Japanese Innovation: The machine that changed the world

A little while ago I read a book called The Machine That Changed the World, written in 1990 as a summary of a 5 year $5m MIT research project into the global automobile market. I discovered it while looking for the best description of the most sophisticated, long-term-successful manufacturing organisation & method (of complex technology) the world has ever produced, and I am tempted to believe that this book describes it. In fact I was so inspired I ended up writing my own notes and sharing them with some friends who are experts in manufacturing in order to understand what has happened since 1990. These additional insights are added at the bottom of the notes below. The “machine" in question is, in a word: “Toyota”, and it describes the emergence of their “lean manufacturing” … [Read more...]

The Art of Localising Brands to Japan

Localisation is the process of turning brand communications, like TV ads, websites etc, from their original language and culture into something that works in another market, language and culture. In this post I am going to categorize 3  or 4 archetypal approaches to doing this and use well-known brands to illustrate. Hopefully anyone working in this space or interested in brands - or just global culture in general - can take something from it. I have seen this process from both sides, initially while working in the UK office of a big international agency, where we were the hub, creating and “distributing” campaigns to other markets. But ever since arriving in Japan I have mainly been "on the receiving end" as it were, and it is exacerbated by the fact that Japan really is a … [Read more...]

How good is Japanese customer service, and how bad can it get?

Japan has, I believe, a good image for customer service and I have certainly had numerous conversations over the years with foreigners visiting Japan who have been blown away by the attention to detail, courtesy as well as genuine human kindness. Some of the traditions that set Japan apart are things like beautiful and meticulous gift wrapping in retail stores, similarly delicate presentation of food in restaurants, cleanliness in general,  things running on time, and on a higher level safety and reliability. At the same time I have heard many anecdotes, mostly from foreign residents in Japan, but also sometimes from visitors, telling of mind bogglingly annoying treatment. What’s going on here? Is this another one of Japan’s “contradictions”? Japanese cultural stereotypes This … [Read more...]

Becoming a creative hybrid – Tokyo Memoirs Chapter 5: Otaku Culture Hack

The  fifth post in my “becoming a creative hybrid memoirs” series, describing my experiences growing Alien-Eye, a hybrid creative company in Tokyo which I co-founded in 2004. This chapter covers a period from 2008~11 or so, and explains the success of a long running campaign that hacked into a rich vein of Japanese culture on behalf of an international technology brand. The entire “Tokyo Memoirs” series is collected here. ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++ Our next big endeavor led to our biggest "culture hack" to date, where we tapped into a deep furrow of Japanese entertainment culture, to rejuvenate a tiring brand in the Japanese market place, helping it reclaim top spot in an increasingly crowded market place. Norton, the security software company, had been a pioneer in the first … [Read more...]

Cognition as a Service – a new Hybrid Technology

This is an article I co-wrote with Dudu Noy last December for a "coming in 2014" guest post. Dudu is the CMO of Israeli language technology company, Ginger Software, which my company represents in the Japanese market (Ginger Japan website). So far the prediction has proved very prescient. Ginger has developed a super-smart hybrid technology that combines NLP and statistical algorithms to process all the English that is out there on the web, and using this enormous corpus as a reference, corrects non-native English as the user types. Like Japan, Hebrew-speaking Israel is an island nation in terms of language, and so they have similar challenges when it comes to communicating in English. They also have one of the most fervent technology development cultures on the planet. Ginger is a … [Read more...]

Becoming a creative hybrid – Tokyo Memoirs Chapter 4: Blog Culture Hack

The fourth post in my "becoming a creative hybrid memoirs" series, describing my experiences growing Alien-Eye, a hybrid creative company in Tokyo which I co-founded in 2004. This chapter covers the period from 2008~09 or so, and describes the microblogging boom that exploded around that time and some of our exploits with it. The entire "Tokyo Memoirs" series is collected here. ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++ With the novelty of Mixi peaking out, the next big wave to hit the Japanese web was the micro-blogging boom around 2008 to 2010 that  made Japanese the most blogged language on the planet for a while. During this time everyone who wanted to be with it and online had a blog, It was a lifestyle accessory. Although blogs had been around since the 90's, they were now not just for … [Read more...]

Why LINE is eating Facebook’s sushi lunch

This is an article I wrote for the industry journal "Marketing Interactive" in November 2013. Since WhatsApp was recently acquired by Facebook, and now goes head to head with LINE in the chat app race, it is good to be reminded of where LINE has come from, and what makes it so unique and adaptable. The published article was much whittled down, and although it may be an easier read, it left out several of the more interesting cultural nuances that makes LINE so appealing, as well as its cultural-hybrid origins, so I have belatedly printed my original draft below. The Marketing Interactive version can be seen here. On the face of it Facebook have a lot to be smug about when looking at their Japanese footprint. The original Japanese social network Mixi is in rapid decline, and … [Read more...]

Growth Hacking for brands and how to grow a hybrid team

I was recently interviewed for a Japanese creative industry magazine "Project Design" to talk about the relevance of "Growth Hacking" (Japanese article here), the approach to growing web and mobile startups that has come to prominence in recent years, to established and non-web businesses. I was interviewed in Japanese, but wrote up the main threads of the conversation in English below. First of all though some context. Why was I being interviewed about Growth Hacking? I have been a involved a lot with startups one way or another. I have had numerous startups as clients over the years, companies with a good product-market-fit for Japan for whom my company has effectively been the growth team for the Japan market. Also through my role as a mentor for 500 Startups, Silicon Valley's top … [Read more...]

Becoming a creative hybrid – Tokyo Memoirs Chapter 3: Culture Hack 2007

The third post in my "becoming a creative hybrid memoirs" series, describing my experiences growing a hybrid creative company in Tokyo which I co-founded in 2004. This chapter covers the middle of 2007 when we ran a run away hit campaign that was a "culture hack" on Mixi's burgeoning social platform that played off mainstream media and Hollywood icons by creating a novel Hollywood x Web creative hybrid space. The first episode of my "becoming a creative hybrid can be read here! ************************* Tokyo memoirs chapter 3: A "Puchi" viral hit By the start of 2007 we were starting to get on a role, and then in the spring of that year came our big break: a pitch for a campaign to promote a high profile Hollywood movie Die Hard 4.0, the 4th of the hugely successful series. The … [Read more...]

Becoming a creative hybrid – Tokyo memoirs chapter 2: 2005~2006

The second post in my "becoming a creative hybrid memoirs" series, describing my experiences growing a hybrid creative company in Tokyo which I co-founded in 2004. This chapter covers roughly the 2nd and 3rd years of Alien-Eye, during which we struck upon a winning formula for creating viral video contents in Japan, and came of age as "growth hackers", the more recent term for marketers that focus on high impact low budget growth tactics on digital. This period also includes the emergence of Mixi as a cultural force in Japan, which we embraced as the first open social platform for sharing content and which marked the paradigm shift from "viral" to "social". The first episode of my "becoming a creative hybrid can be read here! ************************* Tokyo memoirs chapter 2: Creative … [Read more...]