Four key ways to lead the most disrupted markets on earth

14 10 2019

Four key ways to lead the most disrupted markets on earth

As retail and consumer brands face upheaval at every turn, Odgers Berndtson executive search talks to those Japan leaders who are finding ways to thrive.

At the previous Odgers Berndtson Consumer Luncheon Series event, we explored a range of topics touching on how to effectively lead retail and consumer goods marketing in a world of constant disruption. A small select group of senior executives from retail and consumer branded goods sectors joined us to continue the off-the-record discussion. These are the major conclusions from what we heard.

The consumer’s decision-making journey is becoming ever-more-complex and harder to influence, for several reasons.

  • Wider product choices, multiple digital outlets, and to some degree, consumer information-overload, are key factors.
  • The definition of “consumer” is being broadened. Beyond those who actually purchase the goods and services, it now includes all those who influence the image of a brand via news, advertisements and peer influences. This stretched definition demands that brands communicate to consumers in a simpler yet more sophisticated fashion, and use a broader range of mechanisms.
  • Attempting to align a brand marketing strategy to specific psychological and behavioural patterns of diverse and rapidly-morphing consumer groups is almost impossible. The concept of a simple, linear consumer decision journey no longer seems to be effective. It is almost obsolete, in fact.

The millennial generation has a unique thirst for experience.

  • Applying one-size-fits-all marketing strategies to millennial consumers is a fundamental error as there are differences within the broad concept of “millennial”. One of the universal basic characteristics is how they communicate and their level of exposure to information.
  • Another fundamental is their prevalent thirst for experience. Millennials are hungry to ‘experience the experience’. This is a core reason why traditional department-style stores effectiveness is rapidly declining. Some brands have already recognized that the time has come to rethink the total retailing experience – in some cases moving closer to the concept of how IKEA displays its products. One of our guests shared how his brand has embarked on tailoring opportunities for visitors to experience the feel of its products through hands-on events.

Authenticity and sustaining brand value are important.

  • The increasing complexity of the consumer decision journey has given brands an opportunity to revisit their core values, rather than focusing exclusively on figuring out influential, but elusive touchpoints.
  • Promoting brand value is a long-term game and requires integrity across the entire organization and ecosystem to support growth. This includes consistent, conscious and authentic awareness of what a brand stands for. Societal influence is growing, and the hyper-informed opinion of millennials cannot be dismissed. Any brand image that is not authentic will fall short.
  • Younger consumers tend to purchase less because of product features and much more based on their perception of what a brand - and even more, what the company - stands for.
  • Value creation may be embodied in a product, but increasingly it includes how employees are treated. Sustainable brand value starts with hiring and retaining employees who understand the core values and can be passionate advocates of the brand.
  • Aside from the consumer decision journey and authenticity, fostering brand loyalty remains essential for brands to gain and maintain market positioning. A key factor in consumer loyalty is to keep launching good and reliable products. This may seem so obvious that it doesn’t even need to be mentioned, yet simple as it may seem, creativity plays a crucial role. Locally developed products often are a key differentiator. Additionally, an enhanced post-purchase experience may be even more critical and impactful.

Leadership is key to successful culture development.

  • Leadership with clear self-awareness - and authenticity again – will help to navigate today’s disruptive market. By embodying core values, empowering employees, and being aware of how fellow employees perceive them, leaders can better achieve the progress from which brand success flows.
  • Instilling an organisational culture in which employees do not feel intimidated by failure is significantly important. Beyond being tolerant of failure, employees have to be actively encouraged to openly discuss and analyze the causes of failure in order to draw up a more successful roadmap. A leader with an encouraging and positive attitude, embodying subtle humour, will get much more out of their team.
  • The traditional single-track, linear career path and development of narrowly-defined skillsets can often become a roadblock to agile leadership and corporate as well as brand success.
    For example, encouraging employees to develop their skills and experience as broadly as possible. This helps to maximise their ability to take an adaptable and nimble approach to a rapidly changing competitive landscape.  For some, this underpins their significant success over the past several years, together with efforts to instil and reactivate passion for the brand.

Our recent luncheon was held at The Oak Door, Grand Hyatt Tokyo on 11 September 2019. Odgers Berndtson organizes the Consumer Luncheon Series periodically in order to discuss current topics surrounding the retail and consumer goods industry.

To find out more about Odgers Berndtson Japan and the Consumer Luncheon Series, please contact us at