Ask a westerner to name a typical Japanese beverage and “sake” will come to mind. Indeed, sake epitomises Japan’s beverage and is associated with style, finesse and complexity. So when the brand team decided to fine tune its positioning, it was a great opportunity to play on sake perceptions and brand truths. Discover here Brand Reveal’s approach to formulate a clear and own-able proposition and architecture for Akashi-Tai.
Every brand positioning starts with a review of its emotional and functional aspects. This can be based on different information sources, but nothing replaces the feel of a visit to the brand home and thorough exchanges with the makers.
So in April 2019, we went to Akashi to visit the brewery and to meet with Kimio Yonezawa, Akashi-Tai “Toji” or sake “brewer”. What we discovered at Akashi opened doors for a simple and powerful proposition : Akashi-Tai reveals the character of hidden details. This can seem at odds with the category perceived subtlety, but is ingrained in the brand.
For a start, the name “sea bream from Akashi” is taken from this popular red fish which swims against the Kaikyo bay currents. It symbolises energy, resilience but also good luck, and is symbol of Akashi colourful Uonotana fish market. A conversation with Kimio Yonezawa showed that the name also reflects his brand ethos: “My mission is to make sake with character. A joyful exuberant, generous and open-hearted sake”.
To appreciate the importance of this statement, picture Kimio as a gentle man in his 60’s, but with a staunch will to experiment. With a family involvement in rice since the mid 1800’s, Kimio could have chosen the obvious path of preserving traditions and flavour purity in sake. Instead, when he started producing sake in 1999, he went against industry conventions and used rice with a lower polishing grade for fruitier and more aromatic sakes.
This discreet but explorative and steadfast approach to sake is the cornerstone of Akashi-Tai. It matches an audience will to discover things with character, even when hidden at first. This in turn paves the way for a brand purpose around the sharing of hidden wonders to a discerning audience.
This allowed to develop a range of 5 sakes with different styles and price points, as well as a yuzu. Whilst variants allow for different entry points to a brand, often new products fill in a commercial opportunity, but with no brand role. In the case of Akashi-Tai, a brand architecture exercise was conducted to solve 3 questions: How do we structure the variants in the spirit of the brand? Is there a space for a Brand Hero ? What is the contribution of each variant to the overall brand idea?
Today, Akashi-Tai is organized in 3 pillars (Welcome, Treat and Explore), which cover several price segments and fulfil different roles in terms of brand personality building and recruitment dynamic. Last but not least, 3 groups are easy to remember and allow a quick introduction to the range.
As the exercise unravelled, Akashi-Tai “Junmai Daiginjo Genshu” was chosen to play the Brand Hero role as it is premium (Akashi-Tai is an artisan sake) and made from Yamadashiki rice, the “King of sake rices”. Among the many benefits, a Brand Hero represents the brands in all communication and creates commercial focus.
Today, the Japanese portfolio of the brands distributed by Marussia Beverages is clearly organised around 3 growing categories (sake, whisky and gin) with appealing brands (Akashi-Tai, Hatozaki and 135º East). Each of the brands provides a unique and authentic entry point to Japanese culture.