The Japanese are particular about things; they understand the “soul” of things.

We aim to develop products with soul. The idea that products have soul is perhaps only understand by the Japanese, the French and the Italians. The reason why the Japanese understand it is, I think, because they have such a long history of tradition. There are Japanese craftsmen who spend years perfecting lacquerware. Others protect the 1,500 year tradition of using red dye from the safflower. Others still are attempting new experiments using 21st century technology with traditional colors. And there are many people who are called “living national treasures”. The Japanese are particular about things. They like to embark on new adventures and think about the next idea while still retaining the soul of things. Of course, not all consumers are “living national treasures”. But this kind of thing is understood at DNA level. The Japanese are sensitive to things. They understand the goodness of our products, beyond their appearance or brand image. And for that reason, I think they are an important market for us.

Let’s say you buy a garment and a thread comes out of it. The French would cut the thread off themselves, then wear the garment. An American would wear the garment without noticing the thread. The Japanese would take the garment back to the shop and complain that it was damaged. Japan is a market that makes such demands.

Richard Collasse, then President of Chanel, Japan addressing the Tokyo International Forum

Japan is roughly the size of Montana in land area, and has about 127 million inhabitants (roughly one-third of the USA). And, the Japanese are obsessed with luxury goods. They consumed 41% of the worlds luxury sales in 2006. Thus, when the Japanese customer is not satisfied with threads hanging from their newly purchased outfits, it makes sense for the luxury goods companies to pay attention.

The Japanese define quality in two ways – atarimae hinshitsu and miryokuteki hinshitsu. The first term atarimae hinshitsu, refers to the expectation that the item works the way it was intended. Miryokuteki hinshitsu means “bewitching” or “enchanting quality” and refers to the desirability or aesthetic appeal of the product. In essence, by focusing on both, you ensure your product works the way a customer wants and is also desirable to have (it has soul).

If your customers won’t tolerate hanging threads, should anyone on your team? Learn from your most demanding customers, and ensure everyone in your organization is focused on exceeding those changing expectations. This is the only way I know to drive long term sustainability.

For more synergy, read these “soul” related stories…

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