Cross-Cultural Branding Clinics in Kyoto
31 October 2017 - Miho Aishima

Miho Aishima

A few weeks ago, our London-based branding clinics went global! We normally work from Impact Hub Kings Cross, but after speaking to Shota Nishigaki at Impact Hub Kyoto in Japan, we were invited to visit their Hub and given the opportunity to run the first-ever branding clinic with some of their members.

We arrived on a Saturday morning and held two branding clinics with a couple of local Kyoto entrepreneurs, with each clinic being about one hour long. As with our London clinics, the format involved participants presenting their branding queries.The only exception here was that we needed some extra time to explain the process and to understand further how the session might proceed.

In Japan it is more usual to meet with people several times and to get to know them gradually, rather than jumping straight in and talking about business and work immediately. This sort of lightning-session approach is something that we are quite used to from our own projects and from mentoring in London, but I have to say that there is something rewarding in finding out more about a person’s entrepreneurial journey and, in doing so, learning more about the entrepreneurs themselves.

At first, the members we spoke to did not fully understand the scope of branding and of what it actually covered, and were unsure of the exact nature of the clinic. Their experience as entrepreneurs had mainly revolved around building a business or idea into a minimum viable concept and they had not yet fully encompassed other aspects such as branding and promotion.

In London, there are dozens of accelerators with comprehensive programmes and sophisticated structures in place which can help entrepreneurs to get off the ground quickly, assisting in areas such as business modelling, marketing, branding, legal, cybersecurity, funding opportunities, networking and pitch preparation. This is not something that is readily available in Kyoto, or even possible across Japan.
Screen Shot 2017-10-31 at 09.47.20
Impact Hub Kyoto – same vibe different location. Some cool graphic recording of our session by Yumi Tonosaki in the bottom left corner

During our clinics, which were conducted in either Japanese or English depending on requirements, we helped the participants to set out the main objectives for their branding and managed to provide some insights and direction on which steps to take next. One of the participants was actually able to consolidate some key points of his core brand thinking in the time between the morning session and the afternoon session.

After the morning clinics, we ran a two-hour group session where we gave a keynote presentation with portfolio and insights. We also discussed branding and the state of entrepreneurship in Kyoto and wider areas of Japan. Some of the participants were creatives working with clients on their websites. Others were setting up as freelancers, brand and marketing managers, or social entrepreneurs.

Overall, we were struck by how similar the questions regarding branding and entrepreneurship were, and we were energised by the excitement and optimism of the participants. We look forward to tracking the progress of their branding and future ventures. It was really inspiring to meet such great people and to experience the positive vibe we know from the Impact Hub in London in another part of the world.

Below is an excerpt from our Q and A in Kyoto.

What is the current state of start-up culture in Japan and Kyoto?

At the moment, there is not enough support for start-ups. In terms of finance, there aren’t the kind of options that you have in other countries like in the UK and Europe, with loans or grants. In South Africa, we learned that you can get large start-up grants if you are creating a business in manufacturing, education, agriculture or technology sectors. This does not exist in Japan.

Culturally, there is also the issue that if you get off the career track (Japanese people tend to go to college, get a job and stay in that job traditionally) it is very difficult to get back into the system if you try and then fail with your start-up.

Many students often dream about setting up a start-up but their parents dissuade them from these dreams and persuade to work for large companies or follow more ‘sensible’ options.

However, it sounds like entrepreneurship is gathering pace in Kyoto. More artists and start-ups are emerging there. One participant mentioned that they thought that Kyoto welcomes ‘変’ ‘hen’ or strange people. They said that if you move to Tokyo you get coloured by the Tokyo lens. In Kyoto, people accept you as you are and embrace individualism.

In terms of social businesses or social enterprises, or ‘社会企業’ ‘shakai kigyou’, it seems that the current landscape consists of large companies with CSR programmes or non-profit organisations, but social entrepreneurship, where both profit and social impact existed together, is limited.

Currently, Japanese companies are legally required to employ disabled people to make up to make up 2.0% of the workforce for companies with at least 50 employees. The participants were not sure if there were any other social responsibility requirements for companies regarding the environment, education, or health, etc. As the population of Japan is much less diverse than in other countries, the requirements may be quite different.

Overall feedback and impressions of the day:

‘It was helpful because, before I came, I was struggling to understand the branding process and now I feel that it is much clearer.’
‘I found the session very helpful although I am not new to branding. We currently get so busy with other things that we can lose focus on the brand. This will help us clarify our goals and work on our brand messaging.’
‘It takes a lot of work to get from a collection of messy messages to something that will make a clear message to everyone.’
‘As a web designer, if I can clarify the branding process with clients then we can really produce something that it is really tailored to their goals, making it a win-win situation.’
‘Including a variety of stakeholders, not just the big bosses, in the branding process was eye-opening to me. It was important to learn that branding is something that should be pivotal across the company or organisations, not just the leaders.’

A very special thank you to Shota Nishigaki of Impact Hub Kyoto for helping to organise the session and for everyone else for coming along. We would love to go back to Kyoto in the future and help to nurture the emergence of start-ups. Please do get in touch if you have any requirements for a cultural start-up exchange. Or please email us: [email protected] about any workshops inquiries. Find out more about Aishima here.