Hakuhodo recently established Hakuhodo Marketing Systems Inc. (HMS) (link in Japanese) to assist companies with designing, building, and managing the digital environment for their marketing activities. Why set up a whole new company when the Hakuhodo Group already has several units that handle marketing operations, including the Marketing Operations System Consulting Division and Hakuhodo Consulting? We asked HMS President and CEO Tasuku Yamanokuchi and Director Makoto Akizuki.
YAMANOKUCHI: I joined Hakuhodo in 2000. Before that I worked for a consulting firm, and I spent 1998-99 in Silicon Valley. That experience convinced me that marketing has become ever more important as technology advances, so I joined Hakuhodo with the idea of adding it to my career.
After joining Hakuhodo I was involved in setting up Hakuhodo Brand Consulting Inc. (now Hakuhodo Consulting Inc.). Subsequently, as I considered how to incorporate digital into marketing from the twin perspectives of marketing and consulting, I found myself collaborating with system integrators and working on building websites.
AKIZUKI: I joined a design company that builds websites in 2001, where I worked as producer. The producer’s job is to understand the client’s ever more complex challenges better than anyone else, then solve them by organizing a team made up of the best people in each field—directors, designers, engineers—and guiding the project to success. I often handled fairly large projects like overhauling and managing the website of a telecom or automaker, and I got to know Yamanokuchi while working on various jobs like that.
I teamed up with Yamanokuchi on consulting services, including planning a website strategy, and building a website to achieve it. That’s when I realized the difficulty of combining different forms of knowledge and experience, as well as the pleasure and importance of creating new value. That experience has come in handy in a wide range of projects I’ve worked on as producer.
Yamanokuchi approached me when he was setting up HMS, and that’s how we ended up working together.
YAMANOKUCHI: Let me explain why we set up HMS. I’d long been interested in the application of information systems to marketing. At the consulting firm, I sometimes worked on operational reforms to managerial accounting and logistics management. In such cases there’s a palpable improvement in operational efficiency when you develop a large-scale system bristling with features. With marketing, on the other hand, it often happens that when you analyze performance after building, say, a website, you find there’s a difference between features that are effective and those that aren’t, so you face requests to modify the system. To be more specific, the position of a button on the page is alone enough to seriously affect user-friendliness, which means you need to make changes whenever a problem crops up.
So besides coming up with an easily alterable design at the consulting and initial development stages, systematizing marketing also entails putting a lot of effort into subsequent operation and maintenance. It ultimately boils down to starting small and then making constant improvements. Hakuhodo has its own Marketing Operations System Consulting Division, but the reason we’ve set up HMS is to perfect our expertise in operational and planning services, which focus on system refinements. The word “operations” has connotations of something routine, but planning marketing initiatives on the system platform is, I believe, just as important as systems development and digital strategy.
AKIZUKI: Many companies invest in IT systems expecting huge benefits. But in quite a few cases they fail to get satisfactory results because of their inability to entrench operational procedures post adoption. We’re committed to creating a systematic framework that provides solid support not just with design and development but also in the actual course of marketing activities. That I feel strongly is what client firms expect.
YAMANOKUCHI: The digital transformation is an oft-used term these days. Many companies currently have separate departments and systems for CRM and websites, TV advertising, client services and so forth. Digital is being called on to rectify these siloed conditions and bring everything together. We want to do just that with our client firms. From marketing to services, Akizuki has lots of experience directing the building of large websites, so I thought he was the perfect man for the job, which is why I approached him.
YAMANOKUCHI: Our ambition is to be a professional team that capably develops, operates, and upgrades the platform underpinning the client firm’s marketing, and helps it improve marketing quality and cut costs. Production skills coupled with a knowledge of consulting and project management are key to bringing together systems that until now would have involved different departments and multiple IT companies—websites, data management platforms (DMPs), CRM and all that.
We design the initial system to be brought in with the minimum possible specs, so that different needs can be accommodated as they arise during actual operation and various experiments can easily be carried out. That also makes it possible to get started with a modest investment. At HMS the project manager who develops the system will as a rule then look after the design of operational and upgrade procedures as well.
This seamless linkage of development and operation results in a long-term relationship of trust with the client firm. So, when the client firm tackles the challenge of new technologies like AI and the Internet of Things (IoT), we can put the experimental groundwork in place quickly and effectively. To do that, I think we’ll need to think of going beyond HMS and tapping the expertise of the entire Hakuhodo family.
AKIZUKI: Of course, it’s not practical to do everything with just our own people, so we’ll cooperate with a multitude of partners. When there’s something our skills are not up to handling, we bring a highly specialized partner on board, or work with a company that has proprietary technology designated by the client firm.
When it comes to operating and upgrading the system, basically we insource as much as we can, though if the system and its features are mature and only routine procedures are needed to keep everything up and running, handing over operation to the partner firm lowers costs. We hope to help customers cut costs by dividing up things in this fashion as appropriate.
We hope to work with corporate clients in all sorts of industries and sectors. We’d love to be of assistance to financial firms and automakers that are eagerly taking on digital, as well as manufacturers working on large-scale ecommerce sites.
YAMANOKUCHI: We’d like to work with people at companies that want to entrench the new marketing in the true sense of the term. If you’re a company interested not just in making a success of a digital campaign, but in transforming your marketing from the bottom up by leveraging all the emerging new channels out there, be sure to give us a shout.
AKIZUKI: The company has only just been formed, so we’re looking for all kinds of people. We hope to attract people in a wide range of professions: producers, project managers, planners, designers, engineers. We don’t only want people who are seeking to master a single specialized field; we want people who are interested in marketing and various other fields and are eager to challenge themselves by turning their expertise to good account.
YAMANOKUCHI: We want people who excel as specialists and view overall business operations through a producer’s eyes. And who are willing to take on the challenge of the unknown. If your previous job was highly specialized, then we’d like you to challenge yourself to something different with us.
One employee who previously worked in apparel sales was hired to do administrative work, but watching other employees apparently made them eager to try coding, and now they’re having a serious go at it. Now we have to recruit a new administration person [laughs]. This readiness to challenge yourself is really vital, so we intend to treasure it.
Digital products and services are expected to account for roughly 50 percent of GDP by 2021. Digital will thus become the norm; by the same token, its connection with the real world will be all the more important. So how do you increase marketing value by connecting with the real world? That’s the challenge we want to take with the rest of Hakuhodo Group.