Change the product, not the customer!

There is an interesting, historical note about Kikkoman Soy Sauce. As you probably know, Kikkoman is the world’s largest seller of soy sauce — the biggest marketer, the most successful marketer of soy sauce. It’s a large company that comes from Japan.

They were hoping to be very successful in a very large food and beverage market — the United States. They entered the U.S. in the 1950s. They entered, as most Japanese firms do, from the West Coast in California. And they were selling soy sauce mostly to Asian grocery stores along the West Coast.

They sold very little volume, because, in the 1950s, Americans were not used to consuming soy sauce. It was a foreign product. It was an exotic product. You usually encountered it in a Chinese restaurant when you went to eat out. You used very little soy sauce in your food.

And they couldn’t figure out how to make it more successful in America and how to sell more soy sauce. And then, the chairman of the company, visiting the U.S., studied the way that American consumers consumed food. And he said, “I learned something about the differences between the way that Americans eat food and Japanese eat food.”

“Two main differences: One is that Americans don’t eat much of sushi. In Japan, we eat a lot of sushi. And when we eat sushi, we dip a little piece of sushi in a little bit of soy sauce before we eat. The second major difference is, Americans eat a lot more meat, especially beef, than we do in Japan. Beef is much more expensive in Japan than it is in America.”

So we sat down and we said, “You know, rather than trying to get American consumers to behave like Japanese consumers, why don’t we change the way we sell our products and make those products acceptable to American consumers?”

So we manufactured a barbecue marinade called “teriyaki” that was made for American consumers to dip their large pieces or to soak their large pieces of barbecue meat in and then they’d throw this marinade out. Our volume of soy sauce went through the roof.

So, you can just imagine, now — huge lesson here — rather than trying to get a consumer to change to your way of doing things, change your product to suit what the consumer wants to do, how they live their lives.

An easy way of thinking about this is, when you’re thinking about marketing your product; think from the outside in, not from the inside out. Think from the customer in to your firm, rather than from your firm out to the customer.

Satyam is a Consultant with Infosys Ltd. and editor / founder of When he is not talking about Digital Marketing or dreaming of CRM strategies, he can be found on a treadmill. He enjoys travelling, reading and listening to music! Catch up with him on twitter at @xatyam