President and CEO
Few marketing executives have become CEOs of their organization. Many industry experts, though, believe this will now change as marketing embraces more elements critical to driving business growth—consumer connectedness, transparency in an always-on social media world, capturing the essence of big data so that it is acted upon properly, and even product innovation.
Kozo Takoaka, though, is ahead of the times/trend, which is a clear hallmark of his long career at Nestlé. Considered a legend in Japan, he may be among the country’s most innovative marketing leaders, while his work has been featured in marketing text books and business school cases studies the world over.
Takaoka-san is a 30 year veteran of Nestlé Japan. It is also significant that company is celebrating 100 years in Japan this year, and Kozo Takaoka has been at the forefront of the company’s success by adapting the global brands of the Swiss giant to meet local consumer needs.
He started his career in beverage marketing with assignments for various brands, including Nescafé. He became an early pioneer of the Barista coffee maker in 2009, a machine that offered café-style coffee drinks using soluble instant coffee, and then, later capsules. Despite initial resistance from Switzerland, Takaoka-san was adamant that data that showed a high demand for drinking quality instant coffee, and Japan needed a special machine to meet this demand. Sound familiar?
Kozo Takoaka then joined the confectionary division. His work with KitKat is indeed the stuff of legend. The chocolate brand catapulted to the leading candy bar in Japan, while also becoming a premium product, to the surprise of Nestlé’s Swiss headquarters. KitKat was not only produced in limited edition flavors preferred by the Japanese, including green tea, cherry blossom, wasabi, black sugar, roast soy bean, edamame and European cheese, but the bars became huge collector items with tourists and ex-pats who knew the iconic candy in its “original” flavor. More than 200 different KitKat varieties have been produced.
Additionally, KitKat bars evolved to be a token of good luck in Japan and soon became part of the traditional custom of giving. KitKat sounds similar to the Japanese phrase “Kitto Katsu,” which means “surely win,” so Japanese well-wishers present the chocolate to their friends and loved ones every year, especially for school entrance exams.
As Nestlé begins its second century in Japan, the company is responding to the needs of a growing elderly population. In a press release issued for its centennial, Kozo Takaoka stated: “Japan faces specific challenges with its ageing and shrinking population. In many ways Japan is experiencing the challenges we will eventually face elsewhere. Innovation is key and as we have seen over the past years, Nestlé Japan is capable of finding innovative ways to meet this new reality.”
And with a marketers like Takaoka-san at the helm, we have no doubt those challenges will indeed be met.