Japanese Youth & Methodologies: A Tale of Two Worlds

img-0136I was chatting with our resident trends researcher, Alyssa-San, the other day about Japanese Youth in their 20s and how they respond to different kinds of methodologies. Being a 20-something native Japanese herself, in addition to being an insights professional, she had some unique perspectives with regard to some recent projects we’d run.

First off, it’s important to say that the 20-something Youth segment is still the most important consumer segment in Japan. This is not an easy conclusion to come by when Japan’s aging society and demographic shift is so perceptible in all aspects of daily life. But it’s the nature of family, youth culture and how Japanese parents live vicariously through their children that make this segment so important. They are young, hip, have the most freedom and everybody wants to be like them… we want to know what they are wearing, listening to, eating and drinking… and where they are at all times! And of course what social media they are using! All the attention is on them and yet, they can be extremely elusive, hard to interview in research settings… and famously standoffish.

For example, we recently ran some ethnographic research related to fast food and youths aged 20-29. One startling thing we found in relation to prior studies was the completely different feedback we received when changing the setting & age of the interviewer. In a focus group setting moderated by interviewers a generation beyond our youths, 20-somethings would say they were “less inclined to eat fast food” out of social pressures and health concerns. And that’s about all they said much to the clients’ chagrin! These are the same standard answers that 30+yos give us all the time; and lead us to conclude that fast food is on the decline. But when out and about doing ethnos with a 20-something interviewer who is more like them, these youths give polar-opposite answers. “We love fast food.” “We want it faster and cheaper.” “We don’t mind junking out once or twice a week because we’re healthy and don’t need to worry about that stuff.” “We’re not that old yet!” “What we’d really like in fast food restaurants is great wi-fi and coupons because we like hanging out with our friends late at night and saving some cash while we’re at it.” Amongst their own cohort, they don’t want to worry about hierarchy, status and the social pressures raining down from above. The same is true with quant questionnaires and the perceived hierarchy and stiff nature of questioning related to those! They often answer with what they perceive ‘older’ parental types might want to hear!

If you’re a food & beverage or restaurant brand the above insight can be ‘make-or-break’ critical and comes down to the researcher, methodology as well as the setting.  Of course it’s largely dependent on research objectives as well. But one thing Alyssa and I are finding out; it’s getting a lot more fun talking to Japanese youths these days… and a lot less like pulling teeth!

by Jeffrey Brouse & Alyssa Nakata