If I was in charge of Hakuhodo...
This is a series where I present hypothetical business, public relations and marketing strategies which I'd propose if I were placed in charge of the company.
Most laypeople think about public relations through the two avenues of marketing and crisis management. Fude companies are lucky in that very few of them do or say something that would repel any of their consumers. Luckily, Hakuhodo is pretty squeaky clean as far as a company goes. They don't have need for crisis PR spinning but the public relations problem with Hakuhodo online is that there is no relationship with the public.
The very first thing that a PR company does when they look at a client is to create an analysis of the public's perception of said corporation. Outside of Japan and outside of the fude user or collector community, there's some recognition from general makeup users who may have heard of the company online, most likely via social media. The consensus among fude users and the wider public is generally positive. Surveyed individuals would be likely to give answers like, "I hear they're quite good" or "Yes, I like their products". Asked, do you picture the company first when it comes to brush brands, it's probably a 'no' or 'mostly no'.
Let me try and explain the public perception of Hakuhodo in a more simplistic way. Basically, Hakuhodo is like Hugh Jackman. Everyone likes Hugh Jackman. He's a nice guy. He's a family guy who always gushes loyally about his wife to whom he's been married to for 25 years. There's not a hint of scandal about him. There is no drama. You think of Hugh Jackman when he pops up with a movie to promote, otherwise he disappears in between projects. You've seen a few of his movies but probably not all of them. He's not in anyone's favourite movie of all time but no one's angrily demanding their money back at the end of the film. Now apply all that to Hakuhodo. Everyone likes Hakuhodo. You enthusiastically talk about them, recommending them to others and you've been loyal to them for a long time now. There are no scandals. You think of Hakuhodo when you need to buy some brushes. You'll probably buy a few and then forget about them until you need to again. Your Hakuhodo brushes are probably not your favourite brushes in your stash but you're quite content with your purchases. Am I right? I'm trying my best to be objective here. Hakuhodo is my favourite fude maker overall but the maker of my favourite or most beautiful brush? Nope. For my readers who might be new to the fude world, this may not have applied but I'll get to Hakuhodo's newbie problem later.
If I was in charge of Hakuhodo, I'd make a series of sweeping changes. I'd come down with an iron fist on their marketing deparment and overhaul their online presence completely. If someone were to write a Public Relations textbook for the 2020s then Hakuhodo would feature as classic case of good products stuck in an old-fashioned world. I get it – it makes sense to keep the old fashioned traditions of a physical presence... in Japan but that's not sustainable with the way globalisation is going. No company can afford to be an analogue clock in a digital world.
Hakuhodo creates excellent products and their stores are immaculate. If you ever have the opportunity to go to Japan, I'd recommend visiting a Hakuhodo retailer. There are more than a dozen physical stand-alone stores throughout Japan and you can find stands at some department stores. Although travelling to Hiroshima (where the factory is) for the history alone is worthwhile, I understand that it's probably not on a typical tourist's schedule, at least the first time one visits Japan. No worries though, Hakuhodo have stores in all the tourist hotspots of Tokyo, Kyoto, Sapporo and Osaka. There's nothing like seeing and touching the brushes in person to help make your purchasing decisions. Also, if you do buy the brushes in person, remember to get multiple copies of your receipt so that you can claim back the 10% sales tax at the airport via the duty-free claims.
Their domestic stores cater perfectly to the people of Japan but the way that Hakuhodo functions outside of Japan is vastly different. I know because I've been to a few of their IMATS pop up stores. IMATS is an international makeup trade show that is hosted in a few major cities including London, New York, Los Angeles, Toronto, Vancouver and until recently, Sydney. Makeup trade shows typically run for a few days where professional makeup artists are given exclusive run of the place for the first few and then it's open to the public for a ticketed entrance fee. Stalls from a huge number of brands are set up and items are typically offered to attendees at a large discount. Hakuhodo offers them at a slight discount if you're able to pay in cash because they charge prices in the country's local currency whereas they charge USD if you put it on card. You'll always pay more unless you're in America because of your bank's exchange rate and spread. I suppose after Covid-19, this would likely change because I can't imagine people wanting to handle physical money very much. The employees running the stalls have always been very lovely, if a little harried due to the sheer number of people passing through. Sure, they're busy but they're not swamped. That brings me to the problem of demand.
Makeup professionals need to wash their brushes after every client and so the majority of them will lean towards using synthetic bristles for their durability. Some make up artists who work with older clientelle or on a high end scale will include Hakuhodo in their kits. Just look at Charlotte Tilbury and Pat McGrath before they launched their own products. You can find footage of them setting up their kits which included many Hakuhodo brushes on magazine shoots and on runway preps but I think it's disingenuous to say that you would find pros stocking the majority of their kit with fude. So that leaves the consumer retail market as the bulk focus that Hakuhodo should be trying to reach. We don't need to wash our brushes after every usage.
Hakuhodo have a physical presence in California, USA also and although I've never been, the US site manages the company's international sales of the brushes online. If you let me loose in their marketing department, I'd transform their online presence quite radically. In my recent Let's Talk About Money post, I wrote about the need for some fude companies to pivot. In my opinion, Hakuhodo is one. If you check out their US website as a first time consumer or even as a returning customer, then you'll very likely experience some analysis paralysis. There's just so much choice – too much in fact. I count 16 separate lines or series of brushes as well as some sets and accessories.
The S100 Series is Hakuhodo's premium line which feature vermilion handles and gold ferrules. They're very luxurious and carry a correspondingly hefty price tag. On the other end of the spectrum, you have the B and J Series brushes. The J Series brushes have the regular black handles with the nickel-plated ferrules and the B series is a pared down offering of these brushes as the 'b' stands for 'basic'. Say you understand the difference between the lines and you've got a set budget in mind so you click into one of the tabs. Here's what you'd see if you checked out the J Series.
Actually, this is only half of the offerings on the first page out of six. You'd have to scroll down to see the other ten offerings since they present twenty options to you on any given page. I own all of the brushes pictured here and I can tell them apart when they're in my container (since the numbers have long rubbed off) but if you took off the labels here and left me with just the pictures, I'd struggle to name some of them. I've been using Hakuhodo since I was a teenager. Imagine what it's like for newcomer.
The first thing I'd do is to re-label the descriptions in a way that English speaking makeup users would understand. Everything here is 'eye shadow brush' and the only differentiators are 'round' and 'round and flat'. Yeah, I mean it technically makes sense but consumers who can't physically see your products need more. They need something like 'Eyeshadow: rounded crease brush', 'Eyeshadow: blending brush', 'Eyeshadow: flat shader brush'. I'd also designate tags like 'small', 'medium' and 'large'. You know if you have small eyes or large eyes and people often find Hakuhodo when they first go in search of something for small or hooded eyes.
Below is the 2021 Beginner's Set which retails for USD$210 (plus shipping). I don't know what Hakuhodo is doing in labelling this five brush offering a beginner's set. I think there's two out of the five that are instinctively appealling to beginners. The B110 blush brush and the J5523 eyeshadow brush are good choices but I'm seriously side-eyeing the others.
For me, this is the core problem of Hakuhodo USA. They're in America and selling to the US and the rest of the English speaking world. Let's be presumptive and assume that English speaking world is mostly Western nations that are predominantly guided by Caucasian beauty standards. I don't mean to trample on the toes of any minorities or non-white readers but... let's call a 'spade' a 'spade'. I think I'm safe in assuming that the majority of Hakuhodo USA's customers are not Japanese expats. The inclusion of eyebrow brush is an example of not understanding the prevalence of people using eyebrow pencils or brow gels. Sure, there are people using powders to fill in their brows but they're not in the majority. The small liner brush is also superfluous. I use eyeshadow or a kohl pencil on a brush to do my eyeliner but most people use a felt or brush tip liquid liner.
Hakuhodo offered an extraordinary five brush set back in October 2019 in the Reiwa Celebration Set which was released to celebrate the ascension of Crown Prince Naruhito to the Chrysanthemum throne. It also came with a brush roll, a brush soap and a microfibre towel all for the low price of USD$90 plus postage. I reviewed the brushes here on my blog at the time and I pronounced this to be the best bargain I had ever seen released by Hakuhodo. I still stand by that sentiment. All of the products in the set are offered in their permanent range with their regular handles.
If I were in charge of putting together a beginner's set, I would offer something similar. I'd change out some of the brushes but I'd stick closely to the format here. Include five brushes, a brush soap, a microfibre towel and an information sheet. While we're unlikely to ever see such a lowly priced set again, a slight discount in the bundle or the free accessories would be a great drawcard.
Something like this eyeshadow grouping below (J5529, J146, J142, J242, J5523) would simplify things immensely for an online shopper. If I was in charge of Hakuhodo's online presence, I'd do this first. I'd create easy to understand groupings or popular brush sets. This is going to be far more palatable for a beginner, particularly a Westerner or someone who is influenced by Western beauty practices. You find these shapes in almost every popular brush brand. The price point of this eyeshadow set will also be far more enticing than a $200+ set that contains a weird looking ougi fan brush.
Currently, Hakuhodo places the burden of research and brush selection completely onto the consumer. The most visted page on my entire blog is my Hakuhodo Eyeshadow Brush Guide which was written for beginners who are dipping their toes into fude for the first time. I only go through seven brushes which I think newcomers should look into and I compared them to some widely available brushes from Zoeva, Sigma and Real Techniques. The fact that my analytics have that post as one of my most visited pages every month shows that there's an information void so Hakuhodo is letting potential customers do all the leg work. Jaybirdwalking has a series of in-depth videos on YouTube featuring the brushes on offer in the Hakuhodo California showroom. I'd recommend having a look because it's the next best thing if you're unable to physically visit a store.
It could be argued that there is plenty of information on the web given how long Hakuhodo and their brushes have been around but on the PR front, it begins with an uphill climb if they want to end up with a net positive in the approval ratings. Let me be frank. The percentage of readers who have scrolled this far down is slim. Statistically, I lost most of you at the 2 minute 30 second mark around the second picture. The more dedicated readers stay for 4 minutes and 50 seconds on average on the longer posts. Those who refer to my posts to actually research items they are considering purchasing, return to the post at least twice and stay on the page for over 9 minutes. YouTubers can't monetise videos under ten minutes which is why long videos are the norm but they face the same predicament. The problem is that attention spans are short. Put this together with Hakuhodo charging an international shipping fee of USD$16 and USD$9 for domestic US purchases. If one is going to buy from them, then one is likely to buy everything in one go to avoid making multiple transactions. This will require research unless the buyer knows exactly what they want. Most people will not want to go to the lengths of researching. If the aim of business is to sell products, then the company needs to make the buying experience as easy as possible for the customer. You can't lose half your customers before they even think about browsing your website.
Buying a product online sight unseen requires a leap of faith from the consumer. In my very first Public Relations university lecture, my professor said that trust was the foundation of building good public relations. Hakuhodo needs to pivot in their online store to build a bridge so that the buyer's leap over that chasm of knowledge doesn't cover such a vast distance. A company cannot leave bloggers and YouTube content creators to educate their consumers. To do so would allow many of their untrained customers to fall into the abyss never to return.