David Blecken
Jun 25, 2018

Japan's Top 100 Brands for 2018

Domestic manufacturing giants stand their ground while foreign tech firms extend their lead.

Panasonic at CES (Photo: David Becker/Getty Images via AFP)
Panasonic at CES (Photo: David Becker/Getty Images via AFP)

Panasonic stood firm at the top of Japan’s Top 100 Brands ranking for another year, while moving up two places to third regionally. The incremental improvement in brand perception is encouraging for a company that has recently been making an effort to promote innovation by fostering idea development at a more junior level and exploring collaboration with outside parties.

Still, Tony Harris, CEO of BBDO Japan, attributed Panasonic’s staying power to its “heritage and ubiquity rather than any major innovation push”. He said reputation for quality combined with strong distribution goes a long way. 

The same could be said for all Japan’s top five brands, which remained the same as last year: Apple, Sony, Meiji and Morinaga. Apple also remains the closest challenger to the top regional brand, Samsung. As unlikely as it seems, Xiaomi made some headway, entering Japan’s top 1000 at 845 (regionally it stands at 128).

Foxconn-owned Sharp climbed four places to sixth in Japan while remaining comfortable at 31 regionally. Despite steps to become more joined-up globally and upgrade its creative processes, Shiseido slipped four places to 10 in Japan and 12 places to 47 regionally. In the sportswear sector, Nike and adidas drifted further from the top 10, to 19 and 33 respectively. New entrants in the retail space included home supplies companies Nitori (a domestic Ikea equivalent) at 57, Ikea itself at 89, and Muji at 92. Ikea is understood to be looking to reposition itself to be more competitive in a market where it has typically struggled in business terms.

Amazon continued to gain favour both in Japan (up from 26 to 13) and regionally (up from 43 to 23). The US tech giant’s ascent is at the continued expense of Rakuten, which moved down seven to 56 at home and four to 331 regionally.

Amazon appears to have benefited from clear branding that emphasises the role it plays in everyday life, backed up with formidable usability and service (although with growing environmental awareness, users may come to question the company's sometimes wasteful packaging policy). Its core business under pressure, Rakuten is now branching out into other sectors including travel (in partnership with HomeAway) and telecommunications, where it is building a standalone mobile network to take on Japan’s dominant operators NTT Docomo, SoftBank and AU, which ranked first, second and third respectively in the country’s mobile sector.

Elsewhere in the technology sector, Google also extended its lead over domestic rival Yahoo Japan, coming top in its category and moving up from 28 to 15 in the overall country ranking (regionally it stands at seven). In the social media sphere, Twitter found new energy, moving up 29 places to dominate the category at 74. The brand has recently tried to court 30-something professionals, who it last year defined as an untapped audience. Line moved up from 162 to 155. The service functions as an ecosystem akin to China’s WeChat in Japan. It has struggled to replicate that model internationally however, and regionally it fell from 250 to 308.

Unsurprisingly, Instagram continued to make headway, moving from 239 to 203. Facebook fared less well. Regionally, it didn’t move from 26, but in Japan it plunged from 98 to 131. It’s not clear whether this is linked to the company’s recent scandals around data usage. More likely, the fall in perception is indicative of changing user demands as eyeballs shift to visually-oriented, more obviously inspiring content. Speaking of visual content, Netflix entered the ranking this year at 206, having invested heavily in content tailored to a Japanese audience.

Despite having a very limited presence in Japan, Uber continued to perform well, climbing three places on last year to 26. The ride sharing pioneer has pulled back from an overly aggressive market entry and is now looking to grow in partnership with local taxi operators, rather than trying to lock horns with them. Airbnb also climbed the table by 61 places to 399. The travel innovator is entering a new, in some ways more challenging, phase in Japan following the announcement of official home sharing regulation in June and an increase in activity from local players looking to make use of Japan’s many vacant properties.

Among automotive brands, Toyota dominated both in Japan (moving up seven to 48) and regionally (68). It far outstripped Nissan, which fell 10 to 171 at home and stood at 471 regionally. Both companies are trying to reposition themselves as ‘mobility’ providers, Toyota touting “mobility for all” and Nissan “intelligent mobility”. The term is still a pretty vague concept, but both carmakers are pushing their rental services as an alternative to ownership. Here again Toyota is winning, with its Rentacar service landing at 91 and Nissan Rental at 177. A sub-survey as part of this report showed that Japanese consumers view Toyota as the strongest brand to originate from their country.

Certain brands that are currently making waves, such as Mercari, which just launched a $1.2 billion IPO, are not yet part of the ranking. Dr Philip Sugai, professor of marketing at Doshisha Business School, sees the concept of reducing waste, and more socially and environmentally conscious consumption, which this online flea market embodies, as an important growth area for Japan.

Japan’s aging, and as a result increasingly less mobile, population means the broader ecommerce sector still has plenty of room to grow. Takahiro Minotani, planning director at Geometry Global Japan, said those in their 60s are adapting to technology, which is fueling that sector and in turn the credit card industry. A common thread tying things together, and in part evidenced by the growing acceptance of low-cost Chinese brands like Xiaomi, is greater value consciousness. Minotani suggests in this environment, brand names may hold less sway than they once did. 

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