1. Title of the research unit:
Marketing and Communicating to Older Consumers in Japan
2. Name of the person in charge:
Professor Emmanuel Chéron, Ph.D.
Faculty of Liberal Arts and Graduate Program in Global Studies
3. Research Proposal
One essential business implication of demographic change is the emergence and constant growth of the so-called "graying market" or "silver market", the market segment more or less broadly defined as those people aged 55 and older (Moschis, et al., 2000). This consumer market segment is increasing in number and share of the total population while at the same time being relatively affluent. It can be seen as very attractive and promising, although still very underdeveloped in terms of understanding what products and services are needed and what communication strategies are appropriate
Japan is both the most severely affected country by the demographic shift and the most advanced in terms of product development and innovation with very affluent, free-spending but also demanding customers. Japanese companies were among the first to react to the challenge of the demographic change and are constantly coming up with product as well as service innovations (Cotterill, 2002; Irie et al., 2005; Kohlbacher, 2007). Nevertheless, they have but touched the tip of the iceberg of the huge potential of this market. This research project aims at analyzing the challenges and opportunities in leveraging innovation and product development for elderly consumers and in developing marketing and communication strategies better adapted to the silver market.
3.1. Goal and Basic Research Questions
The research aims of this study are to understand: (1) Specific services, products, and product features needed for the silver market, (2) How the Japanese silver market is approached in advertising and (3) Changes over the last ten years in the representation of seniors in Japanese advertising. The study also tries to find a more meaningful categorization and segmentation of the Japanese silver market, and aims at developing ageless and/or trans-generational marketing strategies.
The specific research questions of this project can be separated into four groups:
3.1.1. Target Group/Consumers/Segmentation (How can the target group be defined and the market segmented? Under what conditions are products designed for the silver market also successful with other age groups? Does ageless advertising exist, and if so, what are its characteristics? To what extent has past and present silver advertising changed to better appeal to older consumers? What examples of products are explicitly designed for seniors versus products only marketed to them?).
3.1.2. Products/Services (Which product categories are more frequently advertised in silver market advertisements? Which product attributes are highlighted in ads? How are trans-generational products advertised?)
3.1.3. When elderly consumers are included in advertising, how are they represented? Is there a difference with respect to gender?
3.1.4. What is perception and receptivity of senior consumers to products, services and communication designed for the silver market?
3.2. Analytical Framework
The theoretical framework shown in Figure 1 draws on the traditional structure of a marketing strategy (Kotler et al., 2006) including the marketing decisions on products/services, pricing, distribution and communication to reach various potential segments of the senior market. To emphasize the specific research questions raised in the previous section, the three main parts of the research framework relates to 1) Product and services, 2) Marketing communication (at the center) and 3) Examples of senior market segments previously identified in research surveys conducted in western countries. The feedback loop from the market to the product and services reflects the importance of the "outside-in" modern marketing approach (Kotler et al., 2006).
The first research question of this project is covered in the top and bottom part of Figure1. Most products and services are now designed following structured procedures and standards of universal design (Kyoyo hin foundation in Japan) to better meet the needs of the silver market, people with disabilities or people unfamiliar with the product or service. For example, Irie et al. (2005) of the Fujitsu company in Japan described how the Raku Raku mobile phone was systematically designed following such a procedure. Once designed, with or without the silver maket in mind, products and services may be marketed to specific age groups such as elderly consumers, younger consumers or to no specific age groups. Some products not developed explicitly for the silver market, turn out to be appealing to older consumers. Recent examples of toys such as model helicopters, talking dolls and home planetarium projectors originally planned for children have been very successful among specific segments of seniors in Japan (The Nikkei Weekly, 2008).
The communication process at the center of Figure 1 is related to all other research questions addressed by this research project.
3.3. Research Methods
To answer the specific questions listed in paragraph 3.1 above, the research methods will involve a review of the latest published research in the area of marketing to the senior market and its application in Japan. The researchers have already conducted preliminary qualitative interviews with managers in the three largest advertising agencies in Japan. Using a qualitative content analysis method suggested by Kohlbacher (2006), these interviews are in process of transcription and analysis to evaluate the need for further interviews. The writing of case studies in relation to the development and advertising of specific products (Pro age cosmetics, Raku Raku mobile phones, travel packages, health care services) targeting the silver market is planned with the support of research assistants. Williams et al. (2007) used the case study method in a previously published research article on an advertising campaign to promote the benefits of olive oil to elderly people.
Previous research studies have used content analysis of advertising materials (Mueller, 1990; Maynard, 2003, Prieler, 2006; 2007). We plan to conduct extensive content analysis of past and recent Japanese TV commercials targeting the silver market in comparison to the Japanese public in general. Limited access to data of Japanese TV commercials has been obtained from an independent advertising research organization. Research support is needed to complete the translation and coding of the preliminary data collected.
Field surveys have been used in previous consumer behavior research projects involving Japanese consumers (Chéron and Sugimoto, 1994; Chéron and Hayashi, 2001). The consumption behavior and sources of information of Japanese consumers in various silver market groups will be collected by field surveys focusing on specific products/services and research questions mentioned in paragraph 3.1.4. Research support is needed to conduct the fieldwork and coding of the survey data.
3.4. Expected Outcome
The activities of the Research Unit are aiming at fostering exchange and dialog among senior consumer organizations, policymakers and company managers. The outcome of the research effort is expected to show that a concerted effort is required to improve understanding of the product, service and communication needs of the various segments of the senior market in Japan. Presentations, discussions and workshops will be organized to share results with representatives of senior associations, public officials and private managers. In line with previous research, it is also expected that an additional benefit will be to find innovative ways of marketing, distributing and pricing when doing business with segments of the elderly market in Japan.
3.5. Potential Implications of Research Findings
The findings will serve as guidance for marketing decisions targeting the silver market as well as for senior consumer organizations and public policy decisions makers.
4. Names of researchers involved outside Sophia University
Dr. Florian Kohlbacher,
Research fellow at the German Institute for Japanese Studies, Tokyo
Dr. Michael Prieler,
Visiting researcher at the German Institute for Japanese Studies, Tokyo>/
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