5 minutes with... in association withAdobe Firefly

5 Minutes with… Kota Murakami

Advertising Agency
Singapore, Singapore
LBB’s Tom Loudon caught up with VaynerMedia’s new country manager for Japan, Kota Murakami, to talk client relations, market strategies, and leadership
For Kota Murakami, varied experiences are a key driver of VaynerMedia's success in Japan's dynamic market landscape.

Now VaynerMedia's country manager for Japan, Kota unravels the market dynamics, global innovations, and VaynerMedia's strategic footprint in Japan.

With a rich background bridging global exposure and a deep-rooted understanding of Japan's cultural complexities, Kota shares his vision for seamlessly blending global innovation with local insights. 

Speaking to LBB’s Tom Loudon, Kota discusses the integration of modern approaches, harnessing social-first strategies, nurturing client relationships, and fostering a culture of continual learning within VaynerMedia Japan.

LBB> Congratulations on your appointment as country manager for Japan at VaynerMedia Asia Pacific! How do you plan to leverage your expertise in integrating global innovation with local market insights to propel VaynerMedia's success in Japan?

Kota> Our focus on consumer attention to building brand relevance that yields actual business results is a universal and long-prevailing marketing goal. With that said, the methodology and approach to realising this is unique to VaynerMedia, but our principles will surely still apply to Japan.

Now, we also recognise the need for deliberate and mindful customisation regarding market entry and execution. Any global innovation for any market, and specifically for Japan, needs a measured approach that considers the market nuances. For example, we need to consider the uniqueness of consumer intent that is only relevant in Japan –– even on global social platforms with similar penetration elsewhere, challenges that local marketers face that might not apply to marketing HQ, etc. We need to connect these dots and devise a strategy that captures such nuances.

My job is to ensure we remain humble, respectful, and empathetic to the reasons that make Japan a “unique and challenging” market for our industry, bearing in mind its unique set of cultures.

LBB> How do your varied experiences influence your approach to shaping VaynerMedia's footprint and business expansion, specifically within the Japanese market?

Kota> I’ve had personal and professional experiences in Japan and abroad. Thanks to this, I’ve always taken it seriously to simultaneously stay closely in touch with my Japanese-ness while also being a global citizen. This has naturally driven me to dig deeper into what makes the Japanese Japanese and what it means to be a global citizen representing my nation. I’ve come to develop an acute antenna to learn about and decode the many seeming contradictions that Japanese businesses and consumers have.

For example, Japan has long embraced admiration and curiosity for Western values and aesthetics. At the same time, we cannot part with a very sticky undertone of “traditional and homogenous” Japanese culture or beliefs. This makes harmonisation with foreign beliefs, particularly those originating in the West, tricky to deal with.  

LBB> Your previous roles involved partnering with globally recognised brands such as Google, Tiffany & Co., and Uniqlo. How do you foresee these experiences contributing to your strategies in fostering and nurturing client relationships at VaynerMedia Asia Pacific, especially within the Japanese market?

Kota> VaynerMedia’s model of marketing and brand-building is modern and very different from the traditional advertising industry’s. This means that agency and client teams often need to creatively identify new ways of operating to adopt a genuinely consumer-centric approach, as opposed to a top-down one.

I’ve had the true pleasure of collaborating with great brands and introducing innovative approaches in my previous roles, including creative and content production, paid media, analytics, and measurement. I am excited to leverage these change management muscles to instil the VaynerMedia approach, including our PAC mindset (Platform and Culture), into our client organisations. 

Change management is a complex process, requiring a nuanced understanding of marketing roles in diverse organisations. Having worked with many global brands, one consistent observation is that successful change management requires true collaborations and calibrations across global, regional, and local markets –– both on the client and agency side. 

LBB> VaynerMedia is known for its modern approach to creative, media, and analytics, and you've been praised for your holistic vision in connecting global, regional, and local priorities. How do you intend to align this approach with Japan's unique consumer landscape to deliver unwavering relevance for clients in the social-first era?

Kota> The “reintegration” of media and creative post-digitization has been a long-discussed topic for many reasons. The rapid shift in consumer attention has outpaced the development of capabilities or frameworks by marketers and agencies leading to natural specialisation at tactical and execution levels. This, in turn, exacerbates the silos that already exist between media and creative industries.

The macro trend of consumer attention shift is universal, so Japan deals with this challenge, too. Japan’s integrated model has prevailed for a long time (probably longer than some other major markets) when the assumption was that the mass approach works in capturing the consumer's attention. This approach will likely continue to work for specific clients, although not as universally as before now that the long-held “illusion” of mass media credibility in Japan has fallen apart very quickly in the past few years.

In response, brands must pivot, explore, and invest in alternative approaches. One prominent area is to develop their communications strategy with social at the centre.

LBB> How do you plan to encourage this culture of innovation and transformation within VaynerMedia Japan, ensuring the agency's continued success in a rapidly evolving market?

Kota> Innovation takes many forms, and the word often throws off both marketers and agencies. So, it is critical to define what innovation means for every organisation. For us, it is fundamentally about resolving any contradictions between how our industry behaves and what the consumers want in brand communications. 

As a first step, it is critical to establish an understanding of how the industry has evolved to behave the way we do, and why — particularly in a market like Japan with a sticky set of long-lasting norms.

LBB> What immediate goals or initiatives do you aim to implement upon assuming your role to solidify the agency's position as a critical partner for businesses in Japan?

Kota> On top of our many offerings, we are excited to scale our consultation offering that places consumer attention and social (paid, earned, and owned) at the centre for our clients in Japan. This is unlike anything that I’ve seen in the market before, and we have been fortunate to have a high demand and numerous discussions with prospective clients just in my first month. 

To be more specific, we conduct a comprehensive audit of the brand’s social approach, covering aspects such as audience, content, competition, KOL, paid strategy, analytics, and any combination of these, aiming to identify growth opportunities. 

LBB> Could you share some insights into your leadership style and how it aligns with VaynerMedia's ethos? How do you envision your leadership contributing to the agency's growth and success in Japan and the broader Asia Pacific region?

Kota> My leadership has always relied on a balance of curiosity, empathy, and transparency.

Luckily, placing myself in a new environment (whether in my upbringing or career steps) has so far always ended up being a positive experience, even things that seemed like huge adversities at the time — largely thanks to the fact that I have always benefitted from those kind enough to show me that the combination of these three characteristics make the journey net-positive. Because of this, these values feel authentic and intuitive to me, and I am convinced that they can drive the growth of organisations in real terms.

My role is to ensure the ethos carries through to Japan and to have a healthy representation of Japanese market perspectives in the global leadership team. I am confident that our APAC and global leadership will continue to provide active support in delivering a mindful and deliberate approach that is right for Japan.

LBB> How do you plan to further this pursuit in Japan's competitive market, ensuring the agency remains at the forefront of delivering innovative and impactful solutions for clients?

Kota> The industry has long relied on traditional, quantitative means of estimating or tracking consumer attention and then delving into the minds of a small sample through qualitative methods. While these will continue to have their significance, the landscape is also evolving.

Our approach uniquely combines insights by decoding platforms and culture, as well as validating and evolving brand communication through strategic organic creative and beyond. Not only is this about doing social well, but it also has the unavoidable goal of modernising communication planning for the entire brand and marketing organisation. This is a must-have for brands in Japan or worldwide to systematically win against the competition. 

LBB> Your expertise extends to coaching, mentoring, and people development. How do you plan to foster a continual learning and growth culture within VaynerMedia Japan, both for the team and the agency's clients?

Kota> People in our industry are hungry for learning and growth in a rapidly shifting world.

To ensure we learn together at the speed of culture, we must foster a healthy mixture of kind candour and empathy. Honest self-reflection about potential gaps is essential, while also tapping into our EQ to remain empathetic to the historical barriers that got in the way. Striking a balance between candour and empathy is essential for the genuine growth of the organisation and people. This is particularly true for Japan and our industry, both deeply rooted in cultures and practices with long and sticky legacies. 

LBB> With your experience in managing P&L, what strategic insights do you believe will be critical in achieving maximum business impact and cost advantage for VaynerMedia's clients in Japan?

Kota> Unfortunately, accounting sometimes treats marketing costs as mere expenses. The reality is that marketing certainly can significantly enhance brand equity, a crucial asset for long-term business growth both in terms of revenue and profit. 

Generally, business leaders have the very challenging task of optimising their P&L for as short as a year, if not a quarter, or even a month. This challenge acutely applies to marketing leaders because of the reasons above.

Now, we believe that the speed at which culture moves is so fast that brand-building can have a much more immediately noticeable impact than the traditional means of measuring awareness while also contributing to brand equity in the long run.

In other words, if done well, brand building and delivering business performance can be a lot less mutually exclusive to each other in a relatively shorter timeframe than before. 

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