How Fujifilm lives by the maxim: never stop transforming
Image: Fujifilm
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How Fujifilm lives by the maxim: never stop transforming

Jessica Twentyman — January 2019
Having survived the demise of its core business in photographic film in the previous decade, the Japanese multinational has been on a constant journey of re-invention that has now been extending to its marketing strategy.

Fear of business disruption can paralyze — but it can also be a powerful motivator. For Kodak, the failure to respond to the rise of digital photography at the start of the millennium, and to smartphone cameras later on, brought about the company’s humiliating demise in 2012. At rival Fujifilm, by contrast, the same disruptive forces were the launchpad for a bold transformation journey, based on well-executed diversification.

The Japanese company took all of its in-house expertise in chemical compounds and nanotechnology and learnt to apply it in new ways. These developments ultimately enabled Fujifilm to enter new markets that include pharmaceuticals, cosmetics and healthcare products; to start making optical films for LCD flat-panel screens; to sell computer tapes for back-up in large data centers; and, of course, to make digital cameras.

Today, Kodak is just a salutary lesson from history, while Fujifilm is profitable and growing. Photographic film, once at the center of its portfolio, now represents less than 1% of its ¥2.43 trillion ($23.0bn) in annual revenues.

It has not been an easy ride, according to Yuichi Itabashi, a Fujifilm veteran who joined the company in 1985 as a polymer engineer in its R&D department and today is general manager of the company’s e-Strategy Management Office. From a record high in 2000, the plunge in sales of photographic film from 2003 onwards, he says, “was a real and terrifying nightmare.” The fear felt across the company, he adds, was ultimately a good thing, because it forced Fujifilm’s management to react boldly.
Raising the game

But the diversity of today’s Fujifilm product range (the company has 283 subsidiaries) raises fresh challenges: how can it best gain visibility in the market for this vast array of products — some of them pretty new to potential audiences?

The answer, Itabashi argues, is digital marketing. “We’re no longer a photographic film company; we’re now a technology company. We are not always going to know who the prospective customers are for a new technology. So to develop a market, we have to be digital, to be online and be found by prospects who are looking for these technologies rather than to go out and try to find them.” In other words, a bold digital marketing strategy is seen as the key to Fujifilm’s continued success.

Yuichi Itabashi Fujifilm” style=
Yuichi Itabashi, Fujifilm

To ensure coherence on that marketing approach, a first step was the establishment of the global e-Strategy Management Office in 2011 at the company’s headquarters in Tokyo. With individual business divisions responsible for their own marketing it was important to create more joined-up thinking in digital marketing, says Itabashi.

As a second step, the office then took responsibility for the company’s entire e-commerce operations, a move that helped boost the team’s experience and accelerated learning for everyone on it, says Itabashi. That was important because of the wide range of IT tools involved, including Salesforce for the customer relationship management system; Tableau and Hadoop systems for analyzing vast quantities of customer information; Optimizely for website A/B testing; and social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for spreading the word about new Fujifilm products. But it soon became clear that what Fujifilm was missing was something that could tie together this wide range of digital marketing activities and tools: marketing automation.
Joined-up marketing

Marketing automation software is designed to coordinate marketing efforts across multiple digital channels, relieving employees of the burden of repetitive tasks (such as sending out email marketing campaigns or dispatching Twitter messages). That enables them to spend more time on analyzing and acting on results.

For example, a marketing automation tool can help users track individually identifiable visitors using search data, website visits, email campaigns and social content. That establishes a richer history of their activities and interests and give clues as to what kind of messages are most likely to generate a positive response.

Marketing automation is a hot topic in Japan right now, says Itabashi, and it was the obvious next step for him and his team. Fujifilm chose the account-based marketing tool Marketo and set to work trialing it on a B2C area of the business aimed at persuading existing customers to continue using the company’s online Photobook services via marketing emails. That was a resounding success, with the rate of repeat orders rising by 180%, he says.

Image:Scott Lin/Flickr
Next, Fujifilm applied marketing automation in a B2B setting. Again this reaped positive results, with insights quickly leading to a major deal with a new business client. Says Itabashi: “The sales people involved told us that they found it impossible to follow up every lead and, without marketing automation, they might have easily missed this potential piece of business.”

Now, Fujifilm is going global with marketing automation. Digital marketing teams across Asia, Europe and the Americas will use Marketo as part of their toolkit, enabling them to share email marketing templates and standardized content for web adverts and multimedia posts. They will also all be expected to report on one global key performance indicator: the average cost to generate a lead. “KPIs can be complicated, but if there is one important one that counts for me, it’s this one,” says Itabashi.

In everything Itabashi does professionally, he keeps in mind a simple message that he first heard from Philip Kotler, distinguished marketing professor at the Kellogg School of Management: “Digitize or die.”

And that certainly applies to marketing from this point onwards, says Itabashi: “‘Without digital, marketing will die,’ is a message I pass on at every Fujifilm meeting. Our people are open to this, because they share the memory of our earlier crisis. They remember and they understand how we moved then, and how we must keep moving now.”

• Yuichi Itabashi was speaking at the Marketo Marketing Nation Summit 2018 in San Francisco.

First published January 2019
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