"ewoman's secret of success"
Ms. Kaori Sasaki
November 2, 2004 saw a remarkable Japanese woman share her intriguing business building experiences with EA-Tokyo members at the City Club of Tokyo. Not only is Ms. Kaori Sasaki, President & CEO of ewoman Inc, President of Unicul International Inc, and Founder and Chair of the International Conference for Women in Business, but ∁Elike a symbolic slap in the face of Japanese societal expectations until recent years ∁Eshe is also a married, working mother of two, making her an exceptional role model for Japanese women.
Strangely enough, until she was 25 or 26 years of age, Sasaki never imagined she would establish a company. But this thought and her self-confessed “broken English Ehave done nothing to hold her back from creating what she believes is the largest network of professional working women communicating in Japanese in Japan.. Nor have they stopped her writing many magazine articles, newspaper columns and books, and being chosen as one of the thirteen most successful women in Japan to lunch with former U.S. First Lady Hillary Rodham in April 1996.
ewoman Inc, a group of professional women "Smart Consumers", is an important and influential community in Japan that is now an expanding global organization. How and why did this unique group emerge and what they are doing?
“To much of the Japanese media, I was a Eingle woman president', Ethe former international news reporter for TV Asahi's “News Station Esays about the period in 1987 when, while still working as a journalist, she founded Unicul International, an international communications consultancy. “In Japan, the word ‘entrepreneur' didn't exist, so I was referred to as an ‘Onna Shachou' (woman president). When I look around myself now, all of my classmates from high school and university days have stopped working. Ebr>
Due to the still common practice of newly married or pregnant women being pushed, or voluntarily - and permanently - leaving the workforce, Sasaki then realized she was being called a Eoman president' because she was unique. So she started a network of professional working woman to meet other ambitious young working women.
Bucking mens' advice led to launch of successful conference group
In 1996 Sasaki launched the International Conference for Women in Business for the purpose of providing a forum for professional working women to network and exchange ideas.
“When I wanted to start this NPO and we needed a sponsor, I was introduced to a large economic organization in Japan, Eshe says. “I went there and explained my ambition to hold a business conference for women in Japan. EThe result was far from optimal, but proved to her the necessity of her goal.
“Two men in their 40's listened to me and their basic message was that this kind of conference would have no place in the Japanese economic world, Eshe recalls. “They stated that only working women such as entrepreneurs, freelancers and those employed by foreign corporations - the so-called ‘dropouts' of the Japanese mainstream economy - would attend. Ebr>
But Sasaki was absorbing far more than merely their opinions. Actions speak louder than words and theirs were speaking volumes.
“They went on and on like this for two hours, Eshe recalls. “If they really believed this kind of conference would have no meaning to them or to society, I believe they would not have spent two hours telling me why it wouldn't work, Eshe laughs.
Her instinct was right on the mark and the results were nothing short of a revelation.
The first conference held a few months later attracted 5-6 sponsors and over 500 women attendees from all over Japan telling her that they wanted this kind of business conference.
“This year we had 850 attendees of 15 nationalities from all over Japan and on July 16 th , 2005 we will have the 10 th conference and are expecting over 1,000 working women, Eshe says.
Sasaki's thoughts and experiences were telling her that change was on the way.
“I started feeling that there was a wave in the Japanese economy ∁Ethe existence of smart working consumers, smart working mothers and working women. ESasaki says. “By creating ewoman in 2000 as a presence on the internet, we could utilize and create better opportunities for working women in Japan and at the same time gather information from them and provide it to corporations or the Government, Eshe says.
Weekly Surveys Show What Women Really Think
“ewoman is not just an internet company, although the internet is one of the major tools we are utilizing, ESasaki says. ewoman focuses on "Smart Consumers" predominantly in Japan. In the internet realm we are attracting working women, working mothers, working men and working fathers who can think, who can choose and can act by themselves. Through this whole range of services, we are creating a community of smart consumers. Ebr>
While most of the market research companies, web sites for women, advertising and PR agencies in Japan are only reaching housewives, OL (office ladies) and university students, ewoman is the only company that has been successful in managing a community of working women and working mothers.
“The internet as you know has three main characteristics ∁Eit is searchable, it can be real time and it can be interactive. It provides more than just one-way information. So when I started ewoman I wanted to bring these three characteristics to the site, Eshe says.
Among the many superb contents on the site is the “ewoman survey E
“Six surveys take place every week, ESasaki explains. “Six famous characters such as newscasters, authors, fashion models or a specialist such as a doctor, lawyer, etc, submits one question on a Monday. Then ewoman members can vote either Ees' or ‘no' and write a comment. We then count the number of hits and can easily see what is the most popular theme of the week. After receiving all the messages, our internal editors read them and select 5-8 comments from members every day and discuss them with the survey caster. The next Tuesday morning the casters comments and selected member's comments are put up on the web. Then by Friday, we have evolved the surveys and publish the final report on the topic. We have carried out close to 1,500 of these surveys over the last four years and now have many, many comments from people all over the world on our searchable database for all to see. Ebr>
What are the benefits?
“We know that many media and marketing people have come to our site and searched it to find out what real people are saying, what the hot issues are, and what kinds of different opinions are out there, ESasaki says. “Along with other topics we publish special sponsored pages in which we work together with a corporate, such as Matsushita/Panasonic, Nissan, Toyota, and Saikyo Bank. These are brand communication projects in which we are not just covering them or advertising, but we talk with them and run a lot of projects with them. We consider ewoman members as Emart consumers' and many of them get actively involved with these corporates to gain a better understanding of the brand, ESasaki says.
Off the website, Sasaki's business runs ewoman university which coordinates many university lectures and seminars and meetings in their office and seminar rooms in the Tokyo neighborhood of Omote-sando.
Smart Consumers Being Ignored
Sasaki says that smart consumers are ignored in the Japanese business world because working women, especially working mothers, are just too busy.
“If a research company wishes to coordinate research, they cannot reach the full-time workers because they are busy. At the same time, there are so many internet research companies out there but people who register with them are often university students, housewives or unemployed who have lots of time on their hands. So those research companies cannot reach us. ewoman is not just a research company ∁Ewe have ‘leaders' who have made a conscious decision to not only give companies advice but who are willing to assist companies to develop better products, better services, or help Government or communities to develop better regulations or services. So ewoman can actually reach the untapped, smart consumers, ESasaki says.
At the same time, Sasaki points out that for many companies, “non-smart Econsumers are better, highlighting the rapid spread of trend products throughout certain segments of society.
“Now, more and more smarter consumers are being educated every day but the advertising and marketing companies cannot reach them. They know those people are out there but they don't know how to reach them, so they ignore them, Eshe adds.
So where are all these enlightened working women?
“Many of these people gather in ewoman, ESasaki says. “And they often request companies to be very interactive. They don't want to be asked questions. When they contribute their time, share their experience and offer comments, they would like some feedback from the companies, which many companies cannot actually deal with. When these companies open up windows in their websites to gather feedback and start receiving many claims and questions from consumers, many of the companies don't answer them. This often results in them being perceived to be worse than before and as a result close their windows. When smart consumers offer their views they want the company to grow, to change, to learn something from the message and change. Smart consumers are working women so they know how companies move, ESasaki adds.
What kind of feedback has ewoman been receiving?
“Because our people are smart consumers, they can offer different and valuable points of views and most of our clients are very surprised and happy, ESasaki says.
How does ewoman make money?
“We have a lot of research going on, ESasaki says. “Any company can ask us to do research ∁Emarket research, concept development, or product research. We have a special website where within 3-4 hours we will see trends developing in the answers. We also carry out a lot of focus groups. We send products to members' homes, or they may go to dealers or shops to evaluate products and services. We do very soft package design to evaluations of very difficult Government documents before they become law. Ebr>
“Many Japanese and foreign companies in Japan would like to improve the skills of their female staff, so ewoman university offers various types of training including 1-day courses, human development training programs to not only motivate people but also to interact on our website between the 2-3 sessions. So again, we have research, product/concept development, brand communication, human development and ewoman university and these are some of the income generators, Eshe says.
The secret of the success of ewoman?
“We are a community of smart consumers. I would say no one in Japan has established such a large community of smart consumers, so in that sense we are very unique and we believe we will be very valuable not only for working women but also for companies in Japan, ESasaki concludes.
www.ewoman.co.jp/about/english/ (profile in English)
Text: Jonathon Walsh
Jonathon Walsh is a professional Editor and Writer based in Tokyo, Japan, originally from New Zealand and currently working for Hiragana Times, J Select and Eye-Ai magazines, and a growing number of international groups in Tokyo. He has written & self-published four books and had over 170 articles published in nine different media in Japan.
Jonathon is Director of Business Grow , an innovative company specializing in providing a wide range of top quality Editorial and Advertising services to Japanese and foreign organizations.
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