After a successful entry into the US, Australia and UK market, a sizeable high-performance cycling apparel manufacturer was searching for a way to promote and sell their high-performance cycling wear to the Asian market. The world’s third largest GDP, Japan, is a nation of 127 million people with 85% of the population who owns or has a share in a bicycle made it a perfect growth opportunity to explore.
Having strategically established multiple brands to cater for the diverse market needs across the globe, CEO of the cycling apparel manufacturer approached Narrative Creatures for guidance to enter the Japan market. We set out to help define a brand identity, market position and a launch strategy that would favourably gain market share in the Japanese cycling wear industry.
Although 85% of the Japan population have access to a bicycle, our research shows that cyclists who wear high-performance cycling apparel belong to a minority segment. Mainstream cyclists tend to wear more relaxed and loose fitted fashion cycling apparel, which is not part of our client's product offering. Our challenge was first to create a market development strategy and build the new brand identity around it.
Japan was never colonised by Western countries, hence Western methods of branding and advertising have in the past found very little success in Japan. If brands do not have the support that thoroughly understands the Japanese culture and their communications method, the probability of success is slim.
Japanese customers are also very demanding. Before entering the market, most Western brands often have to rebrand or redesign their products or services to satisfy their Japanese customers' needs. Adjustments include accelerating the distribution timeframe as well as enforcing a strict delivery protocol when interacting with customers.
The branding exercise began with two simple questions, "Which segment of Japanese cyclists would possibly wear our client's products?" and "What are the likelihoods of a successful entry?"
Cyclists who wear high-performance
The most straight-forward solution to the first question was to match our client's products with existing high-performance cycling wear customers. However, as our research has shown, the segment size is small, riders’ are demanding, and competition is very fierce. Majority of the market share is owned by substantial premium Japanese and European brands together with some local brands offering low cost, budget alternatives. Our opening move to break into Japan via this segment will be a fierce battle.
Cyclists who wear casual
We believe a strategy with higher success rate, is to enter the Japan market via the casual wear segment and to position our client's brand as the authority that supports cyclists transitioning from casual cycling apparel into high-performance cycling apparel.
In doing so, we created a brand ecosystem where we encourage riders to travel further and more frequent to feel the benefits of high-performance wear and to provide a platform for customers to connect with the brand when they felt the need to take that transition.
The branding strategy consists in focusing on the tagline “ひとこぎ先へ - A pedal stroke away”, it is a movement to empower cyclists to take one small step at a time towards their dreams and desire, whether it is to become a professional cyclist or to ride a little further to explore the beautiful scenery around them. Urging them to move past their doubts and to venture outside their comfort zone. Taking this into account, we've created the name and brand - "はずみ - Hazumi".
Japan is a beautiful nation to explore by bicycle. The country is well known for its Spring cherry blossoms and its changing colours in Autumn, but there are beautiful places to see in every season.
The terrain has a variety that would suit riders with different level of experience - from rolling hills, highland plateaus, river valleys, and mountain roads. Hence all cyclists can find the right place to explore any time of year, making it a perfect environment for Hazumi to establish their position as the brand that encourages cyclists to ride that little further to find the beauty around the corner.
Without a retail store presence in Japan, Hazumi relies upon digital being the primary connection point between the brand and their customers. Hence a great website and eCommerce experience is the foundation for developing effective communications with customers.
It is still too soon to measure the real results and impressions of the new brand identity, as the designs for the Launch product collection is yet to be finalised. During this design and production phase, most marketing effort is focused on building anticipation for the Hazumi's products, and we've been able to generated interests from individuals and slowly growing an organic email list. The real test will rest upon the main launch when the first Hazumi product collection is ready to go to market.