Developing a Global Vision through Marketing Research

Selling Apples in Japan can be a bruising Business:

Selling apples in Japan, whether they are of the edible or computer variety can be a bruising business. In both cases, designing effective and competitive marketing strategies requires a deep knowledge of buyer behavior that may be distinctly different from that which marketers encounter in the United States.

Washington State apple growers needed 24 years to get their fruit past customs inspectors in Japan. The door finally opened to Red and Golden Delicious apples in 1995, and Japanese consumers immediately gobbled up nearly 8,500 tons. The slide in sales can be attributed in part to the fact that US apple growers did not anticipate the strength of Japanese consumers’ seasonal preferences; Americans buy and eat apples year around, but Japanese consumers do not. The growers also did not anticipate the lasting effects of nationalism among many Japanese. As one older Japanese woman wrote to her sister in the United States, younger Japanese people simply do not have any respect. They just buy those American apples with no shame. They do not have any loyalty to the Japanese farmers. All they care about is the lower price. The late 1990s recession in Asia also hurt sales of Washington apples. More recently a World Trade Organization ruling pried open the Japanese apple market to new varieties – Braeburn, Fuji, Gala, Granny smith and Jona Gold. However, the American apples have continued to move slower than anticipated due to lower prices on domestic varieties, competition from Tasmania, and most recently a new quarantine because of fire blight.

As for apples of the computer variety, Apple computers traditionally had been a greater success in Japan than in the States. Its market share in Japan has jumped to nearly 8 per cent since Steve Jobs again took the reins at Apple, and it hopes to maintain its industry leading growth rate well into the 21st Century. But it won’t be easy to continue taking big bite out of the $40 billion Japanese personal computer (PC) market. Apple continues to have mixed results at home and the losses in market share and reputation in the United States certainly affected buyers’ perceptions in Japan in the past. Indeed the 2001 computer bust, Apple’s sales fell 47 per cent in Japan compared to only 33 per cent worldwide. Now Apple PC sales are outpacing the competition worldwide once again with a recovering Japanese market leading the way.

Moreover, the Japanese PC market works differently than that in the United States. Japanese businesses have been relatively slow paced and managers prefer to network in face to face settings rather than via electronic hookups. Additionally, Japan has fewer information professionals than does the United States. Such circumstances suggest that the rate of adoption of PCs in the Japanese workplace will not parallel that in the United States, meaning Apple has a smaller market in which to operate. Indeed, its most recent successes in Japan have been in the consumer market, where its bright colors make a fashion statement. Of course, fashions come and fashions go. Let’s hope these apples don’t become perishable.

Selling either kind of apple in Japan will require the best marketing research efforts of US firms. The basis of a marketing budget is the all important of demand, which requires statistical analyses and macroeconomic data from Japan. But before those data are collected consumer focus groups surveys must be conducted US marketers must also travel across the Pacific or visits to grocery stores, consumers’ homes or office buildings to see first hand these evolving markets at their cores.