Let's declare "Who is the enemy and who is the ally?" Learning from Shu Yamaguchi about marketing strategies for the new era

"HERALBONY and the Philosophy of Words" is a series that takes a simple and thorough philosophical look at the various "words" that we use casually in our daily lives - what lies behind those words.

HERALBONY has been confronting and updating various "preconceptions" embedded in words up until now. In this series, HERALBONY members, including Representative Director Matsuda, will discuss the "philosophy of words" with opinion leaders active in various fields such as business, art, welfare, and academia in order to break free from the spell of words and expand the circle of thought in which 8 billion "unique people" can play active roles with vitality.

In the third episode, Leibniz CEO Shu Yamaguchi, author of the best-selling books "Why do the world's elite hone their 'aesthetic sense'?" (Kobunsha) and "The Future of Business" (President Inc.), and active as an independent researcher, author and public speaker, and Heralbony COO Marie Shinobuoka will philosophize about the word "business."

In the first part , we learned that Heralbony, which aims to hack capitalism and bring about social change, is "a critical business, at the intersection of business and social movements." In the second part, we asked about the "power of empathy" that is the energy behind that change.

>>Click here for the first part: Let's stop catering to customer needs. "Critical business" will change society [Yamaguchi Shu x COO of Heralbony]

All social problems are related to "distant others" or "future others"

Shu Yamaguchi (hereinafter, Yamaguchi): For example, when you see the "Epos Card" that Heralbony collaborated with Marui, you just want it. It's a wonderful design. This is the "power of empathy" after all.

A credit card where 0.1% of the amount used is returned to welfare facilities and artists. There are multiple art works to choose from, and it is popular among young people.

Marie Shinobuoka (hereinafter Shinobuoka): That's right. HERALBONY's products are first and foremost wonderful objects, and then the story behind them comes along. It was the same when I first encountered HERALBONY. I thought it was cute, so I bought a business card holder, and was moved when I later learned about the company's efforts and the background to its founding.

Yamaguchi: I believe that in the coming age, empathy will be a tremendous driving force when it comes to bringing about social change through the business system.

In the first part, I talked about the "power of empathy," but I have always thought that "empathy" is a question of how much distance one can put between oneself and others. Social issues can be divided into two categories: those related to "distant others" and those related to "others in the future."

It may be fine if you can live cheaply and comfortably within 5 meters of yourself. But children may be exploited on a cacao farm somewhere far away, and you may be eating chocolate made from the raw materials produced there. Even when faced with such facts, some people say, "That doesn't matter." Is it enough if only the 5-meter radius of yourself is fine, or do you also think about the happiness of children on the other side of the world? I think "empathy" is about that kind of distance.

The writer Antoine de Saint-Exupéry wrote, "To be human is to take pride in the victories won by our comrades," and this is exactly the same thing. When someone far away experiences misfortune, we grieve together. When someone far away experiences happiness, we rejoice together. It's as simple as that.

Shinobuoka: Empathy is a matter of distance. I just realized that. That's exactly right.

Yamaguchi: And in addition to "distant others" who are geographically distant, there are also "future others" who are separated in time. What we do may cause trouble for people 50 years from now. After all, we are currently being inconvenienced by what people from 50 years ago did. Or, conversely, we may be grateful to others from the past. It is from this perspective that we can see "future others."

Shinobuoka: I see. Expanding your business while increasing the number of allies who can empathize with "distant others" and "others of the future" will make the world a better place. That's the "critical business" that Mr. Yamaguchi mentioned in the first part.

In an age where buying a product is like voting

Shinobuoka: I originally worked as a bureaucrat at the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, and then jumped into the business world. As a bureaucrat, it is difficult to legislate without precedent, and without tax revenue, there is no budget and no subsidies. Although such a system is essential for running the country, I felt that it was not sustainable. "Isn't there a better way to change society?" I began to think that, and moved from the government world to the business world.

At that time, I felt strongly about the "power of voting with money." The act of paying money to buy something from the infinite number of products and services is a kind of "voting." I wondered if we could use this capitalist system to bring about change. It was while I was thinking about this that I came across HERALBONY.

It occurred to me that this was it, and even though there weren't any positions that suited me, I went knocking on doors and said, "Let me work for you!" (laughs).

Yamaguchi: That's right, in critical business the act of "purchasing" is exactly the same as "voting."

Shinobuoka: HERALBONY products are by no means cheap. In fact, some are even quite expensive. So what value are people paying for? In addition to the quality of the product itself, I think it's the artist's own thoughts and the greatness of the art itself. Consumer awareness has changed significantly over the past 10 years. I'm sure HERALBONY would not have been viable as a business 10 years ago.

In the first part, Mr. Yamaguchi talked about "education of consumers," and I feel that it is certain that each individual is becoming more conscious of "what they are paying for." In other words, I think that consumption behavior to satisfy the needs of food, clothing, and shelter is approaching voting behavior, which is about what values ​​you are willing to pay money for.

Yamaguchi: Yes, I also believe that developed countries, including Japan, are in this mature "plateau society*" stage.

*Plateau society = A mature society that is based on a "low-growth economy" like a flat plateau that comes after a period of steady economic growth. For more information, see Shu Yamaguchi's book "The Future of Business" (President Inc.).

The "power of empathy" embeds ethics into business

Yamaguchi: However, there are also dangerous aspects to business. For example, the contemporary art market is extremely heated right now. The prices of artworks are rising so dramatically that it has become like speculation. I hear that among all departments at Deutsche Bank, the investment with the greatest return is in artworks. It is ironic that art purchases, which have been continued as philanthropy, are generating greater profits than finance, which has been the work of professionals.

**Philanthropy = Altruistic or charitable activities aimed at improving people's "well-being" based on love for humanity.

There is no end to artists who get caught up in that world and end up destroying themselves. So I think we are living in an age where the "insight" of those who stand between artists and raw capitalism, like Heralbony, is being deeply questioned.

We need to use the power of business effectively, while at the same time avoid becoming victims of the violence that business inherently holds. To do this, it is very important to engage with stakeholders such as investors. In other words, we need to have people who share our "ethics" as stakeholders.

Shinobuoka: That's right. For example, shareholders who invest in HERALBONY are of course making investment decisions in search of returns, but the most important thing is that each individual capitalist has a strong affinity with the values ​​we uphold.

The same goes for HERALBONY's corporate partners, who sometimes visit welfare facilities when working on projects together. For many of the company executives, this is their first time interacting with people with disabilities, which I think creates even deeper empathy. I feel that this empathy leads to a shared sense of ethics.

In addition, MPower, which became a shareholder last year, has made it mandatory to disclose the social impact that HERALBONY will have, such as giving back to artists and changing awareness of disabilities in society. This can be said to be a system in a sense that does not focus solely on economic returns.

More and more businesses are being started by "capitalist hackers"

Yamaguchi: Looking around the world, I feel that there are a growing number of examples of critical business that simultaneously promotes social movements and business.

One pioneer in this field is The Body Shop, founded in 1976. While these may seem like commonplace now, at the time they were pioneers in not conducting animal testing and actively hiring minorities and other people who lacked employment opportunities. In other words, from the very start, their initiative was more of a social movement than a business.

If we had simply done it as a "social movement," it wouldn't have had much impact. So we decided to do it as a "business." As a result, as you know, it gained support from consumers and experienced explosive growth.

Another example of a combination of business and social movement is The Big Issue. Homeless people sell magazines and the profits are used to cover their living expenses, helping them to return to society. What's interesting is that The Body Shop was founded by Anita Roddick, while The Big Issue was founded by John Bird, and they are actually a married couple.

Shinobuoka: Wow! Is that so?!

Yamaguchi: That's right, the couple ran a business as a social movement. They are both capitalist hackers. The Body Shop was a success, and with the funding it was used to launch The Big Issue.

There are many other examples like this all over the world, and I personally wonder what else can do if business cannot educate and change the world. So I would love to see HERALBONY continue to grow and change society.

In an age where it is important for companies to "declare enemies" and "declare allies"

Shinobuoka: Thank you. However, the direction we should take as a company from now on will always be a matter of trial and error. The most difficult thing is that we are trying to change the current society, so we can't just pander to what exists now, but at the same time, we have to steadily make profits in the market in front of us.

With that as a premise, what kind of growth and marketing strategies are there? I really wanted to ask Mr. Yamaguchi about that.

Yamaguchi: For example, there is a legendary commercial that Apple aired in 1984. The commercial, titled "1984," is based on George Orwell's famous science fiction work "1984," and shows a woman dressed in a costume reminiscent of the Macintosh design smashing a telescreen playing a speech from Big Brother praising totalitarianism with a hammer. At the end, a narrator says, "On January 24, 1984, Apple Computer will release the Macintosh. And you will see why 1984 will not be the year depicted in the novel '1984.'"

That legendary commercial is, so to speak, a "declaration of the enemy." What does Apple exist to fight? It clearly states that. It appeals to the world that Apple will fight against totalitarian thinking, social rules and values ​​that crush people's individuality, and other such things.

Shinobuoka: It's a famous commercial that is still talked about today. It's true, it doesn't say anything about the performance of the Macintosh or the benefits of buying one.

Yamaguchi: I think that this kind of "enemy declaration" will be very important for the growth of a company in the future. Humans are like that, and it is only when we have a common enemy that we "sympathize" and become allies.

Looking at Apple's subsequent commercials, in 2003 they released another famous commercial called "Think Different." While the 1984 commercial was a "declaration of the enemy," this time they defined "who are our allies?" In other words, Apple is declaring itself to be an ally of "those who do not accept the status quo and who try to bring about change," even if they are called crazy or rebels.

Looking at it this way, Apple has only ever said, "Who is the enemy?" and "Who is the ally?" I think this perspective will be important for HERALBONY to consider its marketing strategy in the future.

To remain a cutting-edge company, let's go out from Japan to the world

Yamaguchi: Another thing is the rate at which people who "sympathize" with such communication appear. It's difficult to say that 80% of society will sympathize with a way of communication that is the opposite of the legacy marketing communication that tries to meet current desires cheaply and quickly, as mentioned in the first part. Perhaps only about 10% of people will sympathize with it.

In that case, it is important to expand the "area." Even if only 5% of people are in Japan, if 5% of the world's countries have 5% of them, that's a significant number. What's more, it would be great if those 5% of people strongly sympathize with HERALBONY and are willing to pay for the value it provides.

If we try to do this only in the Japanese market, we will inevitably be too soft on our feet. There is a high possibility that we will end up compromising and thinking, "5% won't be a viable business, so let's soften the message a bit so that about 30% of people will empathize with us."

Shinobuoka: Yes, HERALBONY was recently selected as one of the 18 finalists for the LVMH Innovation Award 2024, and we are now about to take our business global. We actually travel to various cities around the world to hold business meetings, and as soon as we start talking, people immediately empathize and say, "I understand this value!"

Yamaguchi: Yes, I agree. I think what Heralbony is trying to do is very universal. I have relatives with autism, and I'm sure most people have come into contact with people with disabilities at some point in their lives. They're running a really wonderful business, so I want to support them. I'm thinking of getting an Heralbony Epos card right away (laughs).

Items worn by Shu Yamaguchi

The art T-shirt worn by Shu Yamaguchi in this interview features a work by the unique artist Marina. The "Marina characters" that she draws filling up her sketchbook have a mysterious charm, like a language from another world that is not Earth. You can wear it not only for going out on your days off, but also for office casual wear by wearing it under a jacket.

We are currently holding "The Last PONY Presentation" where online store members can purchase old logo products at up to 50% off. Please consider taking advantage of this offer.

《30% OFF》T-shirt "marina-moji3"
"The Last PONY Presentation" special page