Interviewer: Anna Wildman
Production: RGF Professional Recruitment Japan Marketing Team
Designory is a global, award-winning marketing agency covering digital, print, and video. With roots in Long Beach, California, it has been bringing consumers captivating product content through fresh lenses since the 1970s.
We were fortunate to have an interview with Mr. Hiroyuki Matsuzaki, Director of Designory Japan, where he discusses the evolution of Designory, the role of marketers, the traits of successful marketers, and what it’s like to work at this agency.
RGF: Could you tell us about your current role at Designory?
Hiroyuki: I'm currently the Director of Designory in Japan, and I also hold a concurrent role as Director of eg+ Worldwide in Japan. I am responsible for the P&L of Designory Japan and the entire business units that handle the product marketing of two international automotive brands, Nissan and Infiniti.
RGF: What types of marketing campaigns does Designory execute for its clients?
Hiroyuki: In a simplified sales and marketing funnel, the first stage is awareness, which aims to capture both the consumer’s attention and interest in the product or service. The business units I handle don’t delve so much into this initial stage, which is geared towards brand content. What we do focus on is creating targeted product content for the next stages, including campaigns that solidify interest, moving to product or service consideration to critical evaluation up until the final stage of the funnel, the actual purchase.
In order to do this, we provide our clients strategic content that would lead consumers to an interactive platform we’ve created, such as a website or an optimized digital brochure, where customers are given the exact information they need.
We always strive to provide relevant marketing, and "relevant" is perhaps one word that would summarize the campaigns we deliver. If you think about it, we live in a world where we’re presented with so many product choices, so much information about each product, and so many access points, or touchpoints as we call it, where you could potentially obtain this information.
How do you cut through all this noise when every single piece of information could influence your buying behavior? At Designory, we believe it’s through strategically targeted content that is relevant to each consumer, across all the touchpoints.
RGF: Do these business units focus on domestic or international marketing campaigns?
Hiroyuki: The two automotive business units I handle are in-charge of both domestic and international campaigns. We deliver hundreds, thousands of content to our clients, and every line we write has automotive information, from specs to regulations, to functionality. In fact, it’s not just these business units. Some of Designory's most prominent clients are competing powerhouse brands in the automotive industry. Our clients don't mind this because there aren't many marketing agencies that have developed such a long and rich marketing experience in the automotive industry. I would say that this is one of our key expertise, and we're glad that we could share our passion and knowledge on both a domestic and global scale.
RGF: Since the auto industry has been central to Designory, how did your journey with Designory start? Were you always interested in cars?
Hiroyuki: I actually came to know about Designory back in 2005 when I was working for Designory’s client, an auto manufacturer here in Japan. I was in charge of the marketing department. At the time, the brand had an upcoming launch in the U.S. and the global marketing division had to work hand-in-hand with Designory for the launch. I had a shift in perspective when I personally saw the unique and eye-opening way they launched our vehicle.
Before teaming up with Designory, "upfront strategy work" to me was just about creating beautiful pictures, brochures, and websites. I would even focus on the tiniest details, such as the highlights on the car. Although every detail counts for marketing, what really matters for strategy work is the bigger picture. Designory mapped out every consumer touchpoint throughout the entire communication flow and created a seamless story from start to finish that not only takes into consideration the product features but also the various channels our audience will use to consume this information.
Now, when you're doing marketing, you'll often hear buzzwords like "story" and "storytelling." Designory was already doing that 15 to 20 years ago, back when these words weren’t even considered marketing buzzwords. The brand itself is actually a play on words between design and story: Design + Story = Designory. It has been their core strategy for so long.
I was thoroughly impressed by Designory back then, so I jokingly told them that they should establish an office in Japan but I moved to Brussels in 2008. When I came back to Japan in 2013, I was delighted to find out that Designory was looking for a business lead and had in fact established an office in Japan in 2008. Upon my return to Japan, the Creative Director approached me to fill the vacant role, and the rest is history.
RGF: So you’ve had such a long and eye-opening history with Designory. How has it changed since you joined in 2013?
Hiroyuki: When I started, the working relationship between Designory Japan and its sister agency, eg+ Japan, was quite different compared to now. Back then, although both companies were under the same parent company and the same worldwide CEO, we were run as completely separate entities. We’ve actually been sharing an office with them for years, but we had one huge wall separating the two companies. Although we were in the same space, both Designory and eg+ had their respective projects and operations.
In 2019, this changed. Our worldwide CEO, Paul Hosea, wanted to fully optimize the resources and operations of both agencies so he decided to literally and figuratively break down the wall separating Designory Japan and eg+ Japan. Since then, we have now merged operationally as eg+ Worldwide Japan, which combines a digital-oriented marketing agency, and an immensely dedicated production force called eg+.
This joint-collaboration between two complementary agencies altered the way we work. It allowed us to effectively and efficiently pair creative and strategic product content with innovative global production. Many marketing agencies have a decoupled business structure where strategy work is done in-house but production is outsourced. It often works well for short-term ad hoc campaigns, but our clients need a holistic, long-term strategy.
Sometimes the life cycle of the content we produce lasts as long as six years, and that’s why strategic planning is vital for Designory and eg+ Worldwide as a whole. Our clients need an operationally optimized agency that will not only provide full-service marketing solutions but can also foresee how a project can evolve in the next few years based on a full understanding of their past and present situations.
RGF: I see. By combining the operations of a marketing agency, which is Designory, and a production agency, which is eg+, your parent company, eg+ Worldwide, is able to streamline long-term end-to-end campaigns more efficiently.
Hiroyuki: Yes, that’s correct. Because although each agency’s specialties are different, we still have an aligned work process where we get to clearly share the same vision and resources. Sure, there’s been some changes, but these recent developments made us even stronger agencies.
For instance, our automotive clients' R & D program is extensive, resulting in a ton of information collected over several years. As a marketing agency, Designory should understand and connect each relevant information to a customer’s journey throughout the entire buying process. The level of information needed by a customer is different throughout each stage of the buying process. For just one product from the automotive industry, a customer would have at least 15,000 options to choose from. That may be overwhelming, especially if they're randomly bombarded with this information.
It’s up to Designory to look at the facts from R & D and transform that into simplified, understandable information that will resonate with the consumer and address the intersection between their wants and needs. You see, whatever the consumer wants might not entirely be what they need, and at the same time, without the right information, consumers won't be able to decide what they want and need.
As a marketing agency, Designory’s goal is to help the consumers understand our clients’ products and provide relevant information throughout the entire buying process' critical touchpoints. We want to give as much valuable information while also taking the pain and inconvenience away from the customers so that they can make the right decision, buy the product they’re looking for, and, in return, be happy about their purchase.
On the other hand, as a production agency, eg+ helps Designory accomplish this long term goal by actualizing our strategy through consistent and seamless digital content that is both innovative and cost-efficient. Imagine working with different agencies for every campaign. In that set-up, there’s a lot of room for miscommunication and a lot of room as well for errors, inefficiencies, and inconsistencies. By pairing both, we eliminate all of that.
That’s how our ideas come to life - by combining two forces working together towards one direction. This fusion results in eg+ Worldwide, a full service, end-to-end agency that removes all the inefficiencies that come with a decoupled structure.
RGF: Given that this is your company's new operational structure, what are some of the traits that you look for when hiring someone new?
Hiroyuki: I always consider people as the game changers in any company. In fact, I interview every single new hire because I’m aware of how big of an impact a single person can have in our office. Our structure is quite unique, but I would rather that the new hires focus on open and proactive collaboration instead of the distinguishing elements that set Designory and eg+ apart. After all, we are one group company, and that’s what truly matters – the opportunities brought by this borderless collaboration.
Right now, at Designory Japan, we’ve embraced this change in structure, and I'm delighted everyone saw the endless possibilities of this consolidation. You see, this ability to adapt to changes is also a key trait to succeed not just in Designory or marketing but in one’s career in general.
Your willingness to learn, improve, and change, I believe, will bring so many excellent opportunities your way. I didn't even know anything about digital marketing or cars in the past, but I was willing to learn. Eighteen years after, people now see me as an expert in my field.
RGF: That's true. Willingness to learn is increasingly becoming one of the most sought-after soft skills among global talent.
Hiroyuki: I quite agree, but I feel that willingness to learn must also be in conjunction with passion and motivation. It's this innate drive that propels an idea into excellence. It’s this innate drive that keeps you on track. We’re always looking for talent who are passionate about their work and are excited about what they’re coming in for. Some of them are excited about the work, the diverse working environment, the culture, our shared vision... It's this passion and excitement, plus your willingness to improve, that will make you want to say, "I'd like to achieve this, and this is how we’ll get there together” instead of asking the question “Where are we going and how do we get there?”
RGF: Yes, willingness to learn, and passion breed proactivity.
Hiroyuki: Exactly. All of those are invaluable soft skills. It's great if you possess the hard skills, and that's precisely what every company needs – your experience and expertise. However, these hard skills are replaceable. Other people may hold the exact same knowledge and hard skill as you. But it's your soft skills, such as your adaptability, willingness to learn, passion, openness to collaborate, and your ability to share new ideas towards a common vision, that will distinguish you from the rest. It’s these soft skills that can get you through any type of work, no matter how challenging.
RGF: Speaking of challenge, businesses worldwide have adapted to the demands of the “new normal." Did Designory Japan and eg+ Worldwide Japan implement any new work arrangements?
Hiroyuki: Since the beginning of March, we have been working from home 100%. Before that, some of our staff didn’t have a home computer that’s powerful enough. As a digital agency, we create digital content, which means our people require heavy-duty computers to generate high-quality images, videos, and files. We had to invest in these heavy-duty computers and ship them out to everyone in order to ensure that all of us can work from home with ease. Now we allow a maximum of 25 percent capacity in the office, but only three to four percent are actually there.
RGF: How was it like, transitioning to having a flexible work arrangement?
Hiroyuki: It’s funny (laughs) because initially, we had such a hard time keeping people home, but now, whenever I come into the office, the people I talk to are all working from home. We all thought that we had to learn how to work from home.
They felt like they needed to come into the office because working from home was an entirely new scenario. On top of that, we were also in the middle of preparing for our client's most significant product launch in the last ten years. But little by little, through the structural approach that we had, we were able to not only implement this new flexible work style, we also had a very successful launch.
RGF: Congratulations on the launch! We’re glad that it was a success. How did you do it? How were you able to have such a successful launch despite the apparent challenges of the times?
Hiroyuki: I think it really boils down to people and good communication. Communication now is better than ever, and we’re very fortunate to have resilient and hardworking employees. Work culture isn't something you dictate. It's something that happens organically and is generated through the efforts, attitude, and mentality of every single employee. I'm really pleased that the culture we've developed encourages us all to stay passionate and motivated no matter the challenge. During high-pressure times like these, you realize why hiring someone who is skilled AND shares our values matters so much.
RGF: Since you had a successful launch, all while everyone was working from home, will you continue to implement this flexible work arrangement?
Hiroyuki: What’s most important is the safety of our employees. We don’t want to create a situation where coming into the office is considered a bad thing, and staying at home is considered a good thing, or vice versa. It will be more about what works for you and what is fair to every single employee.
RGF: Do you have any final words for anyone that’s considering a job at Designory?
Hiroyuki: Designory is a place where the potential to develop your career can truly be harnessed, especially if you are willing to learn and are open to collaborating with others. Being in the digital space, it’s fast-paced and ever-evolving, so if you yearn for this type of environment that’s quite similar to startups, we’d be very excited to have someone like you.
RGF: Thank you so much for your time!