Influencing the Influencers

by Kirk R. Patterson

Tetsuya Honda (36) is the Managing Director of BlueCurrent Japan, a marketing communication consultancy that focuses on leveraging the power of influential individuals to create awareness and acceptance of clients’ products.

Please tell me a bit about your background.
After graduating from the Takasaki University of Economics in Gumma Prefecture, I went to the United States to study English. I then returned to Japan to look for a job in the then-booming field of digital entertainment.

I joined Sega Enterprises in 1995, and for two years I operated game centers in Gumma. But my goal was to get more involved in international business, so in 1997 I was transferred to Sega’s Overseas Sales Division and eventually became Team Manager for the Middle East, Africa, and Australia Region.

Did you enjoy the work?
The job was not very creative. I started thinking of how I could position myself as a “creative product” that another company might want to “buy.”

When I joined Overseas Sales, the general manager for the Asia region was Shin Tanaka, who had been in the Public Relations Department of Honda. He is a very international and energetic person, so I was disappointed when he left to set up the Japan subsidiary of Fleishman-Hillard, an international PR consultancy.

When I was thinking of leaving Sega, I contacted Shin and, to make a long story short, joined Fleishman-Hillard in 1999.

What were your duties at Fleishman-Hillard?
I started off as an account executive, and developed a specialization in marketing communication for consumer products companies. That led to PR work for Procter & Gamble and other products.

We focused on strategic communication and, more specifically, “issue branding,” in which we link a product to a broader issue. For example, for Ariel laundry detergent, we undertook a consumer education campaign to raise awareness of the fact that germs can be found even in just-washed laundry, and then we linked that to Ariel’s ability to kill germs.

You have recently become the head of BlueCurrent Japan—what is that?
It is a newly established subsidiary of BlueCurrent Public Relations, headquartered in Dallas, USA, and a spinoff of Fleishman-Hillard. However, our mission is much more focused on marketing communication. In particular, we stress the use of “influence marketing.”

What is influence marketing?
Influence marketing involves leveraging the power of influential individuals to enhance acceptance of a product. These can be “professional influencers”—doctors, sports celebrities, and other well-known people who are paid for their support—or “individual influencers,” bloggers and other “normal” citizens who wield influence by virtue of the fact that they are independent (and so are not paid).

Working with influencers must be approached with great care and sensitivity. We try to create a neutral environment, such as inviting them to join a committee planning the launch of a new product. Influencers might participate in consumer research, write articles and blogs, and provide product testimonials.

As one example, P&G developed a new type of Pampers diaper with a shape that makes it more comfortable for sleeping. A well-known doctor conducted research that showed that Japanese babies do not sleep as much or as well as babies in many other countries. The results were announced to the media, which covered the story widely, and then some mothers with their own blogs took up the issue. As a result, there was an increase in mothers’ awareness of the importance of babies getting enough good-quality sleep. P&G’s advertising campaign then linked to this issue by stressing that Pampers is always thinking about babies’ sleep.

Does influence marketing have any social function?
Influence marketing is about much more than just selling products. By more closely linking companies with the community, it encourages companies to be more socially responsible and gives consumers access to better information so that they can make better decisions.