In an increasingly borderless world, Hakuhodo is strengthening its overseas operations and enhancing its ability to respond to clients around the globe. Currently Hakuhodo has more than 105 overseas offices in 19 countries and regions. In this second installment of our interview series, “Hakuhodo’s Global Business,” we spoke with Kentaro Kimura, General Manager of Hakuhodo’s Global Integrated Solution Division, to hear his insights on why Hakuhodo is the choice of global clients and how the Covid-19 pandemic has provided unexpected chances for change.
Kimura began by discussing the part that Global Integrated Solution (GIS) Division plays in developing Hakuhodo’s international business. GIS Division consists of approximately 60 specialists both in Japan and overseas, with a focus on creative, planning and producer talent. Kimura describes it as “the driving force behind Hakuhodo’s development into an agency network that can compete worldwide.”
He explained that GIS Division has three specific roles: “First, as a global business partner, we provide integrated marketing, creative and consulting services to Japanese clients operating overseas and to foreign clients expanding into Japan—our concept of ‘globalize your value’,” he says. “The second role is to develop and deliver a variety of global solution tools to our teams and clients. Finally, the third is to serve as a ‘global hub’ that connects our international network in 19 countries, along with our partners in Europe and the United States, with resources located around the world.”
The Covid-19 pandemic has affected every aspect of our lives in 2020. At the outset, Kimura and his GIS team members could no longer travel internationally, and most industry events were postponed or cancelled. However, while Kimura was initially worried that work opportunities would decline, the opposite has turned out to be true, with chances to engage in meaningful dialogue online with people around the world. “I feel that the world has definitely become smaller due to the pandemic. In other words, I thought this would be a great opportunity to make headway with various initiatives to develop Hakuhodo into a truly global network, and so I decided to pick up the pace,” he observes.
Kimura believes that the key concept of “Unimagined Ways” is a major strength that can help Hakuhodo become the world’s choice as a global agency network. “We can provide unique solutions—’Unimagined Ways’—based on the Sei-katsu-sha Insight through the power of creativity. In contrast to the accepted ideas of the past, which were based on established theories, ‘Unimagined Ways’ are unprecedented ideas that break with conventional wisdom,” he points out.
Kimura adds that the Covid-19 pandemic has also been a catalyst for change, with the previously accepted best practices being no longer relevant amid the current “new normal” that has emerged. “The world is searching for new directions to take in this situation where nobody has the answers. That’s why I think Hakuhodo’s ability to create ‘Unimagined Ways’ is needed.”
As a company that puts “living people”—or sei-katsu-sha—at the heart of its business philosophy, Kimura says that Hakuhodo is well placed to move to center stage in the “with-Corona and post-Corona” eras. “We are not bound by common norms or precedents,” he adds.
How can Hakuhodo produce these “Unimagined Ways”? Amid this time of great change around the world, GIS Division has come up with a unique tool called the “Global 4Ps.” Developed through integrated analysis of Hakuhodo’s cutting-edge works, international award-winning campaigns and sei-katsu-sha trends, the concept draws on four elements—Purpose, People, Plot and Program.
Before delving into the finer points of the Global 4Ps, Kimura set the scene by pointing out how conventional marketing has worked until now. “First, marketers identify competitive advantages with a product and set a potential target, then they develop a message that best describes the product to that target, and finally, create an ad that best describes the message,” he says. Under the Global 4Ps framework, “Purpose, People, Plot and Program” replace the conventional “Product, Target, Message and Advertising.”
Kimura then explained each of the 4Ps in more detail.
Purpose: Kimura notes that in today’s society, there is a shift away from how to differentiate a brand from its competitors, to a sense of how to find its social value. “Amid the pandemic, the desire among our clients to reconnect with those around them and contribute as a member of society is growing worldwide,” he says.
People: “This is a move from the traditional approach of targeting customers who respond to a product in the short term, to the idea of building a long-lasting relationship with fans who are sympathetic to the brand’s purpose.”
Plot: Rather than delivering a one-sided message from the company, this means finding the optimal way of delivering brand’s story in a style that will inspire customers to make it their own. “We are creating a number of new content campaigns based on the concept of plotting,” Kimura explains.
Program: “Broadly speaking, program is a way to experience a brand’s plot beyond advertising, which only conveys the message. Program can be creating platforms for services, content and communities.”
According to Kimura, this new framework of the 4Ps is particularly necessary for global brands. He says that until now it was difficult for clients to develop a unified global brand due to differences in economies and markets between countries, and so they had to come up with different advertising for different targets in each country.
“However, we can now create ideas from the company’s or brand’s ‘purpose’—it’s reason for being—rather than the function or benefit of a product. In turn, this is defined not by a target but by the ‘people’ who resonate with this purpose. Next, we create a ‘plot’—a story with long-lasting appeal for people to tell, instead of just a corporate message. And, finally we can create a ‘program’ with ways for people to experience the plot, rather than just delivering an advertisement,” says Kimura. “I believe the Global 4Ps is a solid framework through which we can create Unimagined Ways to meet the needs of clients in the post-Corona era. Going forward, we plan to expand the range of solutions, from concept to execution.”
Looking to the future of knowledge transfer, Kimura saw a need for top-class online content through which Hakuhodo staff around the world could learn whenever and wherever they want. As a result, his team launched their global knowledge platform for the remote era, “GIS Creativity Lab” as an internal project in August 2020.
“This online platform provides English video contents for Hakuhodo’s solution tools, including the 4Ps, and Hakuhodo’s philosophy, Sei-katu-sha Insight, and various marketing and creative training courses to help our staff envision, implement and maintain the ‘Unimagined Ways’ our clients are seeking,” says Kimura.
Additional content includes new campaign cases, interviews with group companies, and reports such as “How to survive the Young Lions Competition.” GIS team members record, produce and distribute on-line content to more than a dozen countries at the rate of three or four times each month. There are future plans to branch out into content production in other languages, such as Chinese, as GIS speeds up the globalization of knowledge management.
The importance of the “human network” has not been overlooked, either. “Over the past few years, there has been a big increase in the number of new partners and alliances with Hakuhodo International through M&A. In order to build relationships and conduct leadership training, we now regularly hold online meetings and share their capabilities and award-winning works, even if we cannot meet in person,” says Kimura.
He is pleased to see how these efforts are creating a sense of unity that brings colleagues from diverse cultural backgrounds together online, and how GIS Division is collaborating as a global hub on an increasing number of projects and connecting people around the world. “In the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, I want to draw on the combined strength of our networks, which have the speed and flexibility to respond to the increasingly diverse global challenges faced by our clients,” Kimura says in closing.