Introducing Omotenashi Into The World of Digital Marketing

It is a long-term process to provide successful personalized experiences and optimization strategies. There are many studies about personalized experiences on digital devices and retargeting ads to website content, but I believe the data savvy often get too excited about the power of information and leave the customer benefit behind. As Brad Rencher, SVP Adobe Digital Marketing, stated at the recent Digital Marketing Summit, “We need to reinvent ourselves as a marketer.” In this article, I would like to introduce a concept inspired by an Eastern relationship approach that will help us to re-imagine ourselves and bring big data to life.

When Western Marketing Meets Eastern Approach

Western cultures and their obsession with marketing models is a common weakness in learning how to deal with people and their customers in a respectful way. Eastern cultures, on the other hand, have thousands of years of experience in engaging people in close, personal relationships. Omotenashi, in the spirit of Kokoro, is Japan’s answer to western concepts around marketing personalization and optimization. You might have experienced sometimes people working in a five-star restaurant or hotel how they can usually pick up clues and treat you with a highly personalized experience before being asked. This experience is called Omotenashi and permeates throughout the Japan culture.

Omotenashi is commonly interpreted as putting heart and soul into giving good service. Omotenashi is hard to define, but Japanese use it to describe what they believe is their unique approach to hospitality. Omotenashi involves the subjugation of self in service to a guest, without being “servile.” Anticipating needs is at the heart of the concept; and it is certainly fair to say that in Japan, acting on others’ needs without being asked to do so is at the height of savvy. (Refer to Three Sugars Factor in my previous post, Overcoming Search Marketing Challenges in Japan.) This “Kokoro,” or feeling, has always been valued by the Japanese. Omotenashi together with the spirit of Kokoro is the essence of Japanese culture and how they are used to being treated.

A root of an Omotenashi example is found in the ancient Three Cups of Tea story that took place during a war in the sixteenth century. On his trip to the next battlefield, a famous Samurai visited a temple and asked a young boy for a cup of green tea. Traditionally, Japanese like their green tea served very hot, but this boy brought him a cup of tepid tea. After the Samurai finished the first cup, the boy served him once more, but with a warmer cup of tea this time. Finally, the boy brought a third cup of tea and this time made it very hot. The boy assumed the Samurai was thirsty after the long trip. He made the tea at a temperature that was easier to drink in the first round and made the third round at a temperature for enjoyment. The Samurai was impressed by the boy’s ability to cater to his immediate needs and his subtle display of hospitality. The boy, Mitsunari Ishida, would later become a famous Japanese warlord and bureaucrat. This little story leads us to rethink how we treat customers above and beyond the data we have collected.

Why Marketers Should Care About Omotenashi?

The fact is that marketing models, including the traditional, new, and those of the future, are already broken. The customer has driven a dagger through the heart of the old push-pull system of models and processes. The customer has disrupted the marketing process as we know it today and forced innovation and cultural thinking to replace it. We are now in a tail chase following the customer along in his/her journey to buy what he/she need and what he/she wants. Successful marketing execution is being at each customer touch point along the way and exercising the principles of “Omotenashi” in the spirit of “Kokoro.” This will help to reinvent marketers and develop hospitality in relationships with customers.‏

Western cultures think data-driven techniques will win the day; but, they won’t because customers are e-marketing agnostic now. They care about how they’re being treated and are not very happy with retargeted ads stalking their personal devices. Marketing with Omotenashi brings the baseline of caring, motivating, and building bonds with customers on top of big data.

Burberry and Omotenashi

Today, Burberry practices Omotenashi with big data. In its flagship store in the UK, its employees can identify a customer when he/she walks through the door and know the shopping interests. According to Forbes, the store collects information from social media, iPads, and cash registers, creating a profile of the customer. This is how Burberry keeps customers coming back without freaking them out because Burberry uses the profile data to anticipate better the customer’s needs. Its way of personalized service with Omotenashi and Kokoro is the essential differentiator. Unlike other stores, Burberry understands your preference and treats you like a VIP even without being a regular patron of the brand store.

You can find personalized experiences even in your daily life. For example, a cashier at your local store who anticipates becoming a friend of the customer can help a young mother searching for a birthday gift for her two-year old son. Or, be able to let you know that your favorite brand of yogurt released a new flavor, or have a powerful headache medication ready for you before you open the door.

The point is that anticipating these needs, wants, and desires based not only on the data you’ve captured from the customer experience, but also utilizing Omotenashi in order to provide solutions even before the customer realizes that there was a need to fulfill. It is being prepared from the mind and the heart to provide the scratch before the itch is realized.

Omotenashi – A Path to Personalization

The fundamental difference between Eastern and Western approaches to marketing is really about the “How” and not the “What.” The customers will buy from a brand that meets the expectations of “How” they are treated and not by “What” they are offered.

I believe Omotenashi is the key concept for marketing personalization and optimization. We no longer live in a traditional 4P marketing model world where customers need your brand’s products. They have many brands from which to choose, but they search for the positive customer experience first. You need data to get to know who your customers are because the more you know about them, the better you can engage them at the emotional and influential levels. If they like you and trust you, they will buy from you. This is why we all need data. The purpose of personalization is not to stroke their ego with offers, but to treat them like someone special and optimize their trust and good feelings toward your brand.

Learning to incorporate the hospitality measures found in Japan will help online marketers gain a considerable competitive edge. In the following series of articles, I’ll address more concrete examples and how marketers can reinvent themselves.