Thursday, September 10, 2009

Yamato Transport One More Exercise in Japanese Branding Power.

Can a giant corporate brand deliver real warmth and charm?
Where do the great brands come from? Lots of iconic brands and their logos arrive from countries outside the US. Although there’s a strong slant to European firms, Japan’s brands are easily as strong or stronger in most market segments and ought to be highlighted more frequently. (I bet they’re even better known on the West Coast.)

Depending on your age, marital/family situation or even industry, you probably recognize the Toyota brand logo by now, if not exactly how it came to be. Honda. Shiseido. Sony and Nintendo are just as well known. On the other hand, you may not immediately identify Sanrio though everybody knows its corporate symbol, Hello Kitty® - now 35 years old.

Another cat-using approach is even more evocative and extremely effective: The mother cat carrying its kitten carefully between its teeth. This is the very familiar logo of Yamato Transport, visible on thousands of trucks all over Japan. It was introduced in 1957. It turns its back on the circles-and-squares school of logo design and graphically symbolizes the careful and efficient handling of goods.

It works as hard in B2B branding as it does B2C branding. And I ought to note than you need to be a frequenter of docks and commercial office parks to see it in this country; in the US, Yamato is focused on international freight shipping and does not compete directly against FedEx or UPS.

Like any great logo, it has a great story. “Yamato” itself was the name of ancient Japan and it founded private parcel delivery there 90 years ago…a long-lasting brand in the Japanese market. Looking at sites online, you can see that the delivery trucks are everywhere.

The mama-cat logo, though, only dates back to 1957. It’s a vivid example of the Japanese ability to see things – read brands – from angles that don’t quite match the sometimes gray-suited reputation of large Japanese corporations. On that note, comparing the Yamato brand to Nippon Express is worth doing.

The black cat trademark is immediately recognizable and people love it: There is no cultural baggage about black-cat-bad-luck in Japan. In Miyazaki’s animated film “Kiki’s Delivery Services,” about a young witch who leaves home to become a delivery girl, her familiar is a black cat. The original story was written in 1985 – I wonder if the cat – Jiji – came from Yamato Transport?

Corporate brands sometimes have difficulty expressing humanity, presuming they even want to do so. With “Black Cat Yamato,” this outfit started out there, achieving brand power over time.


Bob Lamons said...

In my branding world, the #1 job of a brand is to establish an expectation -- what do we want customers and prospects to expect when they see or hear our name? If the desired expectation for Yamato is "we take care of your precious cargo," then the momma cat logo definitely helps. You can't task a logo with the entire branding job. It must be packaged with slogans, ads, websites and other communication strategies. But this logo goes a lot farther toward establishing a brand expectation than most, and for that reason, I think it's good.

Bob Lamons, CEO
Author, The Case For B2B Branding

Richard Laurence Baron said...

Thank you, Bob - your "brand expectation" insight is terrific and I appreciate your adding it in.

Susan Reeves said...

It's interesting how they took a sweet expression: cat carrying kitty; then stylized it for the industry with color and line weight.

I wonder if there's a "smells bad" or "weighs a ton" company around here who would embrace an expression like this.

Richard Laurence Baron said...

Your note about how the mama-cat logo is stylized for industry is neat, Susan. Your design eye is most welcome.