I'm always interested in learning about the thought process behind the development of brands and advertising campaigns, which is one reason I keep re-reading Sato Kashiwa's book Creative Thinking. I don't think I've come across any other writer who provides such clear thinking on the structure of the creative thought process - or at least his own process - as it pertains to solving advertising, design, and marketing assignments.
I've devoted my last several posts to the seven guidelines for creative thinking that comprise the first third of Sato's book. As a matter of fact, if you read my last post on Sato's advice for presenting, you'll find that his own approach to presentation focuses on trying to get his clients to identify with the thought process he went through in coming up with a solution to their problem. That's something - in my experience - that's actually very rare. It's that focus on process and structure that got me so interested in Sato in the first place, and inspired me to write about him as a way of internalizing his practices.
But how do Sato's guidelines play out in real life? The remainder of his book tells how Sato applied his way of thinking to real brands. Given that, with the exception of Uniqlo's global rollout, Sato's clientele is limited to Japan, they tend to be brands most Americans have never heard of. But putting cultural differences aside, a study of Sato's work provides some fascinating lessons in creativity. A great example is Suit Select, a Japanese retailer of stylish yet budget-friendly suits, offered at two price points, around $200 and $300.
When Sato was called in to rebrand what was then "Suit Select 21," he made a point of visiting one of their stores before meeting with the client. Sato makes it a practice to try to experience the brands from a consumer's point of view before the first client meeting. The reason for this is that while most marketers will tend to say they develop products from the "customer's perspective" and back it up with plenty of research, more often than not they end up following industry convention or reinforcing their own agenda. When starting a project, Sato attempts to empty his mind and take on the disinterested attitude of a shopper getting his first impression of a brand.
It was his first experience of a "two-price shop," and because Suit Select 21 focused its marketing message on its price structure - and Japan has no shortage of cheap suit emporiums - he found himself surprised by the quality of the material, which compared favorably to imported suits. His initial thought was that the quality of the suits was not being adequately communicated.
His second impression was that the product lines were somewhat haphazardly organized. In reality, there were three different lines of suits, each offered at the two price points. While the three lines were ostensibly developed to provide variety within a defined structure, in reality, the differences between each line was unclear, resulting in confusion.
Sato's solution to the first issue was to move beyond price and reposition Suit Select as more of a fashion brand, as retailers such as H&M have done with success. The overarching positioning statement was: "High-quality, stylish suits at a reasonable price, offered in a simple and logical assortment that makes it easy to select." This boiled down to a simple concept he calls "Real Suits," intended to convey authenticity and practicality.
One thing you will notice if you look at enough of Sato's work is that he doesn't stop at positioning and messaging, but has a talent for getting under the hood and making substantive changes to the business. In this case, he persuaded Suit Select's management to rationalize the product structure by narrowing their product lines from three to two, and creating greater contrast between the two product families. There would be a "Silver Line" and a "Black Line," one being a more traditional cut, and the other more contemporary and edgy. Sato even got involved in the design of each line, adjusting arm holes, pocket angles, and button placements
To his surprise, the recommendations were enthusiastically supported by the company's design and manufacturing people, who admitted that they themselves had been confused by the differences between the three lines. Sato's brand restructuring freed them to design with greater confidence of purpose, while making it easier for shoppers to identify what they wanted.
To further emphasize the new product structure, and create a more intimate shopping experience, Sato redesigned Suit Select stores to resemble large walk-in closets. One wall displays the Silver Line, the other, Black. The middle of the store is occupied by a long table lined with shirts and ties.
Suit Select is a great illustration of the importance of adopting a neutral stance in marketing and creative endeavors. Even approaching things with the consciousness of taking the customer's point of view tends to build in certain preconceptions. Sato calls this more neutral perspective the "Ochanoma Perspective." The ochanoma is the family room in Japanese homes, traditionally the place where everyone gathers to watch TV. Taking the Ochanoma Perspective, for Sato, is different from the way typical marketers attempt to understand consumers, simply because you are just your own normal, and normally disinterested, attitude towards things.
In a previous chapter, Sato calls this looking at Reality rather than Research. It's a natural, common-sense approach - simple in theory - but then as we all know, naturalness is harder to achieve than we like to think.