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No more getting lost in data! Tool utilization to change your marketing planning
- Exploratory data utilization and streamlining by iTree -

Mannanlife Co., Ltd.
 Advertising Planning Design Section, Product Development Division, Marketing Development Group
  Asako Saito, Section Chief
  Chihiro Hayashi
  Ikumi Takagishi

Mannanlife’s cherished “Konnyaku Batake” has been selling for about 30 years since its market launch. It seems to be under the kind of strain that only strong, long-running brands face. Ms. Asako Saito, Ms. Chihiro Hayashi, and Ms. Ikumi Takagishi, who are primarily in charge of the product advertising and packages at the Product Development Division, are experiencing streamlined operations and facilitated communications, as well as feeling changes in their own ways of working, through using INTAGE’s iTree. We interviewed them to hear about it in detail.

* Honorifics titles omitted in text


Could you start out with explaining how Konnyaku Batake was born?

Saito: Mannanlife originally started out as a konjac yam farm. Eventually, it began producing konnyaku as processed goods, followed by two big transformations.
The first milestone is the manufacture and sale of machines that make konnyaku powder. There was a time when the people in this region, Shimonita, were suffering from occupational asthma, which was induced by the airborne powder generated during the process of refining konjac yam into powder. Upon seeing that, the founder of Mannanlife created a machine that makes konnyaku powder without compromising people’s health. This was followed by efforts to make good quality powder, which further led to the next milestone of what to make out of this high-quality powder.
Initially, Mannanlife started selling the high-quality powder targeting women, riding the tide of the diet boom. In the course of trials and errors in trying to find what products we could make from konjac, the current Konnyaku Batake was finally born as the advanced version of jam and paste. This was our second period of transformation.
The pre-existing image of konnyaku as a diet or health food connected with its image of mouth feel and texture—these put together into a snack was possibly the reason behind Konnyaku Batake’s wide public acceptance. I suppose the product was cleverly designed. On top of that, the TV commercial featuring a hula dance that gave a fresh take on the diet image, along with the slogan “Delicious and cleans the bowels”—previously “Tasting good while cleaning the bowels”—worked really well. The point that konnyaku was not a typical snack or sweet at the time also played a part in its success. Konnyaku Batake will soon be celebrating its 30th anniversary. This year is its 28th (Note: This interview was given in 2019), and the long-running preference for Konnyaku Batake is the result of building up different small efforts and presenting subtle accents to win customers’ attention and hearts.

What kind of fans are supporting the long-running sales?

Hayashi: For Konnyaku Batake, it’s the women in their 40s and 50s. Because Konnyaku Batake has been around for almost 30 years, people who were in their 20s back then have remained fans throughout.

Takagishi: They are probably eating it mostly as a snack. We have seen uploads of Instagram pictures of people putting Konnyaku Batake in bento boxes as dessert, which makes us happy to see our customers taking pictures. Additionally, most pictures are so good that they look like the work of a professional. Other things we’ve seen are people enjoying Konnyaku Batake after baths or as desserts while on a diet.

That’s a really good appeal. While we heard some good stories, were there also any issues with Konnyaku Batake?

Saito: Now that the brand is so powerful and huge, one of the issues is that we can’t do anything, or rather, we are afraid of doing anything, As for the substance of the product, amid the recent boom for low-calorie sweets predominantly using high intensity sweeteners, we did not ride on the tide and kept to the same flavor with the same texture. As for the package, we stuck to the same color image and maintained the concept of bringing out the freshness factor of fruits and the Konnyaku Batake logo. Therefore, we have a besetting concern that changing anything would cause sales to drop. On the other hand, it is also our goal to acquire a new customer base while keeping to the current brand value and concept.

That might be an envious dilemma of a completed product and brand. What kind of approaches are you making toward people in their 20s and 30s?

Saito: We are advertising our whole product line on Instagram, but Konnyaku Batake has taken a defensive stance overall. However, since 2019 is our 50th anniversary, in commemoration of this we marketed region-specific Konnyaku Batake in seven areas in Japan. We made melon flavor for Hokkaido, Satonishiki cherries for Tohoku, Tochiotome strawberries for Kanto-Koshinetsu, Nishio matcha for Chubu, mixed juice for Kinki, yuzu citrus for Chugoku and Shikoku, and Amao strawberries for Kyushu. We tried for the first time to market products that are only available in a certain area. Jelly products sell the most during spring and summer, and sales start dropping in mid-August. The region-specific Konnyaku Batake was launched during and after September this year, so being able to make solid sales during that time of the year was a great achievement. It was received favorably by customers, many of which posted their purchase on their SNS accounts.

The first adventure of Konnyaku Batake was a great success.

Hayashi: When we look at Instagram and other SNSs, we saw quite a few mothers in their 30s uploading their own pictures, so we felt that we have reached the younger generations.

Saito: While we would like to say that Lala Crush targets younger people, the reality is that the customer base is similar to that for Konnyaku Batake, which is our current issue. As a measure to expand our user base, we would like to increase sales by winning over a different, additional user base with Lala Crush without touching Konnyaku Batake, but since it uses the same package and pouch along with a similar design, they look sort of different, sort of the same. The differentiation is difficult.

We have heard that you are using INTAGE’s iTree for that issue.

Saito: Yes. We are planning a big renewal of Lala Crush in March 2020, for which we are leveraging iTree to its fullest extent. We were looking at iTree every day. We just kept looking and looking and looking at iTree (Laugh). What we aimed for is a total production of the package design with advertising creatives.

Takagishi: We identified the issues using iTree. Upon designing the package, we specifically explored the issues by examining the users’ characteristics and changes in sales while benchmarking Lala Crush with Konnyaku Batake and competitor products to find out where it currently lies among consumer purchases. First, we identified overlaps in users with Konnyaku Batake and then analyzed which user base generation has shrunk compared to last year. Our planning for the Lala Crush renewal started with the objectives to find and win a user base where Lala Crush could be the primary player without overlapping with Konnyaku Batake and at the same time bringing previous customers back to the brand. By using iTree, we were able to communicate the issues right away to other members. Also, being able to discuss while looking at the same graphs allowed us three to share awareness and work as one.

Saito: Implementation was quick after starting discussion. Because the direction of the concept is the same for both the package and advertising, once we made the concept for the package, we just simply showed it to the advertising agency to create ads. It was our first time making a package based on user analysis.

Hayashi: Although, we came up with the image of “to whom we want to sell” right away.

Saito: That’s right. Previously, we were creating our own customer image based on the preconception of what kind of women we want to target. However, looking at data brought a user image to the surface that was not based on our preconception. It was very nice that we were able to share that as a common awareness within the team.

Takagishi: With iTree as the start, we performed an in-depth analysis on benchmark surveys and past survey results. By looking in-depth and with refined searches on the data we were first presented by iTree, we were able to create a target character image based on solid data instead of instinct.

It seems that you have a common language now and have built a cycle that leverages data exploratively. First you look at iTree and examine the ad-hoc research from there. That connects to your review and leads to a cycle.

Saito: Exactly. During the discussion with Mr. Higaki at the INTAGE Forum, we were told that “data comes first, and the actual substance is the part that you need to think up yourself.” Hearing that made us confident that we are on the right track. What we are doing with iTree is something like that. It’s really enjoyable to look at data and expand our horizons. It’s something that we discovered through using iTree, or rather, where we progressed. We had the iTree developers Mr. Iino and Mr. Sakatsume come from INTAGE the other day to give us marketing training. What was most impressive from that program was when they told us “not to get lost in data.” They said that only after you lay out the plan, do you start looking for adequate data. If we weren’t informed, we would have been buried in data by now. (Laugh)

iTree seems to see a lot of use. Is there anything that changed before and after you started using iTree?

Saito: A lot has changed. TV commercials, for example. We ran a new commercial in September 2019. When creating a commercial, discussions start from scratch. The budget and approximate GRP are determined, but who we want to target using what is considered from phase zero. Conventionally, Lala Crush advertising creatives mostly worked on appealing to target groups such as “office ladies” or “people in their 20s or 30s” or “men and women working in offices,” so for this time they also started out with discussing which one of these groups to target.
However, now we first open iTree for analysis. When we researched which generations are buying and who our competitors are using the SCI (Nationwide Consumer Panel Survey), for the first time we found that our products were purchased more by teenage girls and women in their 20s compared to the products of our competitors. So this time, we decided to steer toward the younger generations. With a closer look into the attributes of such teenagers, we found a large proportion of people “commuting from home.” This trend of a large proportion of “commuters from home” was also observed in women in their 20s and in the work force. When you think about the characteristics of “commuters from home,” you start seeing things like, they have more flex in how they use their money, they are not in desperate need of food, they are taking in enough nutrients, and so on. When you look at their value axis, you can see that they are people who “stick to their principles,” which is unique. From that analysis, we envisioned teenagers who are commuting from home, with their mother at home feeding them well, have freedom in time such as for their hobbies, and care about being who they are as our communication target for this commercial. We incorporated all of this into our materials for our company presentation. Previously, we used to get data from agencies and INTAGE and prepare materials using it, which was very time-consuming. Now with iTree, it takes a lot less time to get to this phase. Even when we are giving a presentation of an advertising plan for in-house members, values and views tend to get intuitive sometimes. However, when we show iTree’s analysis data, it takes less time to persuade them and we easily get a green light. Moreover, with data that we have and data that the company making the commercial has, we can hold a solid discussion using data as a common language. We realized that a good commercial can be made through firmly proposing our own ideas, not only with unilateral information.
While we aimed to make a “distinctively unique commercial” targeting teenagers, the key point lies in the use of Baku Idegami, who is known for his genderless identity. Within a few days of its broadcast, the commercial got a lot of reaction from teenagers on SNS, as we intended. Mr. Idegami’s comments also received a large response. The Lala Crush sale surged at the time and it is still stably increasing. Mr. Idegami signed with a management office the other day, but we actually discovered him first. (Laugh)

The quality of your work dramatically changed after using iTree. When you said that it also affected the way you work, what do you mean specifically?

Saito: Our marketing representatives make their own business negotiation materials, but when they need to prepare for a major deal, they sometimes request that our division provide the necessary materials. Previously, we used to pass on that request to INTAGE or an agency, but mediating mutual explanation and understanding took a lot of time. Ever since we began using iTree, preparation of materials has become more efficient as we can make them ourselves in a blink of an eye.

Do marketing representatives use data themselves to make the materials they need?

Saito: In fact, it was the marketing division that initially introduced iTree. The management of iTree was passed on here because of its high use, and that’s how we got to using it as well. The marketing structure at Mannanlife is somewhat irregular―there is not a single sales office, and each representative independently covers the area they are in charge of, with Tomioka in Gunma Prefecture as the home base. Therefore, we had the problem of not being able to share information among the marketing representatives. In that respect, with iTree, everyone can open up their computers and access the latest data right away as well as share information quickly with everyone else.

So before introducing iTree, your marketing representatives were painstakingly creating literature using the data we gave?

Hayashi: I was working at the marketing division until this spring and was transferred to this division right when the iTree was introduced. I come from “before” iTree, not “after” iTree. (Laugh) I was in charge of northern Kanto, but we didn’t have iTree yet, so I was working hard making the materials we needed while staring at the list of numbers. While I was given the data, I couldn’t figure out what to make of it. And organizing data takes time and effort. On top of that, each representative had a large area to cover on their own, so I did not have anyone I could consult with, making me anxious about whether I was reading the data correctly. When I asked the marketing division now, they said that being able to check the store turnover ratio and the sales and price per item on iTree widens the range of proposals they can make and enables them to create the materials they need with just the click of a button. They also find it helpful that the data is easy to understand. They can use the time that they saved on making materials to brush up their proposals and visit more customers.

How is iTree as a tool in terms of usability and operability?

Takagishi: The document that we got at the first briefing when starting to use iTree was very easy to understand, showing the flow for where to look if problems occur. Check here if the number of users is decreasing, check the visibility when sales do not increase after releasing a commercial... and so on. Data has specific ways you have to see it, and based on that knowledge we studied the results after releasing a commercial. With that sheet and iTree, I felt that iTree was easy to use and understand even without knowledge of marketing.

How much is iTree used internally?

Hayashi: I think everyone in marketing is using it.

Saito: We use it the most, but officers and managers are also looking at it. Many of the meeting handouts are created using iTree. In smaller meetings, we may even use iTree while we talk. We also want to use iTree in product development in the future. Currently, we gather younger members from each division to take part in concept design and planning, and we hope that such project members also take a look into iTree with us so that they can give us their views.

Lastly, can you tell us about any expectations or requests you have for INTAGE and iTree?

Saito: INTAGE has done a great deal for us.

Hayashi: I just asked the marketing people, and they seem to be using iTree quite well. As a request, they mentioned that while they can see a graph of yearly data at a glance, it would be even better if they could compare with two years ago. Also, there are times when we want to compare data with the previous month and not just the same month a year ago. If we could do that, we would be delighted.

Saito: I would like to see more crossovers, maybe including occasions. For example, if we can refine sales data more specifically by gender, age, and region and get a cross-tabulation of amounts and quantity all in one go, that would be great! It would be fabulous if we could match people attribute data with respect to their value with food settings!

Such a high-level request may be coming from you because you have already mastered iTree. (Laugh)

Saito: We are using it a lot, so we have strong feelings about it. The three of us started out with no knowledge at all—we have that attitude of just jumping right at what we have. I just want to say that we love iTree!

I am sure that our developers would be crying with delight if they heard that. (Laugh) Thank you for taking your time to share your wonderful stories with us.

November 2019 at Mannanlife Head Office

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