TOKYO - Kyoko Matsushita leads Essence, a digital media specialist recently acquired by GroupM, in Japan and Asia-Pacific. In this interview, she explains why Japanese marketers are making new demands from their agencies, and why she is not afraid to make a few enemies in her quest to build understanding of new technologies.
Matsushita joined Essence in 2014 and is based in Tokyo. Having grown up in the US and Europe, she has extensive experience on both the agency and client sides. Most recently, she worked in the field of mobile gaming, where she led Gree’s global expansion. Her move back to marketing was helped by the emphasis Essence puts on proprietary tools: 25 percent of its employees are engineers. Japan is responsible for the bulk of Essence’s revenue in Asia, where it works with clients such as Google.
Do you agree that Japan is behind in terms of data use?
If compared with the US, it’s true that Japan is behind because of infrastructure. A lot of marketers are still shown data [by their agencies] that says they reached x number of people, but they don’t know the quality [of that reach]. A person can see the same ad 20 times. On paper you’ve reached them 20 times, but would they convert to buy something? Probably not because they’ve been over-exposed, which leads to a negative impression.
Tracking is becoming more and more feasible. You can look at viewability. You can say this person looked at an ad, but also that they watched it for x seconds at x time, so you can know if they engaged with it or not. And you can use technology to see if an ad was safely delivered to an audience. A lot of marketers are now demanding this kind of quality measurement. Is it possible? Yes. But you need to partner with publishers. You need certain tools to make sure tracking happens, but a lot of marketers probably don’t know about these tools.
Why only now?
Consumer behaviour has driven this. TV was always the main medium and it was all about reaching the masses. Now, consumers spend much less time on TV and more time on mobile and tablets. Time spent online in a market like China is higher, but there is definitely an upward trend in Japan—much more so than for TV. So marketers are being asked [by their companies] why they’re still spending 70 to 80 percent on TV and just 20 percent on digital.
More and more, marketers are realising the place to communicate is through mobile. So in this shift in the way people spend their time, we need to understand what triggers them to take action. For example, in the morning, people might be looking for information but not buying; once they finish work, they might go back to that information and close the transaction. Understanding those micro-moments is critical.
What has held back the adoption of programmatic technology in Japan?
Japan is known as a country where marketers are less open to programmatic planning and buying due to a lack of inventory. But actually it’s mature enough to buy key premium inventories—the numbers show it. There’s a gap in reality between this and marketers’ thinking. For the shift to really happen is a question of education, and publishers also need to communicate that their inventory is available. It requires multiple parties to discuss what’s out there and how to deliver. This is where the digital agency comes in—but in Japan, a lot of digital agencies don’t proactively promote programmatic because they don’t know if it will have a good end result. Someone has to be at the frontier to show there’s a return. Case studies need to be out there to get people to say, ‘OK, I want to try’. In the US, 60 percent of media is programmatic. It’s not good or bad—it just takes time. Marketers need assurance.
What are the biggest hurdles for marketers in getting up to speed with new technology like this?
A lot of marketers don’t know what they can access in terms of data. I’m surprised sometimes. They don’t realise that in digital it’s not just about set KPIs, that there are lots of small things you can do to improve the quality of a campaign. It’s my responsibility to let marketers know the things they should be looking at and ask agencies to deliver beyond simple metrics. These are things I want people to understand in Japan specifically. Even in the digital space, there’s still the issue of transparency. There is a grey zone with kickbacks and rebates; there’s a culture where you don’t ask and don’t show. If marketers spend US$1 million on digital, they don’t know exactly how it’s being spent and their return on it. But that’s not going to be sustainable. I know I’m going to make some enemies. But marketers are looking for [change], and you need to be able to respond to it.
Where do you see things in a year’s time?
Marketing success is not just about media. Media and creative need to work hand-in-hand to have successful results. In a year’s time, marketers will start to look for specialists in both the media and creative space and expect them to work together. HP [for example] have made it clear that’s what they want. I think there will be a shift that will accelerate. Again, it’s an assurance thing.