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IBJ, Inc.

2015 15th Porter Prize Winner Marriage-support services
IBJ, Inc., provides comprehensive marriage-hunting services, ranging from casual activities like matchmaking get-togethers and an online “Kon-Katsu” (marriage-hunting) business to a high-involvement (face-to-face) marriage consulting agency. With the industry’s broadest range of marriage support services and a high customer retention rate (the result of seamless service provided by the company’s various matchmaking services and its marriage consulting agency), IBJ is able to achieve a high marriage rate among its customers.※
IBJ, Inc. (hereafter, IBJ) brings together single people, supports their marriage hunting efforts through the provision of consulting and other services, and helps them find their way to marriage.

Below are the five services that IBJ provides to single people, to help them meet prospective partners: 1) The company operates an online marriage-hunting website, "Bridal Net" (membership totaled 123,384 at the end of 2014); 2) IBJ hosts casual matchmaking get-togethers and other marriage-hunting events, as well as community gatherings. This includes a service known as "Rush," which features specially planned matchmaking events, in which groups of single people participate (not individuals); 3) IBJ also offers the "PARTY☆PARTY" service, which involves the hosting of marriage-hunting parties at the company's own halls. Single individuals participate, not groups (the number of attendees at these events totaled 285,742 in 2014); 4) IBJ also operates "IBJ Members," a directly managed marriage consulting agency. IBJ Members is recommended for those members who are better prepared for marriage. IBJ Members has achieved a high marriage rate (of a total 3,951 members, 803 couples got married in 2014). Membership for all IBJ's services combined totaled 320,000 at the end of 2014. IBJ also sells online advertising space to other businesses; 5) Finally, IBJ provides a platform for the numerous independent marriage consulting agencies scattered throughout Japan. This platform is called "Institution Bridal of Japan" (with membership totaling 990 agents at the end of 2014).

A unique feature of IBJ is its provision of a full range of marriage support services. Offerings include everything from casual-style to high-involvement (face-to-face) services, with both online and offline options. In contrast, competitors specialize in either online or offline services, and members must choose between a casual or high-involvement style of service.

Another unique feature of IBJ is its commitment to making marriages happen, and this strong commitment is reflected in each service that the company provides. IBJ works to turn the attendees of

the casual get-together parties into regular members and repeat customers by encouraging them to try the company's more advanced services. Through close contact with attendees, IBJ employees demonstrate their genuine commitment to customer satisfaction. This commitment is further reinforced by IBJ's policy of making active investments to ensure customer satisfaction and the quality of its services.

IBJ was established in 2000. Annual sales totaled 3.3 billion yen (on a non-consolidated basis) in 2014.

※ The "marriage rate" refers to the proportion of members who exit from the service because they are getting married.

Unique Value Proposition

IBJ's corporate mission is to "Bringing happiness to all the people linked by 'Go-en' (fate)." In order to achieve this mission, IBJ aims to"create a national marriage service"(a social infrastructure that single people can use to search for a partner without any hesitation or reservations) and"life design services,"i.e. various services offered to"marriage hunters"as well as services (unrelated to marriage) that propose to the much larger single population ways to enjoy being single.

Because IBJ's goal is to make marriages happen, target customers include not only single people, but also couples already in a relationship. Marriage-hunting activities follow the following steps: an initial meeting, dating, the engagement (an agreement to wed), and marriage (legal or de facto). IBJ provides specific services for each step.

Rush is a service that hosts matchmaking get-togethers and community gatherings. Rush has groups of enrolled members (single people in their twenties to thirties). For these groups, Rush selects a venue from a list of pre-registered restaurants and bars, makes a reservation for the event, and settles the restaurant bill in advance. Prior to the party, services that include how to fill out the profile sheet will be provided by Bridal Net counsellors. Afterward, party facilitators will assist members in obtaining the contact information of other attendees. The party facilitators also contact the event attendees to find out whether they would be interested in getting in touch with anyone they'd met at the venue. This service, which starts with a matchmaking event and ends with the exchange of contact information, is provided in Japan's major cities.

For individual customers who are more serious about marriage, IBJ hosts marriage-hunting parties at its own facilities, and extends support to customers, from the initial meeting stage to the exchange of contact information. IBJ hosts a variety of theme parties. Customers can choose from among the more than fifty different kinds of theme parties (including sports parties) that IBJ offers. Customers enroll online, and only individual reservations are accepted. IBJ stays in contact with the people who have attended the PARTY☆PARTY events, by sending them the company's online magazine or invitations to theme parties that have been specially selected to match their specific interests. Customers can not exchange contact details unless they have mutually agreed to do so at the party, or have made arrangements with party facilitators. Customers are mainly in their twenties to forties. The facilities are located primarily in the major cities of Tokyo, Nagoya, and Osaka. These facilities have private rooms where two
people can enjoy a conversation without any distractions. IBJ will only hold a party if an equal number of men and women register for the event. The price for attending a PARTY☆PARTY event is more expensive than those hosted by competitors.

Customers can use Bridal Net anytime, at their convenience, to search for potential candidates, taking into account their own personal interests and ways of thinking. Although this is an online service, experts at IBJ's call centers will provide advice around the clock. These experts include experienced party facilitators and consultants from the marriage consulting agency. The Bridal Net service begins with an online request for an exchange of contact information. After receiving the marriage candidate's consent, contact information is exchanged. Various types of support are provided to customers during the dating process. IBJ ensures the quality of its members by requiring the submission of IDs, and curbs impulsiveness by requiring members to wait 24 hours to receive a reply from a potential candidate after making a request for contact. Customers can conduct searches in "special interest" areas. They can also conduct searches based on lifestyle preferences by clicking on "Minna no Nikki" (lit. Everybody's Diary) or look for an individual who shares an affinity for visiting a specific physical location by clicking on "Minna no Mappu" (lit. Everybody's Map). Some additional services, like seminars, are provided offline. Customers are mostly in their twenties to forties, and come from various parts of Japan.

IBJ Members is marriage consulting agency that is directly managed by IBJ. Customers meet face-to-face with a dedicated consultant, who provides support through all stages of the marriage hunting process: an "Omiai" (arranged meeting), in which the IBJ member has a one-on-one meeting with a single candidate; the exchange of contact information; the commencement of dating; and, finally, the agreement to wed (engagement). Most customers are in their twenties to fifties. The marriage consulting agency operates eight lounges (at the end of 2014), located primarily in the major cities of Tokyo, Nagoya, and Osaka. Each lounge has private rooms, and the facilities are comfortable. The enrollment fee for this service is on par with the industry average, and the monthly fee is about 50% lower than the industry average. The marriage-hunting support fee, however, is much more expensive than the industry average; this higher price reflects the extensive counselling and support that members receive. IBJ asks for a fixed amount as a "completion bonus" when customers exit IBJ Members to get married.

Institution Bridal of Japan provides an arranged-marriage management system, which helps member agencies to improve their management of personal information. Institution Bridal of Japan provides standardized forms for contracts, holds lectures on compliance, shares know-how and announces the latest news at its regular meetings. Member agencies can refer customers to the other agencies that are members of this network.

Unique Value Chain

IBJ's unique value chain consists of the following activities: 1) customer acquisition; 2) the maintenance of membership quality; 3) systems and website development; and 4) human resource management.

Customer acquisition
Members of any service provided by IBJ set up an account with the company. Therefore, they do not have to register a new profile every time they use a different service. If a customer finds that a particular service does not fit his or her needs, IBJ encourages that person to try the other services offered by IBJ. The company actively informs members about the various services on offer. IBJ has a lower customer acquisition cost than its competitors. For example, people attending one of the PARTY☆PARTY events held at an IBJ Members lounge will have the opportunity to learn about the marriage consulting agency's services.

Upon enrollment, IBJ requires that customers applying for membership submit IDs and other documents to ensure the validity and reliability of the personal information provided. Proof of marital status is required for IBJ Members and Bridal Net, while proof of academic background and income level are required for IBJ Members and recommended for Bridal Net before the commencement of any activities.

Operations
Any illegal or immoral activities are strictly prohibited, both online and offline. Online communication is monitored systematically, and prompt remedial action will be taken. Such action includes the disposing of information, the sending of warning messages, the immediate ban on participation, and the revoking of membership.

The online service, Bridal Net, also offers offline services, and the operating know-how for marriage-hunting parties is utilized to supplement these offline services. Such offline services include lessons for improving communication and enhancing one's personal appeal.

Website and system development:
By internally conducting system development and website design, IBJ can ensure the appropriate management of personal information and the sharing of the system among the different services. IBJ has the system developers and the planner of each service work closely together, a practice that enables know-how to be systematized and simplifies the manual operation. This also makes customer service more convenient. For example, a group of customers attending a get-together party through Rush needs only to input the date, time and place; the system will automatically select an appropriate group of candidates, and a meeting will be arranged.

Human Resource Management
IBJ puts a priority on the development of personnel who are skillful coordinators that know how to work closely with individuals to resolve issues of the human heart. The company provides in-house training once every three months. The training program includes lectures from all IBJ executives, a program to increase enrollment, and a program to upgrade marriage consulting skills. Training covers specific topics to improve problem-solving skills. Employees are ranked by their skill level and are encouraged to improve their skills. IBJ expects all employees to contribute to business improvement, and openly shares financial information. Executives explain the company's direction once every six months, and share the management philosophy by distributing the IBJ handbook and posting columns on the internal portal site.

Managers are chosen from among volunteers, and management candidates have the opportunity twice a year to make a presentation to management.

Fit among Activities

IBJ's activities are chosen with the aim of increasing the number of marriages, and activities online and offline are organically connected. What is unique is that both the marriage-hunting parties and the marriage-hunting website recruit members for the services offered by the marriage consulting agency, which has the highest success rate in helping customers get married. Also, it is impressive that know- how is shared among the company's different services. For example, know-how developed by consultants at IBJ Members is applied to Bridal Net's call center service. The operating know-how of IBJ Members is applied to Institution Bridal of Japan. (Please refer to IBJ's activity system map, which appears at the end of this report.)

Innovation that Enabled Strategy

  • Japan's first online marriage-hunting website, Bridal Net (launched in 2000). The concept behind the Bridal Net service is to help customers find marriage partners online. To differentiate its site from existing dating websites, Bridal Net required IDs from the very beginning, and specified the observance of a 24-hour "cooling-off" period before contact could be initiated after the matchmaking event.
  • The scope of business combining Bridal Net with marriage-hunting parties and a marriage consulting agency (since 2006).
  • The introduction of a "completion bonus" for the marriage consulting agency (since 2006).

Trade-offs

  • Does not focus only on an online or offline business format. Combines the convenience, efficiency, and quality features that are built into the system of an online service with face-to-face consultations by consultants, which are a critical component for helping customers to reach an agreement to wed.
  • Does not pursue geographical expansion. Limits offline services to Japan's major cities, so that IBJ can have access to a bigger customer base and high-quality staff members.
  • Does not sacrifice the quality of members just to increase the number of members. IBJ raises the hurdle for enrollment by requiring the submission of IDs, which reduces the level of convenience and is contrary to customers' normal expectations regarding online services. IBJ does not set different prices for male and female members.
  • Does not pursue efficiency for each service. For example, marriage-hunting parties sacrifice the number of attendees by emphasizing the "quality of the meeting" through the use of lounges that seem like private rooms. By achieving high customer satisfaction ( through an emphasis on quality over quantity in the marriage-hunting parties service), more customers stay on as members of the marriage consulting agency, (where emphasis is placed on both quantity and quality).
  • Does not rely on advertising to increase enrollment in the agency's services.

Consistency of Strategy over Time

Since its launch in 2000, the objective of the Bridal Net online matchmaking service has always been to provide single people the support they need to get married. From the very beginning, Bridal Net has been learning from the examples offered by conventional offline marriage consulting agencies, and Bridal Net clearly views marriage as the ultimate goal of the service it provides. The idea behind Bridal Net was to create an online service similar to the conventional matchmaking services being offered in Japan, and take full advantage of the higher efficiency afforded by an online system. However, it was necessary to make sure that the customers were really serious about wanting to get married. Bridal Net did its best to create a customer base of suitable candidates, and vetted online applicants by requesting IDs. Bridal Net also enforced a "cooling off" period before sharing a prospective partner's contact information.

Bridal Net became a wholly owned subsidiary of Yahoo! Japan in 2003 in order to enhance customer acquisition through higher brand recognition and improved website credibility. Soon, the executives of the company realized that in order for customers to reach an agreement to wed, they would first need consultations and advice from professionals. This is what prompted a subsequent management buyout (MBO) from Yahoo! Japan in 2006. Soon, the same executives started a marriage consulting agency service, IBJ Members, and Institution Bridal of Japan. In 2009, IBJ absorbed the operations of Bridal Net, which strengthened integration between the online and offline businesses and created synergies among the company's different services.

Then, to increase offline opportunities for meeting potential marriage partners, IBJ began hosting get-together parties (Rush) and marriage-hunting parties (PARTY☆PARTY). In 2013, IBJ arranged the takeover of a systems development company to reinforce in-house systems development capabilities.

Profitability

Both the five-year average of return on invested capital and return on sales exceed the industry average. (Profitability analysis was conducted by PwC Japan.)

Activity System Map

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