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How One Company Makes No-Brand Sexy to Consumers

CCA LiveE | Friday December 23rd, 2011 | 0 Comments

The following post is part of the course work for “Live Exchange” the foundational course on communication for The MBA Design Strategy Program at California College of the Arts. The rest of the posts are presented here.

MUJI logo and retail layout

By Kate Tsai

Innovative companies such as Apple make their brand sexy by creating genius products that attract cult-like consumers. If this is the western approach to innovation, how does the Japanese approach it differently? Specifically, how does MUJI make no-brand sexy to consumers?

In order to foster innovation strategic thinking, creativity, emotional intelligence and effective communication must be considered. As consumers become savvier, they demand innovation to catalyze change and transform our experience. Since there are an increasing number of companies around the world striving to innovate, MUJI, a Japanese retail company, creates an authentic language of simplicity that changes consumer’s experience and the way we live.

MUJI states that, “At the heart of MUJI design is the Japanese concept of ‘Kanketsu’, the concept of simplicity, aiming to bring a quiet sense of calm into strenuous everyday lives.” Rejecting the notion of brand and logo, MUJI instead promotes itself by supplying quality household and consumer products at reasonable prices. Hence, at the core of their Corporate Social Responsibility, MUJI sets itself apart from other brands by communicating simplicity and sustainability in living through customer experience since its inception in 1980.

MUJI’s commitment to advocate a simpler and improved living begins from its belief in refraining from self-promotion. Branding itself MUJI, meaning no-brand, it strives to improve customer experience with consumer products, the retail and living space, and the future of society. Quoting MUJI President Masaaki Kanai, “It’s not about communicating through individual products: it’s about communicating a concept through the whole store having an atmosphere that equates with space.”

The formulation of MUJI concept “no-brand” is derived from customer value. This is done by deemphasizing branding, simplifying packaging, re-examining materials and inspecting process. Hence, MUJI does not spend significant business capital on advertising and marketing for self-promotion. Nor does it spend on the production of excessive packaging. Items produced at factories go to consumers directly, which ensures great quality control and products at a reasonable prices. In turn, consumers are the beneficiaries of the unbranded quality products. MUJI’s no-brand concept and business strategy builds brand-loyalty through word-of-mouth.

In addition to modifying its distribution model and offloading that value to consumers, MUJI revolutionizes the design of retail space. Distinguished by such minimalist design, MUJI’s retail space is deliberately understated.

For example, rarely do I walk into a retail space that is not loud. Nor do I tend to revisit such environments. The loudness does not pertain exclusively to the sound of the crowd or of music, but rather of the collective visual noise contributed by advertising, graphics and cluttered ambiance. Yet, while walking down the corridor between racks of kitchenware and table linen at MUJI, all I hear is the sound in my head and my footsteps. MUJI is quiet.

At first sight, the immaculate and modulated retail space seems like heaven for an obsessive-compulsive, which may be slightly startling. Once I find peace in its aesthetics approach, that “mundanity” distinctively resonates with “Bauhaus-style.” Minimalists will most certainly feel right at home here.

In terms of product development, MUJI values function and purpose by employing standardized sizes and modules that facilitates user experience and reduces space-clutter. Furthermore, in order to commit to corporate social responsibility of creating a sustainable living, MUJI incorporated recycled and discarded materials into their products and packaging. For example, there are storage products made with corrugated cardboard and dishcloths made with waste cotton. Besides the efficient use of resources, MUJI constantly strives to eliminate any unnecessary processes and to minimize packaging.

MUJI’s innovative approach is thus an amalgamation of strategic thinking and creativity. It undeniably makes no-brand sexy and appeals to conscientious consumers like us. In particular, MUJI accomplishes its CSR strategy by improving customer experience in their relationship to consumer products, the retail and living space, and the future of society. Its definitive stance on no-brand, no-clutter, and no-waste would ultimately cultivate a simpler sensibility in modern, sustainable living.


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