David Blecken
Jun 27, 2018

Q&A: We should expect more category shifting in Japan

US tech giants are hastening diversification among Japanese brands, says McKinsey's former APAC design head.

Rakuten founder, chairman and CEO Hiroshi Mikitani at MWC in February: The company recently received approval to become Japan's fourth major telco. (Source: Lluis Gene / AFP)
Rakuten founder, chairman and CEO Hiroshi Mikitani at MWC in February: The company recently received approval to become Japan's fourth major telco. (Source: Lluis Gene / AFP)

As part of this year's Asia's Top 1000 Brands coverage, Campaign asked Jared Braiterman, the founder of design consultancy Social Models and former APAC VP of experience design for McKinsey & Company, what the advance of brands like Amazon and Google means for Japan. He said these brands are challenging domestic players in new ways, noting Amazon's move into TV, and Apple and Google's into payments. Braiterman sees their presence encouraging further diversification among Japanese brands. In one example this week, Panasonic made a move into the home-sharing business.

How do you see the presence of US tech brands in Japan evolving?

I think US tech companies are now playing a role in Japanese people’s daily lives. They are providing a service people are embracing, whether it’s shopping, video content or social networks, which 10 years ago only Japanese companies provided. I would say the only Japanese (tech) company that really competes for Japanese people’s attention is Line.

Jared Braiterman

What does this mean for domestic Japanese brands?

Rakuten is now trying to compete as a telco provider and that suggests a certain dynamism. I think there’s now an opportunity for Japanese companies to go across categories, and I think we’ll see more shifting, from shopping to home entertainment or from recruiting to payments.

How meaningful are the efforts of Japanese consumer-electronics companies to innovate? What stands out for you?

Sony’s Aibo pet is a great way to showcase the company’s AI abilities. It’s a sign of them trying something new and showing off their capabilities. It’s shocking, the emotional connection it can create.

Is it more than a gimmick?

Absolutely. I think these ways of interacting with AI will be part of our future, and it’s exciting to see Sony being at the forefront of this. I think this is an important product launch for them. I can say that colleagues in New York and San Francisco are very curious, and I haven’t seen as much interest in [a Sony product] since the Walkman.

Separately, I was astounded to see Panasonic become a sponsor of Rainbow Pride. They’re really pushing for inclusion and diversity. It’s a big change on 10 years ago. Then it was all foreign brands, but now there are more Japanese brands involved, and that’s very encouraging.

In our Top 1000 Brands study, Panasonic ranks as the top brand in Japan followed by Apple. What do you think it would take for the balance to tip in Apple’s favour?

I’m not an Apple fanboy, but I think it’s a question of trying new things like payments, so it’s the same theme as before—category hopping. They’ve invested a lot in Japan so maybe they can try a new business there. In my mind Apple makes luxury devices. I don’t think they’re as dynamic as some of the other US tech companies—Google, Amazon, Facebook. Even Microsoft has come back precisely because it’s embraced a more open attitude. But they [Apple] market well and have a great brand image.

Campaign Japan

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