Branding has been a trend for organizations for a while now, and its due to the fact that there have been success stories for companies who utilized branding and its components as their marketing strategies. Sanrio Co. Ltd is one of these companies. This article aims to enlighten readers about branding lessons with Hello Kitty as Brand case.
Hello Kitty is the name of a cat-faced cartoon character designed by Yuko Yamaguchi who worked with Sanrio Co. Ltd- a Japanese company owned by Shintaro Tsuji, that sold cartoon character-branded products. Sanrio’s motto was social communication. Before the inception of the brand, Tsuji had a business where he sold purses, slippers etc., which he was struggling with. But after a while of trying new designs, he discovered that products embellished with designs attracted more customers. In his words:
“If you attach added value or design to the product, they sell in a completely different way.” Tsuji’s slippers line became a success and as a result, he started developing characters that he could use to adorn his products. Due to the Japanese culture of gifting, he noticed that pencil boxes, key chains, and coin purses were in huge sales as they were mostly used as gift items. Hence, he started adorning them with designs but he placed the pricing of the goods very low to make it affordable for kids who wanted to buy them.
He employed designers to work on bear, cat and dog designs. Yuko Shimizu- one of Tsuji’s designers created the Hello Kitty character and the target customers found it appealing. The coin purses decorated with the cat sold more than the other products.
Hello Kitty was launched in 1974 and originally targeted at serving little girls between the ages of 4-6. After the launch, she became popular and sold so well. The brand was broadened to include teenagers and adults in the early 2000’s. In 2006, over a thousand Hello Kitty products were available in over 40 countries. And by 2008, there were over 50,000 Hello Kitty branded products across 130 countries. By November 1, this year (2018), the Hello Kitty brand will celebrate her 44th year anniversary of success.
Lessons we can learn from the Hello Kitty brand includes the following:
If anything, Sanrio Co. Ltd was committed to being innovative. New series of Hello Kitty themed designs were released regularly. Sanrio introduced new cartoon characters at regular intervals, ventured into new ideas he felt could move his company forward. In 2007, Sanrio began using other colors for Hello Kitty designs( black, white and less pink), to attract older customers. In 2005/6 Sanrio tried to expand its target market to include all age groups and all ethnic and cultural groups.
Lesson: Having a creative team with whom you will always brainstorm new ideas, helps you stay relevant to your customers all year round.
Apart from the sales of character-branded products, Sanrio made money from licensing other companies to use the Hello Kitty image on their products, branding high-end pet accessories, perfumes and designer apparel, even airplanes. The company produced movies, sold Hallmark greeting cards and Barbie dolls, built Hello Kitty theme parks, hotels, restaurants, and was also involved in real estate. Hello kitty became an ambassador for UNICEF for the USA in 1983 and Japan in 1984. All these contributed to the growth of the company. However, most of its revenue still came from the sales of character-branded products.
Lesson: Expanding your market range will increase the growth potential of your brand.
Hello Kitty collaborated with Kimora Lee Simmons to make branded jewelry named Hello Kitty Collections. Also, a tech company known as Business Design Lab created a 20-inch tall Hello Kitty robot to serve as front desk personnel for their company. For Hello Kitty’s 30th birthday, Japan Mint produced 200,000 coin sets. Another Japanese company, Tanaka Kikinzoku Kogyo KK, made 12 solid Hello Kitty platinum statues worth $30,000 each and sold all. Sanrio has an association with gaming companies to create a series of Hello Kitty mobile games. Sanrio also entered into an agreement with many other companies and institutions.
Lesson: Collaborate with other well-established brands. This helps maintain visibility, and their fan base becomes yours as well.
Luxury goods (pieces of jewelry, accessories, clothing) were on sale alongside coin purses, pencil boxes and key chains to make sure all categories of their target customers are served. Also, in 1996, products branded with Hello Kitty designs e.g. phone cases (targeted at high school girls), laptops, purses, bags etc., were sold so grown females who wanted the design but didn’t have it as kids, could get it. Hello Kitty designs were placed on almost everything; vacuum cleaners, cars, candy, computers, fridges etc. This was made possible through the licensing of other companies to use the Hello Kitty image.
Lesson: To expand your customer base, create products for different categories of customers to the extent that almost everyone can have a product from your brand.
In the mid-1990s, a young Japanese singer, Tomomi Kahara voluntarily endorsed the Hello Kitty brand. Celebrities like Lady Gaga, Britney Spears and Paris Hilton rocked Hello Kitty themed dresses, purses, and accessories to events. Also, Avril Lavigne, Katy Perry, and other celebrities- Ireland Baldwin, Lil Debbie etc., got tattoos with Hello Kitty Designs. Designers launched new clothing lines featuring Hello Kitty designs. These endorsements helped position Hello Kitty as a luxury brand.
Lesson: Celebrity endorsement increases the popularity of your brand.
Hello Kitty is undeniably an icon of feminine style and taste in that it appeals to women across the world. The cat also had striking features- six whiskers with a red bow on its left ear, a button nose, no mouth, and a completely expressionless face. The fact that its face was without expression gave people the opportunity to project emotions which they can relate with, on to it.
Lesson: Brands that have been humanized attract and sustain more people,. It fosters trust, creates value, and makes your brand relatable to your customers.
Like most successful brands, Hello Kitty’s journey was a mix of ups and downs. In the 1980s, other cartoon characters grew and Hello Kitty didn’t appeal as much anymore. Characters like Doraemon, also a cat, became more popular. Also, in 2002, Winnie the Pooh replaced Hello Kitty as best selling character. Sanrio resorted to repositioning the brand, twice. First by expanding the range of its target customers, to include older females and then by associating the brand with luxury products and jewelry.
Lesson: Monitoring your brands’ position in the market, helps you know when it is due for repositioning. If it isn’t favorable, reposition it, and keep repositioning till you have achieved your aim.
Sanrio visited various shops in Japan to find out what customers expected from the brand. They realized that the brand’s appeal went beyond the original target customers, hence, they were convinced to introduce products acceptable to diverse age groups.
Lesson: Always find out what your customers want, after all, they are the ones doing the buying. Place customer needs at the center of your brand at all times.
After 40 years of appealing to cat lovers all over the world, Sanrio reveals that Hello Kitty is not a cat. Her creators said she is in fact, a little school girl who has a twin sister and is named Kitty White. Customers worldwide felt they had been duped by Hello Kitty. But the truth remains that a lot of people still didn’t care.
Lesson: Any publicity is good publicity, keep the charts going up by giving people what to talk about that would attract good attention to your brand regularly.
With the emergence of the internet and other technology, children and teens are undeniably becoming more fascinated by visuals and sound than a mouth-less, though iconic cat. Although, currently, Hello Kitty’s brand equity has a solid foundation, it would be a great challenge to sustain its popularity. But being the love of so many, let’s all hope Hello Kitty keeps thriving.