Panasonic’s UK marketing director Andrew Denham explains how the electronics giant is looking to diversify into energy-saving technology while remaining true to the company founder’s principles.
Marketing Week (MW): What is Panasonic’s brand strategy?
Andrew Denham (AD): We used to run several brands around the world, but the problem with a multiple brand strategy is obviously duplication. [Previous] president Kunio Nakamura wanted to unify the brands, hence Panasonic Ideas for Life was born, which is a global tagline we all use, although there is some differentiation by market.
[Panasonic was globally] called Matsushita, so whenever there was an announcement nobody in the UK understood who on earth we were and so we lost that brand opportunity to build an association with innovation.
Making the global name change to Panasonic was a big step for Panasonic because of the traditions and history behind company founder Konosuke Matsushita.
MW: How has founder Konosuke Matsushita and his successors affected the culture of the company?
AD: When I arrived in 1994 we were in a bit of a lull period because Konosuke Matsushita’s death in 1989 created a lot of uncertainty. Kunio Nakamora came in and rebuilt the company from the bottom up. He went back into the books [written by Matsushita] and understood what he would have done if he was still alive.
We have some very fundamental business principles that drive everything we do (see below). It is very easy to lose your way and get caught up in very short-term decision making if you don’t remind yourself of where we need to go as a company. Our UK managing director Keith Evans is very keen on that. It gives us a reason to do the job rather than just get some numbers on a balance sheet at the end of the year. It is quite a motivator.
Company founder Konosuke Matsushita was a bicycle apprentice who started making two-socket light bulbs from his home in 1918. He believed the mission of a manufacturer is to make products that enhance the quality of people’s lives, and that the needs of customers and employees should come first.
Andrew Denham says these principles remain true today. “Matsushita was a great advocate of building people before products. Through the ups and downs of the business [he was] putting people first but also asking them to give their all when times required,” he says. “We are now entering this period of uncertainty globally, and a lot of people are turning towards his learnings.”
MW: What kind of personality would you like to develop for the brand?
AD: This is the million dollar question. Our customers have a slightly older profile with a slightly higher disposable income. Words like “serious” are used to describe the brand, which is not a bad thing, but more personality is something I’d be very keen to bring in.
We appeal to a diverse collection of consumers, so it is quite difficult to communicate a message that crosses all the technologies – particularly when we are going to diversify into other areas in the future. That is part of a longer term mission that we are looking at.
MW: What innovations are in the pipeline?
AD: In Japan we have collaborated with house builders and we do all the infrastructure in the homes. It is like going into a very upmarket Ikea and buying your lifestyle – you actually get your plot of land and decide on the style of house you want and then build up that style.
Over here we are looking at fuel cell and battery storage as an energy management system. The European release of the fuel cell is planned for the end of 2013, and the worldwide release of battery storage is planned for 2014.
MW: What is the long-term plan for the brand?
AD: The long-term aim is to add a new dimension to the business and become very active as an energy company. Since the founding of the company we have used energy and now have a very strong ambition and mission to start to generate the energy that powers the devices we sell, so completing the circle. Timing is hard to say but there is a lot of work going on behind the scenes at the moment.
We are also looking to diversify into new business areas such as energy-saving technology. In Tokyo we have an eco house that is both carbon neutral and contributes energy to the national grid. It’s a big part of the thread in terms of rebuilding where Panasonic will be in 10 years time globally.
MW: What is the reason behind the £60m European above-the line-pitch?
AD: It’s just a revisit of the agencies to look for new creative directions. We have a great ongoing relationship with our UK agency Brave, so it is just looking for a fit that can work on the European brief. Some product areas are hard to communicate, and we are looking to get the very best creatives on the job to try and get some innovation and fresh ideas. We go through agency reviews fairly frequently, so it is part of that process.
MW: How will your budget be split this year?
AD: An increased weight will be directed towards digital media and more targeted forms of communication. I don’t wish to define the exact amount of digital media spend, but it isn’t the majority [of the £60m UK marketing budget]. Of the digital spend, about 15% will go on looking for new ways to reach our customers. We keep a level of flexibility in our approach, which allows us to do things like running ads for our 3D TVs on Project, Sir Richard Branson’s iPad magazine.
MW: How do you map the customer journey?
AD: Digital helps. We try to deliver content while people are online by intelligently serving internet users who have visited associated websites, which helps us be more relevant. We rely on feedback from store staff and getting out and seeing stores for ourselves is very important.
We do a lot of consumer focus groups in addition to pre- and post-testing advertising to improve its relevance and make the message clean and simple, which is always a battle.
The long-term aim is to add a new dimension to the business and become very active as an energy company
MW: How does customer service relate to marketing?
AD: A lot of what we are doing at the moment involves our customer service team. We are all on the same floor here, so if you want to get the voice of the customer you can go and listen for 20 minutes and it’s very immediate. It really helps having in-house call centres.
Trying to develop a mechanism to feed customer services back to marketing is very important. That is starting to happen more and more via the online environment, making sure the product planning teams have first-hand access to that data.
MW: Panasonic is a top level Olympic partner. What plans do you have to leverage this?
AD: Sponsoring the Olympics is a great opportunity that really fits with the brand. We have a passion for delivering the ultimate product performance like the athletes who are fine-tuning everything for that peak performance in 2012. We are providing the backbone for the broadcasting, which is quite stressful for the teams [running the operations] but it is an honour to be a part of that.
MW: What else can we expect from your partnership with the International Olympic Committee?
AD: We want to try and engage a younger audience. We are working with Film Nation: Shorts [a film-making competition for young people, where winning films will be shown at London 2012] which really engages with younger film-makers and producers. We will also be volunteering our staff and will run consumer promotions within the permitted framework.
We ran a celebration of the two-year countdown in Trafalgar Square last July, which was all about sharing the passion and obviously we are always trying to push the next technology. HD during the Beijing Games was a big push and hopefully 3D will be a key technology at the 2012 Olympics.