The Strategist Behind Mentos Japan on His Favorite Marketing Touchstones and More!
Today, we’re sharing this delightful conversation we had with Robert Purss, brand manager of Mentos for Japan—and bilingual marketing expert.
We asked umpteen questions about marketing in Japan, including what it’s like behind the scenes at globally known candy brand Mentos.
Purss gamely ran through managing Mentos, what people often get wrong about marketing, the latest product/trend he was impressed with, the most recent marketing campaign that caught his eye + prompted action, and many other little treats.
We enjoyed this so much, and we hope you do too!
Can you tell us a bit about yourself, your background, and what brought you to Japan?
PURSS: I am 39 years old, Australian, living in Japan for 14 years. Married with a Japanese wife and 2 kids.
Coming from a small country town in Australia, I grew up thinking that all Asian people were basically the same, learning at an embarrassingly late age that China and Japan were actually very different places!
My first interaction with Japanese people was at University (The University of Queensland) where I stayed at International House College and lived with a wide range of nationalities. This really sparked my interest in the people and culture, inspiring me to study Japanese, in parallel with my Marketing and Psychology degrees.
Following my graduation, with basic language skills and a big dream, I was lucky to land a 2-month internship at a local City Hall in Chiba, via AIESEC. And as they say, the rest is history...
What do most people get wrong about social media/marketing in Japan?
PURSS: I think the thing most people get wrong about Social Media (and Digital in general), is that it is a Channel. In other words, a means through which to communicate a message about your brand, based on your strategy. I feel that people sometimes confuse this, especially with questions like "Can you do Digital"?
That being said, Digital (as a channel) can be very complex, and Marketers need to be on top of the details to ensure they are getting value for their investments. The key, however in my experience, is having focused KPIs, clearly linked to your strategy, and giving the agency (both Creative and Media) the responsibility for delivering on it.
As for marketing misconceptions in Japan. In my experience, marketing in Japan is very standardized. A classic example is the definition of "marketing" by key associations; for example, the Japan Marketing Association (JMA) has not changed its definition over the years, while the American Marketing Association (AMA) has been through several iterations.
So, on the positive side, this basically means it is relatively easy to talk strategy based on classic analysis methods and marketing models, etc. because most people are familiar with them.
However, on the flip side, bringing more leading-edge thinking can sometimes be challenging.
Any recent Japanese marketing campaigns that you’ve seen and been impressed by?
PURSS: Not so much a campaign, but more an opportunity I was recently excited about is Mask Spray (to sterilize the inside of your mask while leaving a nice scent).
That is identifying a new need, and creating a new category (with a potentially existing product) to satisfy it. I think this type of category / product has huge growth potential.
Any recent revelations or learnings about marketing in Japan that you want to share with business owners in Japan?
PURSS: Know your marketing fundamentals and use this as the platform to build your strategy. In that case, you will most likely be speaking the same language (hopefully, literally and figuratively) as your counterparts and move closer to aligning your plan.
Talk to us about your present role as brand manager for Mentos. What’s a day like for you?
PURSS: Perfetti van Melle currently has 3 brands in Japan; Frisk, Mentos, and Chupa Chups. Many people imagine quite a big company, but we are just 15 people in Japan.
Personally, I am in charge of all marketing strategy and execution for Mentos. My key counterparts are local teams (supply chain, trade marketing, finance, etc.), global teams (global marketing, global R&D), our local distributor (Kracie Foods), and both local and global suppliers and agencies.
In addition to strategy, given the nature of the candy business, we are involved heavily in new product development and project management, launching up to 6 new flavors per year. These are developed in both China and the Netherlands.
Creative executions on the other hand are mostly developed locally, although we need to align with the overall global strategy.
To deliver our strategy, on a typical day I am frequently in touch with multiple countries, working in multiple languages (ok, well, Japanese and English anyway ;))
Is there anything that Mentos does differently in terms of marketing for the Japan crowd as opposed to elsewhere?
PURSS: As the lead for Mentos in Japan, one of my key roles is ensuring that local consumers can connect with the brand. As most people working in foreign companies in Japan know, this mostly means trying to convince global counterparts that “Japan is different.”
I spend quite a lot of my time educating global teams to ensure we can deliver the most relevant communications to our local audience while maintaining our global positioning.
The approach which Mentos takes in Japan, compared to other markets, is unique in my experience.
Below is an example of our latest campaign which just launched on September 6. The objective is to increase the consideration of Mentos for males in their 20s through communicating the “uplifting feeling” that can be enjoyed from eating Mentos. In this case, the “uplifting feeling” which prompts you to challenge new experiences ... with a happy end of course :)
Are there any other product launches and/or campaigns which you are proud of during your time managing Mentos?
PURSS: Thank you for asking. I am approaching almost 3 years managing Mentos now, and during that time have launched over 15 new products, and 9 campaigns (across all the major channels, including TV).
One that stands out in my mind is this year's March launch of Mentos DUO (Grape & Soda).
This was the first ever sub-brand launch for Mentos in Japan (in its almost 30-year history), and entering into the small bag segment has step-changed business growth.
Executed based on a combination of strategic thinking, intuition and luck (I actually discovered the package format in an old cabinet during a factory tour in China!).
In addition to our core products, we are now planning to raise this sub-brand with consistent investment.
Any developments in AdTech or MarTech that you are watching closely or excited about?
PURSS: Honestly, I don't really follow these things. Sometimes I find it a bit hard to see through the smoke-and-mirrors so to speak.
What are some of your favorite marketing concepts that are under-appreciated or under-represented, that you feel should get more air time?
PURSS: I am a strong believer in thinking about execution in terms of Creative AND Media. I have seen fantastic Creatives that fail to deliver because they didn't think of the right media channels in advance, and visa-versa.
For example, you could have a great Creative idea, but if it is going to take 1 minute to explain that to consumers, and one of your KPIs is awareness, then it probably isn't going to work.
Off the top of your head, any campaigns you recently came across that resulted in action from you? And what's a takeaway from that?
PURSS: Great question. I think that introspection and imagination are the keys to innovation.
Recently I was in the market for a smartwatch (mainly to train for a triathlon). I ended up going for a lesser-known brand called Coros.
I felt that they were really smart in the way they marketed it, focusing on a few key benefits that matter to consumers, especially newbies—battery life / light weight.
After reading some reviews, I realized one of the negative points was the dim display, but clearly they did this to save on battery life.
I thought this was a really smart marketing lead idea, the essence of the strategy, “what not to do.”
They clearly decided that longer battery life was a key factor for purchase and went with it.
Bravo. I ended up buying two (one for my dad)!
What’s the most helpful marketing advice ever given to you/or heard?
PURSS: Another great question. Personally, I have been lucky enough to work with some really smart people over the years. Some things I have taken to head and heart are:
選択集中 (Selection and Focus)—essentially the key elements of strategy
Less is more—similar to the above, but especially relevant for communications
The execution is the strategy—in other words, the execution should communicate the strategy, in and of itself
Innovation = Introspection + Imagination
What are bad recommendations you hear in your profession? And what advice would you give instead?
PURSS: As mentioned above, “Digital” is a channel to communicate a message, based on a strategy.
For longevity in Marketing, I think it is worthwhile honing your skills in strategy before diving into execution.
I often see a lot of young marketers getting carried away with execution without a clear strategy (at least I did!).
What is one thing that might surprise people or something people don't know about what you do?
PURSS: People are often surprised to hear that we are such a small company (in Japan) and that I am a one-man team.
However, globally, we are a huge company with many moving parts and people (both internal and external). Locally, we are supported by fantastic teams of agencies and creatives.
Some people are also surprised to hear that most of our flavors are developed specifically for Japan. So that means a lot of taste testing! My kids have turned out to be expert panelists whom I often turn to for advice :)
Anything we should have asked that we haven't?
PURSS: I really love marketing and solving business problems. If anyone is grappling with a marketing or business related problem, and/or simply wants to grow their business, feel free to reach out anytime. I would be more than happy to see how I can help.
Connect with Robert Purss on Linkedin here.
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