Is it possible to sell a car without any publicity or marketing? The Japanese car industry seems to manage. This is simply because in Japan marketing doesn’t exist. You don’t believe me? Why don’t you read this interesting piece written by Robert E. Peterson, a manager who worked for Toyota for more than 30 years (this is how his profile reads on Linkedin). According to Peterson, in Japan, marketing has only a secondary role in the decision making process of a business model. He says this is true for 3 reasons.
This first one smacks of the incredible—there is no Japanese word for “marketing”. Because of this, notwithstanding various attempts at explaining the concept of marketing, it ends up being perceived as something which is closer to market research or promotional selling. Thus, it’s difficult for the term “marketing” to be fully understood by Japanese interlocutors.
The second reason has historical connections. During the Edo period (1603-1868), Peterson writes, the social order, shinokosho, was created in Japan. Shinokosho divided Japanese society into four distinct social classes. The samurai were at the top as great moral examples to be followed. Farmers held second place, as the producers of food; artisans were third as the creators of utensils and various objects; and finally, marketing were in last place, because they generated riches without actually producing anything.
The third reason is the educational system. Marketing is hardly taught in Japanese universities, and, when it is, it’s taught poorly. Japanese professors don’t have the marketing experience of their western colleagues, and Japanese companies don’t sponsor any kind of training programs in marketing. That isn’t all. Employees who want to climb the corporate ladder don’t have the possibility of doing so through a marketing department. It’s not unusual to find that even the biggest companies in Japan don’t have a CMO, and that they prefer to delegate any marketing issues to external marketing agencies.
Peterson uses the concrete example of the launch of the iPod. Apple marketing simply said, “iPod. One thousand songs in your pocket.” A Japanese company would have used this description: “Today we are introducing a new, portable music player called the Easy-Carry XVZ-22R. It weighs a mere 6.5 ounces, is about the size of a shirt pocket, and boasts voluminous digital capacity, long battery life, and lightning-fast transfer speeds. We will be introducing many variations of the Easy-Carry XVZ-22R that incorporate different functions and feature different colors.”
The result? For Peterson it’s clear. “The re-make of the film ‘The Last Samurai’ would probably be called ‘The Last Engineer’—a man of great valour and … few clients.” But are we so sure? How can we explain the voluminous sales figures of Japanese products sold in the United States, where marketing is considered a kind of religion? What if the Japanese are right? What if marketing is extremely overrated?
Peterson has a point. However, I’m reminded of the 13 leaders of JAMA (Japanese manufacturers of 2 and 4 wheel vehicles) assembled together on the stage a few hours before the start of the last Tokyo Motor Show. They were united together by the shared philosophy of monozukuri: the pursuit of the excellence of a product and the consistent improvement of the quality and the production processes of the product.
United together by this philosophy, they were able to start again after the terrible disaster at Fukushima and the flood in Thailand (where they have production facilities). All of this without knowing anything about marketing.