Taking a successful product into a new market can be daunting—especially when it’s been designed for a specific audience. Sakura, a Japan-based art and writing tools company, had a hunch that their products, designed for the unique preferences of the Japanese consumer, would take off with U.S. consumers. However, they knew that they needed insights to help them understand the market.
Collecting the right data and turning it into relevant insights to inform this kind of monumental decision can be tricky. Especially when entering a new market, it’s key to explore that space and learn about your target audience.
That’s why Sakura leaned into agile research to power new product innovations for the U.S.. In the 1980’s, the company launched the first ever gel pen, the Gelly Roll, in Japan, where it was an instant crowd favorite. It’s easy to see why— the Gelly Roll had smooth ink, vivid colors, and incredible versatility.
More recently, the company wanted to expand its U.S. offerings and branch out beyond its traditional customer base of artists and crafters. But Sakura’s products are designed for the Japanese consumer, whose preferences can be markedly different from consumers in the U.S. and in other countries.
Even though Sakura’s research and development is one of its greatest strengths, they had some important questions. Would U.S. consumers pay $100 for a pen? What kind of product would appeal to a general consumer who shops for pens for everyday use?
That’s where research came to the rescue. To bridge the gap between understanding Japanese and U.S. consumers, Sakura focused its research on 3 key areas: gauging consumer sentiment in the pen and writing space, validating proposed product concepts, and testing price points for its products in this new market.
1. Gauge consumer sentiment
Sakura typically targeted its products towards artists and crafters. However, in the U.S., Sakura of America wanted to capitalize on the opportunity to appeal to the mainstream US consumer. With a study on usage and attitudes, Sakura was able to learn more about the differences between how artists would approach purchasing writing tools and how an everyday consumer would approach it.
For example, unlike an artist who may need a professional writing tool, the mainstream U.S. consumer may be looking for an everyday pen that they could buy from a Walmart or Target. Understanding consumers’ perceptions and use cases not only helps build better products, but also informs compelling marketing campaigns.
2. Validate winning product ideas
Learning about target consumers isn’t enough to break into a new market— companies also need to create an appealing product that customers want to buy. For Sakura, the success of its products was proven in Japan. However, this success wasn’t guaranteed in the U.S. So, Sakura ran a concept test featuring its Japanese pen product concepts with target US customers.
With the data that their original pen product had appeal in America, Sakura was able to move forward with a product launch. Concept tests are, after all, a necessary component of any product development lifecycle. They save time and investments by testing concepts, product and brand names, packaging, and more with target audiences before a full scale launch.
3. Identify the right price
Once a product idea is validated, the way it is marketed and sold can determine its success. Price is a key factor in how a product is perceived and adopted. Sometimes, a product’s price is too low, leaving money on the table. Other times, a price might be too high, excluding key customer segments that a company is targeting.
In Sakura’s case, they wanted to evaluate whether their target audience in the U.S. would be willing to pay for a $100 pen from Japan. Through market research, Sakura of America was able to get insights that most U.S. consumers were not willing to pay this price, which ultimately helped them adjust their price points and shape future research and development efforts.
In the end, Sakura of America was able to create appealing products for the U.S. markets while staying true to its brand. Research ultimately helps take the emotion out of decisions, and allowed Sakura to align stakeholders all over the world to create products that their consumers love.
Sakura of America embodies how data powers consumer-led innovation. Understanding changing consumer preferences is key to adapting to their needs, and testing new ideas with target audiences empowers faster and more confident decision making.
Creating a research process that powers innovation and yields the best results for your organization requires conducting research continuously, rather than just when problems arise.
Having an agile research approach can identify both issues before they become bigger and opportunities before competitors take advantage of them.
As your company grows, research can help you create products that your customers love and want to buy. And as you accelerate your brand, you’ll need insights to help sustain your growth and explore new opportunities.