2019.4.8 Interview

How to be the “company chosen” in the era of change. Part 1.

Even if a company understands what branding is and has drawn up a strategy for it, there are still only a few companies that are actively investing money into their branding. 

Why can’t some companies effectively brand themselves? Is the changing business climate too tough? Yoshiki Sekino, Imajina Inc. CEO, and Yutaka Hamaguchi, Bigbeat Inc. CEO, held a discussion on the topic of branding. 

Without good branding, you can’t find good people. 

Hamaguchi (H): Mr. Sekino, It’s been about 2 years since we first met when I asked you to speak at Bigbeat LIVE (2017).

Sekino (S): Has it been that long already? Time really flies. 

H: It really does. In these two years, the business climate has really changed as well. Today, I want to talk with you about those changes in these 2 years from my company's marketing point of view and your company's branding point of view. 

S: That’s a very big topic. (laughs) Where should we start?

H: For example, from the view point of management, “hataraki-kata kaikaiku” (work-style reform) has become a very big topic in many different industries. In order to change the way we work, we have to use different management styles than we did before to promote the growth of business. 
We decided to hold Bigbeat LIVE, a marketing event, in 2017 and 2018 because of the idea of “changing management through marketing.” 

At just a glimpse, marketing and changing the way we work probably look like two different topics. But, thinking about “accelerating the speed of change” and the flow of this change, the topic of “work-style” comes up. In order to resolve this problem, we have to think of a new style of management. I think it is possible to achieve this through the approach of “changing management through marketing.”

In this changing business climate, how do you think the role and significance of branding has changed? What are your feelings about the changes?
S: Just looking at labor, recruitment has become a much harder fight for companies in these 2 years. For example, even a top listed company on the Tokyo Stock Exchange will have problems finding good students to hire if they can’t effectively brand themselves. Not only BtoC companies, but BtoB must also convey the value of its brand or nobody will notice them.

Right now, we are holding recruitment events at my company. We make sure to not only have the HR department, but management involved in these events as well. Also, it’s important to make sure the contents of management’s explanations make the students say “that’s interesting." If it doesn't, then they won’t choose your company even if you offer them a job. A lot of times members of management have a tendency to give complicated and hard to understand conceptual talks. Before branding, that is the first thing you should be careful about. (Laughs)

H: I will be! (Laughs)
It’s very hard to convey a company’s philosophy and value. But that’s what branding is. If you think this way, then recruitment is probably the ultimate branding.  

The reason why even 100-year-old companies can’t effectively brand themselves.

H: Conveying your company’s philosophy is much easier said than done.  

As a matter of fact, I participated in a management class last year. At this class I had the chance to talk with members of management at companies that were close to a hundred years old. 
But, even at these big old companies, much of management has not realized the important of conveying the value of their companies to the outside world. Even with that much history and that much of a story, branding is still very hard. The idea of conveying the value of your brand doesn’t seem to be very present either.  
Why is this?

S: One reason is they aren’t aware. And for those unaware just saying “branding” won’t make them understand.

For example, many clients of my company see marketing coming before branding. They have fans of their company. 
After finding customers in the market and raising them to be fans, they don’t often feel the desire to start branding.  

H: Even now, there are still a lot of companies without an awareness for branding? 

S: Not quite. There have been a lot of changings in that regards. 
Those in management who have realized “this era has become very fast paced and we can’t just keep doing the things we did in the past” are increasing. People don’t want to work in companies that have no future. 
With this, it has become the era where management must think about how to make jobs that let employees contribute to the company and feel purpose. And how they can convey that value to possible recruits. 

I know I’m repeating myself, but it has become very important for those in management to recognize these changes. It doesn’t matter how many 10s of years or 100s of years your company has lasted, if you don’t recognize the changes of the era and gain an awareness of marketing and branding, then nothing will improve. 

In order to become a company that will be chosen.

H: If a company has been around for 100 years, then it clearly has a lot of value and a story it can convey. Its really a waste. For example, with a midsized food company, you can still see its business as “contributing to society through food.”  I think it would be really easy to convey to convey its value for an advertising agency.

S: Well “an easy to understand business model” and “conveying an easy to understand value” are two completely different things. For an advertising agency it is about being able to take an unclear company philosophy or value and putting it in an easy to understand phrase. Making the value clear and easy to see. 

On the employee side, because all the work is left to machines, if they don’t somehow add to and gain new skills their careers won’t advance. In this case, all potential recruits will only have salary and the way the company treats its employees to base a decision on. As labor cost has increase, so does the price. If you wanted cheaper labor, then you will probably need to hire foreign employees. That was the state of affairs until recently. 

But, from this spring, many companies will begin hiring non-Japanese employees. Because of the labor shortage, companies see the importance of keeping their labor forces at the same level. If you make the work worth doing as well as convey the value of working at your company now and in the future, then you won’t be able to hire non-Japanese labor to support your business.  

H: Foreign workers also of course want to work at a company and in a country with a future.

S: For these reasons, along with work-style reform, companies must invest in branding and marketing if they are to survive. That is the current era we live in. 

H: Companies will only be further affected by the wave of change as time goes on. 
I want to dig deeper into what branding and marketing can do in these new changes. As a matter of fact, at my own company we have been working on internal branding. I also want to exchange opinions and ideas on that subject as well. 

(to be continued)