Mori Grants 2008 Graduate Student Researcher Development Grant




Research Project     Beauty Sense: The Application of Sensory Branding in   

                                    The Japanese Cosmetics Industry.

Researcher              Caroline SueLin TAN

Faculty                     Graduate School of Media and Governance






































This research examines the adoption of sensory branding in the cosmetics industry in Japan. This study groups skincare and color cosmetics and refers to them as cosmetics. The consumer segments examined includes both men and women. According to Fuji Keizai, the cosmetics and personal grooming product sales is expected to grow and hit 1981億円 in 2008. From a global figure, the sales of cosmetics and personal grooming products reached USD$270bn in 2006 and has been growing at a steady pace fueled especially by demand from emerging economies such as China. With the healthy market outlook, cosmetics companies are faced with the challenge of winning market share and consumer loyalty. This creates a pressing need to adopt an effective branding strategy. The essence of attaining ‘beauty’ or the ideal image is emotions and senses. Capitalizing on sensorial experiences and emotions are cited as essential factors in successful product & service branding strategies.  


Research Objectives

The main goal of this research is formulating an effective sensory branding strategy for cosmetic firms in Japan in maintaining their competitive advantage in today’s challenging, global market. One of the objectives of this research is to examine the effectiveness of the adoption of sensory branding in the cosmetics industry in Japan. As cosmetics is all about beauty and senses, this research also examines the elements of culture in influencing the kinds of sensory branding strategies adopted by Japanese cosmetics brands versus foreign brands. The study seeks to provide a deeper understanding of how Japanese culture can be successfully incorporated into sensory branding strategies to ensure brand success not only within Japan but also, internationally. The final objective of this research is to examine the challenges faced, the potential and future growth of cosmetics' sensory branding by Japanese cosmetics companies. This portion of the research would provide a framework for Japanese companies to successfully implement sensory branding strategies not limited to just the cosmetics industry but can also be applied to various industries in gaining market share and strengthening Japan's international presence. 


Research Investigation

As this research focus is on the cosmetics industry, the investigation will focus on both cosmetics companies as well as consumers.  In May 2007, letters requesting interviews were sent out to 13 cosmetics companies and only 5 interviews were granted (from June 2007 - July 2007). The following information is solicited from cosmetic companies; both Japanese and Foreign.


1.  The brand values - what does the brand represent? 

2.  The key success factors of the brand (according to the company's perspective)

3.  Choices of sales channels

4.  The brand message that is communicated to consumers.


Apart from that, product introduction and product testing was undertaken at the companies. The results from the study provided an in-depth understanding of the brand concept and adoption of sensory branding in reaching out to consumers. 


As for the investigation conducted among customers, a mixed mode of methods ranging from questionnaires to interviews and observations were conducted. The consumers’ perceptions, opinions and feelings towards various products and brands were obtained and analyzed. Consumers shared the reasons of brand preference and brand symbolism. The personalities of the consumers were also mapped to the preferred brands and factors that drive loyalty and brand selection. The investigation involving consumers started in July 2006 and is still an ongoing process. The next stage is a 500-questionnaire project. This portion of the study is a complex process as it involves understanding the psychology of the consumer, the factors that capture the hearts of the consumers as well as the internal values and needs that the brands seem to fulfill. 


Research Methods

This research is using both quantitative and qualitative research methods. A dual approach utilizing both quantitative and qualitative methods will be undertaken however a majority of the research will be skewed towards the qualitative approach as qualitative method prioritizes the study of perceptions, meanings and emotions. From a quantitative area, questionnaire is utilized to obtain feedback and perception from 500 consumers ranging from college students to working adults, both men and women. 

The qualitative research methods form the main data collection method of this research since the focus is on senses. The range of methods are deployed in the data collection phase are as follows:


1.     Questionnaires

Both open and closed ended questions were and will be administered. The closed ended questions adopt a 5-point Likert scale rating system. A sample size of 500 will be subjected to quantitative analysis (ie. factor analysis) using SPSS. Data will be collected via the administering of questionnaires. Questionnaires will be utilized covering both closed and opened-ended questions. The closed ended questions will be adopting a 5-point Likert scale rating system and picture representation.  The respondents will have to circle their selected answers according to their strength of agreement/ disagreement with the statements. As for the opened-ended questions, respondents will be asked to provide opinions.


   2.   Interviews

Semi-structural and unstructured interviews are carried out. Interviews will cover the following groups of respondents

a.               Students

b.               Working Adults

c.  Cosmetic Manufacturers

c.               Cosmetic Sales Personnel

Laddering technique is used to solicit information. Listening to consumers and B2B customers talk about brand experiences reveals not only the rational product attributes that impress them, but also the emotional reactions. Individual consumer interviews were conducted (in addition to focus group discussions) as to obtain objective data and filter out 'group think effect'.


3.     Ethnography/ Observation

This is carried out in studying the purchase patterns and behavior of consumers (at department stores and drug stores). A majority of the findings will be based on ethnography. Anthropologists like David Miller and Mary Douglas and Isherwood have used ethnographic data to answer academic questions about consumers and consumption, consumer perception and feelings as well. The main thrust of the study is to uncover fundamental truths about society, human nature, the conduct of daily life and relationships and social structures. Hence, ethnography would capture the issues best as it relies heavily on up-close, personal experience. It is not far removed from the sort of approach that we all use in everyday life to make sense of our surroundings; taking research activities from the lab to where the people are, the streets, homes, parks, malls. This method is used as it provides information of consumer buying behavior and decision-making process without the consumer knowing that he or she is being observed.


   4.  Focus group discussions

   Focus group discussions are focused on asking probing questions and initiating free and open discussion and debates. A total of 70 respondents are used for these discussions; separated into 5 per group. The respondents were made up of both cosmetics and non-cosmetics users, both men and women. Focus group research helps marketers identify their customers’ deepest desires and provide suggestions for satisfying these desires. Via these discussions, perceptions, emotions and opinions of various cosmetics brands, including effectiveness, gating issues as well as the potential areas for growth and improvement were gathered. Informal focus group discussions were conducted in public spaces (ie. cafes, restaurants) due to time and resources constraints.


5.   Prints, Publications and Internet Resources

The data and statistics from Market reports (i.e. Fuji Keizai, Euromonitor, DataMonitor) will be used to complement the research. Information and consumer perception and feedback are gathered from websites such as This is a pertinent channel as research funds are limited hence, data collection from other geographic areas (apart from Kanto) are difficult. 




From this study, I found that the effectiveness of sensory branding varied between the various senses for both men and women’s cosmetics. Not all sensory elements were exploited and not all sensory elements were found to be a strong driving factor in getting the consumer to make the purchase. The sensory factors that influenced purchase and consumption decisions differed between men and women. There was a clear discrepancy between the cosmetics makers’ perception on what triggered consumer purchases and loyalty to their products versus what the consumers articulated as the main factors that led to purchases and consumption. This study also reflected that though cosmetics are thought of as products that embody the complete ‘sensorial’ experience, there was a lacking in the effectiveness of sensorial branding.