In this blog you will learn – how Nescafé Japan turned a tea-loving country into a billion-dollar coffee market, along with valuable insights you can glean from their remarkable journey.

Learning and Emotion

French surgeon and neurobiologist, Henri Laborit (1914-1995) drew a clear connection between learning and emotion, showing that without the latter the former was impossible. The stronger the emotion, the more clearly an experience is learned.

Think of a child told by his parents to avoid a hot pan on a stove. This concept is abstract to the child until he reaches out, touches the pan, and it burns him. In this intensely emotional moment of pain, the child learns what “hot” and “burn” mean and is very unlikely ever to forget it.

The combination of the experience and its accompanying emotion creates something known widely as an imprint, a term first applied by Konrad Lorenz. Once an imprint occurs, it strongly conditions our thought processes and shapes our future actions. Each imprint helps make us more of who we are. The combination of imprints defines us. Every imprint influences us on an unconscious level.

From Theory to Practice

The case of Nescafé in Japan

Nescafé, the world’s leading instant coffee brand, was riding high. They’d conquered markets from Europe to the Americas. But their global expansion ambitions hit a bitter snag in Japan.

Despite having a good product, reasonable pricing, and  extensive marketing efforts, Nescafé struggled to gain traction in Japan after the World War II. Convincing Japanese consumers to shift from tea to coffee proved to be a formidable task. The initial strategy, a simple translation of Western campaigns, proved a  costly miscalculation. Nescafé, blinded by their global dominance, had failed in the Japanese market.

To address this perplexing setback, Nescafé brought on board Clotaire Rapaille, a French marketing  consultant and social psychologist educated at Sorbonne University.

Rapaille organised multiple focus-group interview sessions involving  diverse participant groups. Through these sessions, he discerned that  the Japanese held a profoundly deep emotional attachment to tea, while  their connection to coffee was largely superficial, if existent at all.  In fact, the majority of participants had little to no emotional imprint associated with coffee.

Given these conditions, Nestlé’s approach of persuading these consumers to transition from tea to coffee was bound to be unsuccessful. Coffee couldn’t contend with tea in Japanese culture due to its limited emotional significance. It was imperative to infuse the product with meaning within this cultural context. Nestlé had to establish a lasting imprint for coffee among the Japanese populace.

Armed with this insight, Nestlé crafted a fresh approach. Rather than promoting instant coffee in a nation devoted to tea, they introduced  coffee-flavoured desserts tailored for children, free of caffeine. These  treats were eagerly embraced by the younger generation.

Their first imprint of coffee was a very positive one, one they would carry throughout their lives. This strategy allowed Nestlé to establish a meaningful presence in the Japanese market. While no marketer will likely ever be able to convince the Japanese to abandon tea, coffee sales—nearly non-existent in 1970—now approach half a billion pounds per year in Japan. Understanding the significance of imprinting and its direct correlation to Nestlé’s marketing endeavours opened doors to Japanese culture and revitalised a struggling business venture.

Implementing Imprint theory in your hospital context

You’re already familiar with the principles of the ‘80/20′ rule, ‘Mood-dependent retrieval theory,’ and the ‘Imprinting‘ theory (if not, check my previous blogs). Now, let’s explore how we can integrate these concepts within your hospital’s patient base to enhance sales, profitability, and patient loyalty.

You can implement these theories in a numerous ways. Let’s consider just one example, starting with your maternity unit. Since its inception, you’ve catered to thousands of patients, with newborns accounting for roughly 5% or less of your clientele. It’s highly likely that some of these newborns have already celebrated their first birthdays.

Now, the question is –

  • Have you considered extending a special birthday surprise to these little angels?
  • Probably not.

You’re losing potential future clients and overlooking the chance to establish rapport with them. What’s  interesting is that this oversight went completely unnoticed!

However, if we look deeper, chances are:

  • You already possess the necessary data (such as parents’ information, baby’s gender, birth date, and contact details).
  • However, this data may not have been organised systematically for quick accessibility and effective utilisation in creating positive impressions and fostering loyalty.

Put plainly, you lack the appropriate tool that is specially designed to convert those data points into golden opportunities. Utilise My Associates, a strategic relationship management software, and translate data into actionable insights.

It goes beyond mere business; it’s a demonstration of love and respect for the well-being of your patients, indicating that you cherish the relationship and genuinely care for them.


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