We’ve stopped what we are doing and creating your personalized BrandZ™ report, which will appear in your inbox soon.

Pillars of Survival

Pillars of Survival

Innovative brands survive and thrive

Strong brands succeed in all types of economic weather. As discussed in the last section, this year’s rising Japanese brands had a higher average score than the rest of the Top 50 in measures of Meaningful, Different, and Salience. These are the core building blocks of brand value.

When Brands want to understand how they can improve or protect their Meaningful Difference, they should first look at their vQ indicators. vQ is BrandZ’s proprietary diagnostic measure of “Brand Health.” It is made up of five indicators: Purpose (broadly, making people’s lives better); Disruptive Leadership (creativity and innovation); Communication (great advertising); Brand Experience (meeting consumers’ needs in a unique way); and Love.

 Meaningful Difference and Vitality Quotient show a strong relationship in Japan, allowing a more granular diagnosis of performance in key areas.

This year, as Japanese brands plot a course out of the country’s pandemic-induced recession, three aspects of Brand Health have emerged as key drivers of brand value: Purpose, Innovation (Disruptive Leadership), and Communication.

By focusing on these three areas, brands can minimize losses during especially challenging quarters, and maximize gains during periods of country-wide recovery. Within the realm of Purpose, brands should be especially attentive to notions of Social Responsibility; Within the realm of Communications, brands should focus especially.

Taken together, these recommendations can be summarized as the Three Pillars of Survival:

Innovation (Disruptive Leadership)

As seen above, the Japan Top 50 brands with high scores for Innovation (Disruptive Leadership) – i.e. greater than 110, when the average score across all Japanese brands is 100 – are on average worth nearly twice as much as those with average or below-average perceptions in this area. But what exactly is this form of Innovation?

Disruptive leaders show initiative and are quick to turn a challenge into an opportunity. They demonstrate their know-how and competence in the category. Offering a good range of products through innovation is one component of this – but not the only one that matters.

Especially in these times, “Disruptive Leadership” needs to be understood as constituting more than large-scale manufacturing shifts and research breakthroughs. It’s also about solving problems on the local level, on the ground with consumers in their newly constrained lives. More than ever, Innovative, Disruptive Leaders find new ways innovate in the areas of packaging, delivery, advertising, and customization – just as much as in the area of product.

In the BrandZ™ dataset, three attributes that relate closely to Innovation (Disruptive Leadership) are: “Leading the way”; “Best at what they do”; and “Shaking things up.” On average, Japan’s top brands excel most at being the “best at what they do,” and have the most room to grow in the area of “shaking things up” – though there are plenty of individual brands that stand out in these areas:


As seen in the above chart, brands like Nintendo, Attack, and Nitori score well above average across all three plotted elements of Disruptive leadership – while plenty more brands excel in one or two of these areas.

Sidebar – Brand Spotlight – Nitori

Over the past decade, furniture brand Nitori took several visionary steps to proactively streamline their business. They focused their resources on strengthening e-commerce, logistics and supply chain management - while also updating product line-ups to meet consumers’ changing needs. The result is a brand seen as providing a high value for money (Premium).

During the lockdown, online purchases for Nitori grew more than 40 percent. Nitori’s share price also recovered faster compared to other leading retail business.

Social Responsibility

Brands with a strong sense of purpose are perceived as “making people’s lives better.” Socially Responsible or Purposeful brands show that they care for their customers and work to make lives better – across a number of levels. On the level of product design, Purpose means paying attention to the everyday difficulties and pain points consumers face in a given category. This is still important. But increasingly, brands are also being judged for what they contribute toward society at large. Consumers are looking for more than one-off Corporate Social Responsibility projects, however beneficial those may be. They want to see an ethos of caring and social obligation permeate throughout a brand’s operations, products, and communications.

Today, corporate reputation and brand reputation are increasingly united in the mind of the consumer. In the BrandZ™ dataset, the diverse manifestations of Social Responsibility are best captured through three attributes: “Make Lives Better”; “Care for Customers”; and “Behave in Socially Responsible Way.” Overall, top Japanese brands perform well on making lives better and behaving in socially responsible ways - but they could improve perceptions of their care for customers. JAL, ANA, Yakult, and Aeon are prime examples of Japanese brands that already excel in all of these areas.

For those companies who want a more detailed view into how to shore up the pillar of Social Responsibility, BrandZ’s RepZ product offers an even more thorough diagnostic on how brands perform across the many building blocks of Purpose. Thousands of data points around attributes like Trust, Responsibility, and Fairness are synthesized to generate a brand’s RepZ score.

Sidebar- Brand Spotlight - ANA

This was a tough year for the airline industry, but ANA was the airline brand in the BrandZ™ Japan Top 50 that declined the least. ANA is seen as socially responsible and caring for customers, and this is evident in their initiatives during the pandemic period. They launched several “ANA Care Promise” initiatives to reassure travelling passengers of their safety and comfort, firmly committing to the new standards of the new normal.

In addition, “Kokoro-no-tsubasa (winged heart)” was an initiative that provided educational and entertaining branded content to connect with audiences at home. The brand has also announced long-term sustainability goals for 2050 and 2030. ANA aims to build a brand that is inclusively responsible for environment, social and governance (ESG).

Accessibility and Salience

It’s true that brand Salience (i.e. how quickly it comes to mind) is not enough on its own to ensure a business’s success – the products themselves need to be compelling and different. But in these trying times, brands should not underestimate the power of a clever and sincere marketing campaign.

In a time of isolation, consumers were hungry for connection, stimulation, and entertainment. Brands that reached out to consumers and made their presence felt emerged successful. They fit naturally into consumers lives in a way that was not intrusive or merely opportunistic. Brand’s digital and online touchpoints became a key platform to connect.

Even if they weren’t able to fully sell their products at that time – as in the case of some travel companies, say – it was important from a brand equity standpoint for businesses to stay involved in customer’s lives.

Agility is the new normal for brand communications. In 2020, campaigns that were planned out for months (or, in the case of Olympics campaigns, years) had to be scrapped in favor of communications that had to respond to nearly weekly changes in the social environment. Going forward, this kind of nimbleness will be used in the service of targeting consumers with the kind of branded content they’re most interested in seeing in a given need state.

SK-II did not go dark during the coronavirus crisis. Instead, the brand continued to build its connection with consumers through campaigns at both the global and local levels. Indeed, the brand took this global “pause” as an opportunity to increase its digital presence through various online contents and social media campaigns.

During Q4 2019 to Q2 2020, SK-II launched many successful brand campaigns using a variety of influencers, social media campaigns, and branded content. These included its #NoCompetition athletics tie-in, it’s “Changed Destiny - Rikako Ikee” campaign, and Naomi Watanabe’s Skincare Club videos.