was established in 2009 as a venture company of Noritsu Koki Co. They grow and sell their vegetable produce in a plant factory as well as run research. Their main product is their “Koikurenai” carrot, which they engineered in their plant factory. This carrot is different from the usual carrot and has higher levels of nutrients and Lycopene (giving it a dark orange color) and is sweeter.
This carrot was engineered at the same company where all 15 employees except the company president had no experience in the agricultural field. But it was because of this fact the members of NK Agri understood what flavor and nutrients consumers valued in their vegetable produce.
Now they are aiming to deliver vegetables that won’t lose their original value through VCM (value chain management). In agriculture, pricing of vegetables is not determined by the evaluation by the consumers, but instead by the current distribution and supply in the market.
When demand looks like it will be high, NK Agri must respond by increasing their crop of vegetables. When there are issues and problems with the growing process it affects the sales. They must analyze the information they have on their current crop and demand in order to determine the price of their produce. In order to follow through with this consumer-focused valuation, they must also turn the various seed and vegetable farmer’s produce as well the distribution into a value chain. From this value chain, they are aiming for an “agricultural marketing” that allows them to sell their produce on the marketplace without it losing its value.
Ms. Yamakawa is the coordinator of the entire value chain. At the same time, she is taking on the challenge of building a bridge between the producers and the marketplace through B2B marketing. In order to find new produce to grow and research breakthroughs, she is considering cooperating with universities and corporations, implementing a distribution network, and applying a standard price on the produce.
Using Facebook, Ms. Yamakawa is uploading pictures and videos of the farmers work. She also created the Yasai Somurie Community, where she can speak about the quality of the produce and recipes.
In the history of agriculture, this is the first time this has been attempted. Naturally it is not an easy and smooth path to take. In order to proceed along this route, “for the future of agriculture” become a common saying within her company. “We gathered people who understood this saying and are moving towards our goal step by step. This is the agricultural marketing that NK Agri is challenging itself to see through.” NK Agri will continue to challenge itself and struggle to see this goal through.
Next, Mr. Takafumi Kurahashi, the COO of SmartHR Inc. took to the stage. SmartHR is a venture company that developed the “SmartHR” cloud software that is specialized for personnel management and labor relations.
SmartHR is making personnel management and labor relations more efficient while also adding to the effort to be paperless. By the end of July 2018, SmartHR was working with 15,000 different companies. Their business has rapidly grown through a high number of inbound sales and a short and efficient lead time.
The marketing mission of SmartHR is to continue speeding the growth of business. To ensure this acceleration, they are continuing to open new channels and invest heavily in marketing. In 2016, they started operational marketing on a serious scale, as well as starting their own magazine, SmartHR Mag. In the era of hataraki-kata kaikaku (work style reform) and the implementations of various marketing and PR activities the brand’s profile has risen significantly.
Within these activities, there have been an uncountable amount of failures. From TV commercials to online advertisements they have invested millions of yen, but there weren’t any results. Even when they participated in events in the food and beverage industry where users have increased, they didn’t see good results. They had a booth and implemented an e-mail marketing campaign, but it didn’t work. In the food and beverage industry in Japan, fax and direct mail are still used as a common and important form of communication. Knowing this, SmartHR focused on those forms of communication and sent out direct mail, but they barely received any replies. Mr. Kurahashi told the audience, “We are pushing forward with the change to paperless, and when we tried to use paper forms of marketing, we failed.”
Despite this, they continued to challenge themselves in the ways they market their product. The reason for this? Their company culture. While taking risks they follow the PDCA cycle and test strategies through trial and error.
He told the audience, “Our company values self-driving motivation and the 'walk on the wild side' mentality." In this culture, we are allowed to keep succeeding and failing as long as we keep the average ROI at 3.0x. We can focus on succeeding in our individual goals.”
In Mr. Kurahashi’s last remarks he gave the advice, “Make sure the target is known throughout your company. Then make sure everyone learns the results of what you try, so that next time it will be easier to succeed using that knowledge.”
The last speaker to take the stage was Mr. Kotaro Nojima from WingArc 1st Inc. Due to technical difficulties, he had to deal with the struggle of his prepared slides not projecting at first.
After first working in advertising agencies and foreign IT companies, he joined WingArc 1st, which has over 20 years of history. Their technical ability and operational power have positive reputation, and in order to ensure that continues they are trying to revolutionize and strengthen their marketing. What was the results of Mr. Nojima’s struggle? The marketing team which used to be managed under the sales department, has been managed by the company president since July 2018. Under this new role, they are also helping with managing the company.
Mr. Nojima’s strategy was to work with people both in and out the company, focusing on content marketing to create a “market cycle of success.”
“Within our company, the marketing department was not the only department to be involved in marketing activities. The sales and development departments were also apart of the marketing process. For example, in pricing strategy, it is not rare for it to focus more on sales than marketing. This significantly decreases the effectiveness of marketers and narrows their options. There was a time when this wasn’t an issue. But this has now become an established practice, causing not only marketing departments, but also entire organizations to be ineffective at marketing. I think that breaking down the “unconscious bias” has become increasingly important.”
In order to end this problem, WingArc 1st started their own online news platform Data no Jikan (The Time of Data). It has become a channel that they release contents that are beneficial and open to the public. It has become well known both in WingArc 1st and to the public.
“By deepening the connection and communication with the sales division, we can quickly gather information and stories. Things that look interesting to customers then quickly turned into contents for the website. Through this process, the sales division has come to see Data no Jikan as a tool for them to use. Because of this the collaboration between the sales and marketing departs has deepened. Despite the website only being established a year and a half ago, it has changed our way of marketing and business.”
Mr. Nojima stated “whenever you try something new, there will be resistance and an unwillingness from members of the company who have been there a long time. You will most likely have to do it alone at first. But through this struggle, after a year or so, something will change, and you won’t be alone anymore.” In his last remarks Mr. Nojima told the audience “in the time between now and the next Bigbeat LIVE seminar, try something new.”
After our speakers finished their sessions, Mr. Niwayama explained the reason he choose “struggle” as the theme of the 1st Session. It was because in order to market freely, you must struggle and train yourself in the rough world of B2B marketing.
Mr. Niwayama told the audience, “I can say with a lot of confidence that I am a professional marketer. I can market for any company, in any country and succeed. It is because of this confidence that I can truly market freely. I want everyone here to become the same way.”
He then gave the audience three new goals to start working towards from tomorrow.
The first was to read books. He encouraged the audience “read the classics as well.”
There are tons of classic marketing books available in Japanese. Books such as Igor Ansoff’s Strategic Management. Or authors such as Everett Rodgers, who taught the diffusion of innovations theory. He told the audience to read Theodore Levitt, David Aaker, and other famous classic marketers. He said that now more than ever in the current marketing climate, many of us will understand the theories they teach.
The second goal was to change jobs. He lectured the audience, “It is your responsibility to place yourself in an environment that will allow you to grow your skills the most.”
If you want to gain a lot experience in a short time, the best route is to go into the service side of market consulting. For those of you that want to gain specific and specialized skills and know-how, you should pursue a career on the user side. Mr. Niwayama explained “going through this cycle will help Japanese companies be more successful. All the speakers tonight have changed their jobs and tried new methods and strategies. This is not a coincidence.
The third goal was, after gaining experience, work overseas.
Mr. Niwayama clarified, “If you go abroad, you will understand how far behind Japanese marketing is. In other words, if you don’t go abroad, you won’t understand the difference between Japanese marketing and the rest of the world.”
If you do go abroad, try your best to do it alone. This is the best way to gain the most amount of knowledge and experience as well as connect with new people. Going with another Japanese person will limit your ability to gain this knowledge and these connections. He said, “For those of you worried about your English ability, going alone will still increase your chances of connecting with new people.”
Polish your skills, study, and then struggle. The results of this will be the ability to freely market in the B2B world. In his last remarks he strongly insisted, “The future of B2B marketers is bright!” As the 1st Session of Bigbeat LIVE came to an end, Mr. Niwayama's ending message was about the necessity of "struggle" to truly market freely in B2B.