Students share marketing insights with Japanese airline

Stanford students worked together to pitch marketing ideas to a major Japanese airline at an event last Tuesday. The event, called an “ideathon,” is part of a series of events seeking to strengthen the U.S.-Japan relationship through exchange of ideas.

The ideathon was the first of its kind at the Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Center, led by the Japan Program under the rubric of the Stanford Silicon Valley-New Japan Project (SV-NJ). The project is supported in part by All Nippon Airways (ANA), the Japanese airline featured at the event.

Nineteen students participated, from both undergraduate and graduate levels and across disciplines – including students from the Graduate School of Business, and other majors including economics, mathematics, computer science, philosophy and East Asian studies.

Placed on a team with others they had just met, students were encouraged to assemble quickly and generate solutions to the challenge: how can ANA strengthen its brand awareness in the United States?

ANA is seeking to double in size in the next three years, yet it faces a few obstacles in this endeavor, including a customer base that is mostly in Japan and low brand visibility internationally, according to a senior employee that presented at the event.

“Who had heard of ANA before this event?” asked Hiroyuki Miyagawa, a marketing executive at ANA. Few hands raised in the audience.

Organized into four teams, each student team was joined by an ANA employee who listened in and offered guidance and a chance to learn from a longtime practitioner.

One and a half hours later, with Post-it notes and scribbled diagrams sprinkled across tables, each team emerged ready to present their 3-minute pitch to a panel of judges. The panel included executives from ANA, the World Innovation Lab (WiL), a venture capital firm in Palo Alto, and bTrax, a San Francisco based design firm.

Below are a few pictures from the event.

Team Three acts out a skit.  |  They proposed that ANA establish lounges for the general public to gather in and purchase goods from Uniqlo and Muji, two Japanese lifestyle retailers. The lounges would offer a place to reinforce ANA's brand outside of the airport, they said.

Team Four puts their heads together to generate ideas.  |  In their pitch, the team noted that baseball is a popular sport among Americans and Japanese. They recommended baseball be a focus of the marketing campaign, and said television and social media would best reach the target audience.

Team Five explains their marketing approach.  |  Flying can lead to some unpleasant experiences, and a way ANA can set itself apart is to make those experiences manageable, and even enjoyable, they said. Their proposal was to bring new amenities to the in-flight experience such as a care package for people who sit in the middle seat.

Team One poses for a picture after their presentation.  |  In their pitch, they recommended using ANA’s association with Japan to differentiate from other global airlines. Their approach included creating a film that features an American celebrity traveling on ANA.

The winning team was Team One whose concept was to use a celebrity figure – Ellen DeGeneres – in their advertising. They said that the target audience could relate to DeGeneres, and her already-established following would be an advantage.

The judges commended Team One for the creativity of their idea and its level of feasibility. Team One consisted of students Yaqian Fan, Michael Hong, Sam Ide, Lu Li and Adelbert Tan.

Kenji Kushida, a Stanford alumnus and project leader of SV-NJ, said:

“When I was a student, I craved for an opportunity to brainstorm solutions to real-world challenges and to do it in an environment that provided instant feedback,” he said, “We were able to make that happen here with the support of ANA and WiL, and are thrilled with the outcome."