Loosen up to get closer to customers
In Perspectives, we visit people who are experts in their fields,
interact with diverse ways of thinking, and learn through creation.
Our guest for this edition is Yasumasa Manabe, President of Takamatsu Kotohira Electric Railroad, popularly known as "Kotoden," which runs through Takamatsu City in Kagawa Prefecture. After he and his father took various measures to revive the local train line following its bankruptcy, Manabe took over the reins of management in 2014. Manabe is the key person who transformed Kotoden into a company that is now loved by the locals.
Wanting to learn more about how Manabe’s communication style reversed sentiment toward Kotoden, Nachi Kimura, a communication designer at Sony, visited Takamatsu. Kimura and Manabe discussed their respective roles while seated side-by-side inside a Kotoden train carriage. Kotoden's mascot "Koto-chan" later visited Sony headquarters. Read on to learn why.
While being gently swayed by a Kotoden train car, I felt Manabe's close proximity to customers when speaking with him. This aspect is present across all of Kotoden—whether it is at the station with a beer pub, another with bookshelves, posters on rider etiquette, or even for a collaborative poster to promote the Busshozan Onsen (hot springs) along the train line. All were carefully conceptualized with a sense of humor, or a dose of the unexpected. This was done not for the purpose of making Kotoden look cool, but rather to get closer to customers. Kotoden is a part of the community fabric because it sees things at the same level as the locals do. This relaxed, unpretentious style of communication was my biggest takeaway.
I hear that Manabe participates in local events and parties as much as he can, and makes efforts to speak with people from all walks of life. It is exactly in these types of situations where he can get genuine feedback from customers, and come into direct contact with their values. I believe he got his ideas through his regular, pro-active communication efforts that gave birth to relationships both inside and outside the company.
Nachi Kimura, communication designer at Sony Corporation
Manabe's speaking event at Sony draws a big crowd
I felt a strong desire to share Manabe's unique style of communication and his practices with Sony employees. With that thought I organized a speaking event at Sony City, which is Sony's headquarters near Shinagawa Station, Tokyo. Even though there was little time to publicize the event internally, the number of applicants was much greater than usual at approximately 130. On the day of event, we added standing room in the back. Many colleagues listened intently to Manabe, and there was a lot of positive feedback from the questionnaires.
Speaking event of Yasumasa Manabe held at Sony City
As a communication designer, I am leading the "S-ity Project" that will redefine Sony City with the aim of revitalizing the workplace. At the same time, I am also on a committee that plans periodic employee events like Manabe’s. His session took place at a café space on the 12th floor called the "EVENT COURT." On the 13th floor there is a new restaurant called "THE FARM." "PORT" is a forum where Sony Group employees can gather and take back different things they learn. We named it so because employees can "dock" and load up on diverse opinions and return back to their workplace. All these facilities were conceived as part of the S-ity Project. Launched with my colleagues at General Affairs, the purpose of the project itself is to revitalize the workplace and foster Sony culture through the use of Sony City facilities.
12F EVENT COURT
Bookshelves at a Kotoden station
I felt the beer pub and bookshelves I saw at stations in Takamatsu were created as forums to connect Kotoden with the local community. Similarly, the S-ity Project incorporates elements of the city and blends them into employees’ daily lives. It was established as a forum that embraces change. I would like it to serve as a place where employees from across Sony’s growing number of varied locations gather to trigger diverse exchanges.
Koto-chan comes to Sony City
For this edition of Perspectives, we did three types of photo shoots. Our photographer was Kagawa resident GABOMI. She did the photography for ads to promote Kotoden and Busshozan Onsen. With the intention of creating visuals that are both humorous and jarring, and to put relaxed communication into practice, Koto-chan came all the way to Tokyo from Takamatsu. We started with a photo session at the Sony City reception desk on the ground floor. In the end, we decided on a scenario where Koto-chan came because he wanted to inquire about creating products in collaboration with Sony. This was GABOMI’s idea. She thought that by incorporating a narrative into the photos, viewers could naturally link Kotoden and Sony together, and that this would foster a deeper understanding among viewers. For the meeting room scenes, we first envisioned Koto-chan participating in the meetings, but we decided to have him peer through the glass outside as this was more interesting. Koto-chan appears concerned about his candidacy as a mascot. That is why he is peering intently into the meeting room from the outside.
Koto-chan looks into the mascot selection meeting
Koto-chan works the reception desk at Sony
Koto-chan proposes Kotoden products to Sony employees
While Manabe himself is not a designer, he takes a straightforward approach by sharing the same experiences and time with the people he wants to communicate with and determines what is necessary. I learned again that there are all kinds of ways to achieve a goal. By not being constrained by the traditional ways of thinking about railroads and advertisements, I got some good pointers on communication design.
President & CEO
Takamatsu-Kotohira Electric Railroad Co., Ltd.
of Communication Design Group
at Creative Center, Sony Corporation
Layout by Editing Department, AXIS
Text by Junya Hirokawa