Muji: A Role Model of the Sustainable Marketing Mix

This paper describes the seven key marketing mix components: product, price, place, promotion, people, process, and physical evidence.  For each component, this paper provides a definition, followed by a discussion of the importance of the component as it applies to green marketing.  In addition, this paper discusses how a sustainable company called Muji leverages each marketing mix component in the company’s pursuit of its sustainable business strategy.  This paper concludes that Muji is a role model as an environmentally conscious company that has succeeded in the “less is more” philosophy of creating high quality, low cost, functional products while avoiding consumerism and costly branding.

The marketing mix, consisting of seven components, is critical to every marketing plan.  The seven components are product, price, place, promotion, people, process, and physical evidence.  In green marketing, each of these components requires special consideration across the product lifecycle of design, manufacturing, distribution, customer interaction, and final product disposition.  The 7 P’s of the marketing mix will be described and applied to Muji, a consumer products company dedicated to producing high-quality products designed for functional simplicity.

Muji Company Overview
Founded in 1980, Muji is a Japanese company that manufactures 7,000 consumer products sold in 330 stores worldwide and on the internet.  Muji creates products in a wide range of categories such as stationery, clothing, food, furniture, beauty products, small electronics, and major appliances.  Muji is short for Mujirushi Ryohin, which means “no brand quality goods” (Aaker, 2009, para. 2).  Muji uses a distinctive minimalist design that purposefully removes extraneous functionality that does not add to product performance.  The Muji philology espouses a return to a more simple, values-based way of living and is “low priced for a reason” (“What is Muji,” n.d.).

The first component of the marketing mix is product.  There are multiple levels of a product, such as the benefits the product offers, the physical product itself and ancillary features received with the product purchase (“Three Levels,” 2010).  Marketing adapts promotion, pricing, and production strategies to the correct product lifecycle stage – introduction, growth, maturity, or decline (Marcus, 2010).  In a sustainable company, marketing must also design products that minimize environmental impacts by selecting sustainable or recycled materials and reducing the waste generated during the manufacturing process.

Muji is an example of a company that produces products with sustainability as a cornerstone value.  Muji carefully selects high quality, sustainable materials and avoids harmful materials such as vinyl chloride, formaldehyde, fluorine, and food additives (“Environmental Activities,” 2010).  Muji also uses discarded yet fully functional materials that other companies feel are aesthetically inappropriate (“What is Muji,” n.d.).  For example, Muji created u-shaped spaghetti by using the discarded ends of pasta that were cut off during the manufacturing process.  Muji also created a product from broken shiitake mushrooms that other companies were throwing away – because whole or broken – the mushrooms taste the same (Guardian, 2005).  The Muji website explains, “Faithful to our philosophy of simplicity, this approach is also in keeping with our policy of conserving resources and reducing waste” (“About Muji,” n.d., para. 4).

The second component of the marketing mix is the price.  There are multiple pricing strategies such as premium pricing, penetration pricing, and economy pricing (“Pricing,” 2010).  In order to determine the best pricing strategy, marketing assesses the product features, deficiencies, and perceived value by consumers, and performs a competitive pricing analysis of products with similar features.  For green products, marketing must also consider the environmental benefits of a product and determine what consumers are willing to pay for the added satisfaction of knowing that the product adds value to all of society.

Muji’s slogan is “lower priced for a reason” (“What is Muji,” n.d).  Muji creates high-quality products at low prices in two ways.  The first is that Muji maintains a strict no logo, no brand policy, so prices are determined based solely on product function.  The second is that Muji designs all products without added features that would increase the price or create waste.  For example, Muji sells a simple, wood block cutting board made from sustainably grown forests.  There is no added groove to catch water and no handle.  Muji product designer Naoto Fukasawa explains, “The handle makes the cutting board harder to clean…. The plain wood one is perfect without any additional function and is more truthful, more honest” (Hsu, 2007, para. 10).

In the marketing mix, the place component describes channels to distribute the product to the consumer.  It includes intermediaries such as distributors, wholesalers, and retailers, as well as the logistics of moving the product from manufacturing to the point-of-sale (Marcus, 2010).  In green marketing, there are many opportunities to reduce the carbon footprint across the supply chain, especially as companies feel increased pressure to not only produce products more responsibly, but also deliver them via less resource-intensive methods.  Some of these methods include locating production facilities near distribution centers and creating a strong web storefront, which can replace printed and mailed catalogs, as well as reduce the number of resource intensive brick and mortar stores.

Muji’s minimalist retail stores follow the company’s philosophy of functional simplicity.  The 330 worldwide stores are located in heavily populated areas and have a smaller footprint, with shelving and cubbyhole crannies made from reclaimed timber (Observer, 2005).  There are also mini-kiosks in train stations and supermarkets.  Muji pursues a “small-store-based business style… with the theme of ‘A quick shop for daily items at your local store on your local street’” (“Business Information,” n.d., para. 1).  In addition to traditional storefronts, operates websites tailored to specific geographic regions and supplied by local distribution centers.

Packaging is also an integral part of the Muji approach.  Muji packages all products with minimum resources and resulting waste, using cellophane wrappers, brown paper with plain lettering, and boxes from recycled materials.  “We present our products in the simplest of packaging – if any at all – which neither masks nor makes them look any more than they are.  As a result, the quality and credence of each product are self evident – what you see is exactly what you get” (“Welcome,” 2010, para 2).

Marketing promotes products through advertising, direct mail, promotions, public relations campaigns, and sponsorships (“Promotions,” 2010).  In green marketing, companies have an ethical responsibility to present green products and services without misleading the public and falsely claiming environmental benefits.  As the public has become increasingly concerned about diminishing natural resources and environmental degradation, the public has accused marketing of greenwashing.  Peattie and Crane (2005) explain that there are several types of greenwashing, such as green selling and green spinning.  By contrast, green marketing focuses on promoting sustainable products and production processes for the benefit of the company, the customers, and the environment.

To promote its brands, Muji spends little on traditional advertising and instead, relies upon word of mouth, product functionality, and ease of shopping in store and online.  In terms of customer communication, Muji engages its customers in the product design process, receiving more than 9,000 product suggestions per month on its website, through email, and from in store customers (Ogawa & Piller, 2005).  When ideas are incorporated into new or existing products, Muji recognizes the customer’s idea on its website and in product catalogs, further engendering partnership with its customers.

The people aspect of the marketing mix refers to hiring talented individuals, creating employee development opportunities, and providing a collaborative, high performing work environment (Marcus, 2010).  Green oriented companies must also create a culture of sustainable behavior and decision-making that is adopted by all employees.  To achieve this, the company leadership must declare that environmental and social considerations are as important as economic success, and insist that the triple bottom line factors of economic, social, and environmental responsibility remain in balance.  Muji employs 8,000 employees in 18 countries and works to create an environment of corporate social responsibility and employee engagement.  For example, through participatory design sessions, Muji employees work together to design sustainable products, using the ideas and contributions not only from employees but also from customers (“Corporate,” n.d).

The process component of the marketing mix is critical for sustainability because it focuses on removing manufacturing waste and production inefficiencies.  Total quality management (TQM) is a process that identifies the root causes of waste, rework, and redundancy.  Variation is a key contributor to errors and is introduced through lack of standards, poor operator training, out of tolerance raw materials specifications, and improper machine calibration.  Using TQM, the variation is eliminated systemically thorough process, technology, and training improvements.

TQM originated in Japan in the 1950s.  As a Japanese company focused on implementing sustainable practices, Muji scrutinizes every product design detail so it can streamline manufacturing processes, simplify packaging, and increase productivity.  In its product design, Muji follows environmental guidelines, seeking to “restrict the use of substances which may have a significant impact on people or the environment” and “reduce waste by standardizing modules, facilitating disassembly and by reducing packaging” (“Environmental,” n.d., para. 4).

Physical Evidence
The final component of the marketing mix is physical evidence, which represents the aspects of the company and product that are visible to the customer, such as product packaging, retail building and furnishings, signage, and the web storefront (“Physical Evidence,” 2010).  The physical evidence should convey a cohesive theme that consistently represents the philosophy of the company.  At Muji, every aspect of the physical evidence has been tightly controlled to convey function, simplicity, and sustainability such as little to no packaging, smaller store footprint, shelving made from reclaimed timber, and cubby cubes made from recycled wood (The Observer, 2005).  The web storefront is also simple with clean lines and is easy to use.  It provides a descriptive list of product categories, but omits Flash animations, pop-ups, and other distracting graphics.

By consistently applying the 7 P’s of the marketing mix, Muji has demonstrated how to successfully market products that adhere to the “less is more” philosophy (Grant, 2007, p. 126).  Throughout every aspect of the company, Muji espouses simplicity and eco-minimalist values without sacrificing function or quality.  Using environmentally conscious materials and processes, Muji is replacing self-absorbed branding, consumption, and feature-rich products with more satisfying, values-based benefits.  “The simple and unassuming may become more of a mainstream formula rather than a niche strategy.  If so, Muji may become a brand role model that others look toward” (Aaker, 2009, para. 9).
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About the Author
Theresa Martin Theresa Martin has 23 years of operations management leadership at Fidelity Investments and Procter & Gamble.  As a vice president at Fidelity, Theresa led a diverse array of organizations such as manufacturing, call centers and information technology.  Her passion is renewable energy and sustainable business.  She obtained a Green MBA focused on renewable energy from Marylhurst University in Portland, Oregon. Theresa also has a BS Computer Science from the University of Illinois.