When Nestle first attempted to market coffee in Japan in the 1970s, it did not go well. Though their products tested well with audiences and was priced affordably, sales never took off. Nestle was committed to break into the profitable Japanese market and embarked on research that would inform an innovative new strategy going forward.
Nestle hired French social psychologist, Dr. Clotaire Rapaille, who specialized in the emotional bonds people form with objects. Dr. Rapaille conducted various experiments with participant groups to better understand why people were not buying coffee in the Japanese market. In one such experiment, Dr. Rapaille played calming music while participants lay on the ground. He asked them to talk through early childhood memories. He then asked participants to share experiences and emotions they associated with various products from their childhoods.
Participants did so, except when it came to coffee. Most had no memories of coffee and therefore no emotional bond to it. Japan had long been a tea drinking society, very few sections of society included coffee drinkers. Sales reflected the lack of cultural familiarity with coffee; it was not part of Japanese life. This understanding from Dr. Rapaille’s research sparked a bold marketing move with a long-term strategy in mind.
Nestle created coffee-flavored chocolate and marketed them to children. Introducing the flavor of coffee to Japanese youth while at an early age would not only imprint the flavor profile on them, but they would associate the flavor with positive emotions. Nestle tested, manufactured, and sold their coffee-flavored chocolate in Japan. They were immediately popular with youth and eventually with their curious parents who wanted to give the flavor a try.
A reentry into the coffee market by Nestle years later was met with a different response than the first attempt. The kids that grew up with coffee-flavored candies were now a part of the workforce and ready to become coffee drinkers. Today, Nestle imports nearly 500 million tons of coffee per year.
What began with a failed attempt at entering the coffee market resulted in a long-term strategy that proved that strong emotional bonds with customers can build strong sales.