Simon Gibson - 27th Nov 2009
Bombarded by a cacophony of media, consumers today are becoming harder and harder to reach, requiring companies to look at new and innovative ideas to get their messages across. Lookmedia is a leading vendor of creative and cutting edge outdoor advertising solutions that helps companies target the people they need to reach. Denphone's Simon Gibson caught up with Lookmedia Japan's Managing Director Mark Long recently for a chat about just what it is that makes Lookmedia special.
Simon: So Mark, first of all can you give us some background about how Lookmedia got started?
Mark: Lookmedia was born when a couple of surfers in Australia had the idea of towing signboards around the beach. So they bought a couple of scooters with custom built trailers. The idea took off and although they initially thought it would be a bit of a fad, the novelty never really wore off. The idea then spread through friends and now there are branches around the world in Asia, North and South America, Europe, as well as throughout Australia. As time went on, realizing they needed to grow their company, they started new products and one of those products was the LookWalker [shown above, ed.]. The LookWalker is the product we launched with in Japan.
Simon: So how did you get involved in Lookmedia?
Mark: I personally got involved while I was living in Korea and a friend started the Lookmedia office in Korea. At that time, I wanted to come to Japan and saw Japan as a good market, so I came to Japan with the same business model. I came to Japan in early 2007 and did 6 months of research - meeting potential clients, and sorting out things like company registration, finding office space and employees and getting a feel for the place. We registered the company in February 2008 - coming up on 2 years now and things have gone from strength to strength.
We first started out approaching the big advertising companies here in Japan like Dentsu to gauge their interest for our solution. It was a bit of a catch 22 situation though as they wanted to see a track record before using our services, and we couldn't show a track record without doing some work for them. And from our side, we wanted to get a sale before launching the company.
Luckily we got a good contract with Avex Entertainment promoting the launch of an album by the Japanese musician BoA and then at the same time another contract with Study Abroad Australia. The Australian Embassy rents out a building in Shinjuku for a weekend to promote study abroad and provide information for potential students, and our role was to get out on the street and build up interest for that. So for a month leading up to that we were out on the street. We had our walkers trained up and they were ready to answer questions about the campaign. Our campaigns are good for that - both eye catching and informative.
Simon: Any advice for companies looking to setup shop here in Japan?
Mark: The trick for me for setting up here in Japan was that, before we went ahead and registered the company we did our ground work. That 6 months spent approaching customers, doing presentations and really listening to what people wanted, and then getting the sales before kicking off was really important. We didn't want to have to pay rent or staff before getting a sale, except for a part timer who went round the offices with me.
That's a good tip for setting up effectively here. And also, it is all about connections here, keeping in contact with the people you meet and getting introductions from them.
Simon: And how did things develop from there?
Mark: Then we got some large contracts. One of our biggest selling points is that we are very eco-friendly. One of the bigger projects we did was for SnoLa, a natural frozen yoghurt chain entering the Japanese market; everthing to do with their business is eco-friendly. They didn't want to use trucks or buses so we picked that one up. Volvo were another company who took us on at that point and we helped with the release of the Volvo C30. The campaigning was very targeted, and that was the main reason they went with us, because we could directly target the 20-30 year old market that they were after. We sent the walkers out to the fashionable parts of Tokyo such as Harajuku, Shibuya, Shinjuku, Roppongi and Ginza.
From there we took the idea down to Osaka, Kobe and the Kansai region. That is now our second largest market and keeps us very busy. We also picked up Tower Records, with the reason being that we could be very targeted and could combine giveaways and samples along with the visual element. It was just what they were looking for. We picked up numerous other clients ranging from real estate companies, fashion houses (especially for opening events) and companies such as Bandai. Bandai are Japans largest toy manufacturer and third in the world. They used us to target Akihabara and Harajuku giving away samples.
Simon: You mentioned that your walkers can also answer questions. Can you tell us about how you prepare them for a job?
Mark: We sit down with the client and create a campaign manual which goes into a lot of detail looking at the number of people required, where to walk, what times to target, whether uniforms are required and if so how they should be tailored, what samples are required. We also have a question and answer section that we go through with the client and think about what questions the public will ask and then we train the walkers to answer those questions.
For example, this year Japanese TV stations have become our biggest customers, particularly for the release of TV dramas and sports events, so we will sit down with the clients and work out when the drama is on, who it is starring, how long it will run for, who did the music and so on. It means that our walkers are not just mobile billboards but also sources of information.
Simon: One thing I am always curious about when thinking about advertising and marketing, is how to judge the effectiveness of campaigns. Could you tell us about the metrics of your campaigns? How do they work out for the client?
Mark: Metrics are hard, but I can tell you one about a couple of campaigns we did where we saw very satisfying results. We were contracted by Nagoya City to help raise participation in the Nagoya local government election. We had to compete with numerous different companies to get the contract but we won the contract especially because of our mobility.
Over the last 10 years there has been a large decline in voting in Nagoya especially among young people. So we pitched the idea of targeting universities, shopping areas and train stations to directly focus on younger voters. For 10 days leading up to the election we had 8 walkers out from 7am to 9pm at different times of the day at specific locations - for example, the train stations early in the morning, at the universities during lunch time and then at shopping malls in the evenings so that we could best target these younger voters. This campaign was probably the most successful we have taken part in with a significant change in the turnout of voters.
Another job we did in Nagoya also had very positive results. NTT Flets TV do a campaign every March to increase sign ups for their service. We had 26 boards out for 4 days and the campaign doubled the number of sign ups. Now, it was part of a larger campaign, so we can't say we were solely responsible for that. But we do get repeat customers, and if our campaigns weren't working we wouldn't get those repeats. So our customers are satisfied.
Simon: What is the best way for clients to use your services?
Mark: Think about the Hachiko statue in Shibuya. Now if someone went out and booked us for a year, every Saturday and Sunday, to stand on the corner in Omote Sando for example, then that would be something people are going to be talking about. It would build something iconic. You can do a campaign for one weekend, but you have to look at the bigger picture and build up the brand - and for that continued exposure is the key. If you had the walkers out every weekend, you would have people saying "Meet me at the XXXX walkers in Omote Sando" and that would be gold.
Simon: Now for the Denphone section! Can you tell us why you went with out telephone solution for your business here in Japan?
Mark: It was the perfect solution to the problem I had. I was moving office and didn't want to lose the number I currently have, and that got me thinking long term. In Japan telephone numbers are not normally portable, so I wanted to find a solution where I could keep a universal number - even if I move again in the future I can keep the same phone and fax numbers. The pricing is reasonable - most of my phone costs come from mobile phone charges anyway and it was costing more with NTT because of the cost of forwarding to a cell phone. It is cheaper especially with the 2 lines I have now. We used to have the fax on the same line as the phone which was a pain - people had to call up to say I am going to send a fax, please don't answer the phone, and then we couldn't use the phone.
Also, with 40% of our business in Osaka and the Kansai region, options such as being able to add an Osaka number, or even connecting offshore employees to numbers in Japan cheaply is really appealing.
Simon: Thanks for that - glad you are happy with our service. Before we wrap up, what can you do to help companies here in Japan?
The main thing that Lookmedia can help with is product launches, brand building and long term advertising. We are really good at creating buzz for product launches, especially for small companies. Most small companies could never afford to rent a billboard in Roppongi or Shinjuku, or take out an advertisement in one of the major Japanese newspapers - the numbers just don't add up. For a small company, we can offer something just as effective that will get the same exposure and at a price that people can afford. We also interact really well with the public - something a newspaper advertisement or a billboard cannot do. We can convey your message and answer questions and give out goods. For example we recently did a promotion for a watch company - it was a very technical watch, something gadget freaks would be interested in. So we stood outside of the Sony Building here in Tokyo and handed out 4000 fliers. You can guarantee that everyone in the building was talking about the watch over lunch, and building that kind of word of mouth advertising is invaluable. It's unique and gets a buzz going.