A Surprising Covid-Related Consumer Trend will Create Marketing Opportunities in Japan

The economic impact on consumer spending we have seen due to the Covid 19 Crisis will have long–term ramifications for the top three global economies of the United States, China and Japan. In all three markets we are seeing diminishing consumer expectations and purchasing behavior in categories like clothing and transportation. 

Massive change is being foisted on businesses as they are forced to review their supply chains and at the same time look to establishing the primary means of advertising and delivery of their products and services using digital platforms. This is especially true in Japan where the crisis is, perhaps more than anywhere, challenging the old ways of doing things.  

On the part of the Japanese consumer, societal megatrends that were already in place before the crisis are being amplified under the new normal of social distancing. The experience they have had since the Covid-19 pandemic began has caused many to think more carefully about what they value and where they are headed in life. 

Much has been written in the media about the long-term megatrend of the changing role of women, their huge potential as change agents and, of course, as targets for increasingly sophisticated marketing concepts. But, surprisingly, the detailed market research that we have been carrying out in Japan in the last six months suggests it may be men who are changing the most due to the crisis. Men and especially younger men represent a significant new opportunity for marketing innovation.  

Let’s Meet Hiroshi as he Adjusts to the New Social Distancing Epoch 

Perhaps this is easiest to demonstrate by using a fictional persona. Personas are a tool that we use in marketing research to help marketers orient their messaging and overall approach by keeping a ‘representative’ of the target segment in mind.   

In this case, let’s call him Hiroshi. Hiroshi is 27 years old and lives, alone, in Gakugei Daigaku which is an upper middle-class suburb in Tokyo on the Tokyu Toyoko Line. Hiroshi has a job as an ‘eigyouman’ (salesman) in a digital marketing company and lives by himself in a one room apartment.  

Prior to the Covid-19 outbreak, he was used to leaving early in the morning, putting in a long day at the office and coming home late at night either after staying late at the office or drinking with clients or co-workers. On weekends he’d spend his time sleeping, surfing the web, watching sports on DAZN or going on dates that he finds on the #1 online dating app ‘Pairs’ (ペアーズ).  

When the Tokyo government declared the State of Emergency, he suddenly had to spend all his time at home. Certainly, he had been trying to recreate his work in a different mode, but it’s just not the same. It’s been hard to feel that he is making the progress he was before, and he really misses the opportunity to meet people.    

He is beginning to realise that most of his social time was spent around work, and the current situation has left a hole that is hard to fill. At the same time, he is coming to really hate the four walls of his apartment and has started to look through interior design websites and Insta feeds to get inspiration on how to make his small space more pleasant, even inspiring. This consumer attitude trend is showing up at numerous points in Japan’s social media landscape, with more and more people using these networks as a way to connect with others.

Becoming sick of the same old meals from the convenience store and Uber Eats, he has begun to experiment with cooking his own meals. He’s a little bit shy to invite friends over to his small, undecorated apartment but is confident that the girls he dates are going to find his new talent a plus.  

When he cares about something, he will spend the money to get nice stuff. So, he has just ordered online a new set of cast iron cookware from Staub. He really liked the heritage and story of the Staub brand that he read on their website.   

On the coming weekend, he’s going to Muji to find a new sofa in a subtle grey colour since he assumes that would make his room look bigger. He likes Muji as an affordable lifestyle brand with simple colour schemes.   

Hiroshi’s Role in the Post-Covid Opportunity 

In the past he spent a fortune on clothes and really worried about how he looked. But now he really thinks about the quality of the things he owns, as they affect his everyday experience. He is looking forward to traveling again, but for the time being he wants his small world to be more comfortable and pleasant.  

For Hiroshi, he is starting to see a whole new side of life and, suddenly, work doesn’t seem quite as important as it did. How he lives is becoming more important and so he is looking at work now more as something to support his ability to create a nice life and buy nice things.   

Hiroshi loves cycling, and it was really a blessing during the crisis that he could keep this up. He has a Bianchi bicycle from Italy that he loves. In fact, he’s just started looking for a new job with an online cycling lifestyle business. Life is too short, he figures, to be doing a job he doesn’t really love!  

So, in addition to whom we might normally think of targeting our marketing and branding concepts to, let’s also keep Hiroshi in mind. Doing so is going to put you at the cutting edge of marketing in Japan – a world where gender expectations are changing, and the scope of opportunities is constantly increasing. 

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