-- On 1 November 2017, "recipist," a skincare and body care brand targeted at millennials, was launched for sale. There seem to be many new experimental elements that are suitable for the millennial generation, such as the balance between high quality and low prices, and promotional campaigns that make proactive use of smartphones.
Nagashima: In recent years, Shiseido has not had a skincare brand that is firmly oriented toward the younger generation. One of Shiseido's most important missions at present is to strengthen its ability to attract the younger generation, and it is this mission that has led us to the development of "recipist."
Fujie: Many millennials, who are young people in their early 20s, may not necessarily face serious skincare issues, but are sometimes confronted with sudden skin problems as a result of the environment or their lifestyles. The concept of "recipist" is to help such skin possess the basic power of beauty. We have harnessed Shiseido's technology, and incorporated natural ingredients such as raspberry and apricot when designing the products.
-- How is marketing carried out for such products developed for the young?
Fujie: As we wanted to physically capture and understand the lifestyles and preferences of the millennial generation, we met with several people who matched our target consumer group in person, and spoke to them in depth one-to-one. The contents of these interviews have been reflected into the products. As skincare and cosmetic products are very personal items, it was difficult to grasp what they were really thinking in just one interview. Instead, we interviewed each person three to four times to carefully capture their insights.
Nagashima: Typically, during product development and marketing, the Marketing Department takes the lead in developing a framework for the brand, and then designers from the Advertising and Design Department come up with the packaging design. After that, the Communication Team thinks about the advertising... In this way, the respective specialists pass on the baton from one to another, while being responsible for their own fields.
This time, however, the Creative Director (Nagashima), Strategist (Fujie), and Designers (Kawai and Kuga) from the Advertising and Design Department were involved from the formulation of the brand concept, and worked together with the other departments to build the brand.
-- What was the "image of the millennials" that you identified through this process?
Fujie: The first thing they all have in common is an enjoyment of their own lives. While they certainly do not have much money to use freely, they place great importance on personal ties as well as hobbies and interests that they can become completely absorbed in. For that reason, they seem to put positive and creative effort into managing their lives and getting by. This left a strong impression on me. For example, a person who cycles to work would not be doing so purely to save money, but also for health reasons, or because it feels good to ride against the wind every morning.
While they do not spend much money on skincare, they are not lazy when it comes to scrutinizing each item in detail before making a careful selection. This process is also connected to the sense of individuality and pride of these young women. Rather than focusing solely on keeping the products reasonably priced, we realized that millennials would not choose our products if we did not conduct a serious in-depth analysis of how to differentiate ourselves from other brands.
Nagashima: We have understood the millennials as the consumers whom we have not really had any encounters with in the advertising and promotional campaigns that Shiseido has carried out so far for the mass market. I got the impression that this is a group of people who choose each and every item that they eat and wear in their everyday lives with honesty and sincerity, and who place an emphasis on how something feels in their hands, and on information that they receive from the people whom they trust.
-- Mr. Kuga, you are a millennial yourself. How did you feel when you were listening to the interviewees?
Kuga: Till then, I had never had a very strong idea or clear concept of what type of people millennials are. That is because it is something that I acquired naturally through my life so far... The process of listening to the interviewees and analyzing their responses put this concept into words, and I felt as if I had gained a new sense of clarity and understanding.
-- What type of interviews did you conduct with regard to product design?
Kawai: We subdivided all the component elements of packaging into categories such as "philosophy," "shape of the container," "shape of the cap," "color," "graphic design," etc., and asked the subjects to select their preferences from among several options offered for each element. In this way, we grasped a sense of their preferences, and incorporated these elements into the design. For example, we showed them several interior design pictures of a powder room and asked them which room they would like to carry out their skincare regimen in. We also prepared several samples of plain lotion bottles in different shapes, with no text printed on the bottles, and asked which ones they liked.
For all the questions, the women were able to answer clearly and express their own views. For example, in the case of the bottle shape, they would prudently compare it to the size of their storage shelves at home, and explain that a bottle with a smaller bottom surface area is better as it takes up less space. There were many unexpected views, so we eventually assembled the design by building up the concept from scratch together with the interviewees, while constantly casting doubt on our own fixed views and assumptions that "Young people are like this" or "Young people are like that."
-- The finished design is simple yet exudes a sense of quality, but all the products are priced considerably cheaply. Weren't there any restrictions when you were coming up with the design, such as the materials you could use?
Kawai: Since keeping the packaging cost at a minimum was a pre-established mission, we turned that restriction on its head instead, and conducted a trial-and-error process to try and create something that has never been used before. We put much creative effort into the design, such as being quite particular about the composition ratio of the color pigment incorporated into the material, and making fine adjustments to the areas to prune away.
Fortunately, one of the characteristics of the millennials that we captured during the interview was that they do not perceive simplicity as a negative trait. To them, simplicity is not merely the result of pruning away wastage, but also has an image of honesty and of placing the focus on ease of use and contents. Hence, they actually see simplicity as an attractive feature.
-- Not only is the design simple, it is also finished with a natural look, isn't it?
Kawai: That is because many of the interviewees had an even more favorable impression toward items that combined the two images of "simplicity" and "natural." In view of that, we created a design that exudes warmth in its simplicity, incorporating effect colors into the pictograms that represent the natural ingredients contained in the product, such as rose or pearl barley, and expressing the "expectation that using the product will lift one up somewhat."
-- In the design, how did you pursue compatibility with the "digital," which is a vital concept when talking about the millennials?
Kawai: As they are particular about how things look on an e-commerce website or on a smartphone, we conducted numerous tests repeatedly to ensure that the design of the pictogram is easily identifiable even on a small screen. Furthermore, in our pursuit of a simple design, we have taken the bold step of removing Japanese text from the surface of the packaging. For products at the price range of "recipist," it is common to ensure that a description of the contents is clearly inscribed on the surface of the packaging, such as "toner," "moisturizing," or "contains natural ingredients." This is because such products are normally sold at drugstores, and the lack of a clear and easily comprehensible description means that the products do not stand out on the shelves, and will not be picked up by consumers.
However, as the primary sales channel for "recipist" will be e-commerce, we can appeal the product features through a screen, rather than putting the descriptions onto the packaging itself. When we raised this question with our interviewees, they were also of the view that "it is more exciting without Japanese text on the packaging." That is why we were able to take the bold step of prioritizing the appearance of the packaging.
-- What are your thoughts when you look back on the method used this time, of creating the brand in collaboration with users of the millennial generation?
Kawai: There were some aspects that we found very difficult, but I think the method used this time matched very well with the millennials' sensibility of having their own firm view and choosing each and every item carefully. It was also very compatible with the "recipist" brand itself. With the objective and reliable views that we received from the women, we were able to gain justification and assurance for each and every product, and to proceed with confidence.
Since we gradually built and shaped the brand together with the users, it felt exciting as we were constantly fumbling and groping for the way, unable to see our final goal. We usually carry out design work based on a hypothesis, and only conduct a preference survey when we are close to completion on the project. Sometimes, we may change direction significantly at that stage; however, nothing like that happened this time. I learnt about the importance for a designer to listen to users during the creative process, rather than bury oneself in the work and do it all alone.
Fujie: I was inspired watching the process from the sidelines. For a designer, leaving it all up to others signifies gamble, doesn't it? From a state where the finished product was a complete unknown, they pieced together each and every reaction like a puzzle, and ultimately produced such a wonderful design based on an entirely new idea... I feel that I have been given the opportunity to witness an incredible work process.
-- During mid-August, prior to the launch of the brand, a campaign was held to give 10,000 users the product samples and ask them to predict the price of the product after a two-week trial use. Against the actual retail price of 590 yen, the average predicted price was 1,784 yen.
Nagashima: This time, we are breaking into primarily the e-commerce market as a new brand. In doing so, we faced the issue of how to spread awareness among the consumers who we hope will become fans of the brand. Even if we were to provide an explanation about the ingredients used in the products, and the skincare theories that the brand genuinely places great value on, such explanations would probably fail to generate interest among young women for whom skincare does not occupy a particularly high priority in their lives. The campaign involving 10,000 test monitors was one such attempt.
Fujie: We did not want to adopt an approach that focuses only on price, such as "surprisingly cheap." By establishing a precise monitoring period and allowing the participants in this campaign to use the products and experience for themselves the impact that the products have on their skins and emotional well-being, we were placing the focus on content and quality, and on encouraging users to experience reactions such as "feeling surprised at the price considering how good the experience of use was" and "this is the smart choice."
-- How do you plan to appeal to women among the millennial generation with regard to the value of "recipist" products?
Nagashima: Since smartphones are at the heart of the everyday lives of these women, we aim to periodically create contents that are highly compatible with their lifestyles. In doing so, we place the emphasis on the approach embodied by the brand name "recipist"—people who create their own lives in a way that is true to themselves, and who are able to propose such ideas. By proposing "ideas = recipes" that can serve some useful purpose and improve one's emotional well-being in life, for example, our aim is to communicate effectively the lifestyle that the brand values while assessing the responses of users, instead of simply focusing on "good product" or "good cost-performance."