Matsushita confident rebranding will boost its global standing

OSAKA (Kyodo) By changing its name to Panasonic Corp. this fall, Matsushita Electric Industrial Co. expects to create a strong corporate image and boost its standing on the global market with a wide range of products unified under the Panasonic brand name, according to President Fumio Otsubo.

“The name Panasonic has a history of nearly 50 years in the audiovisual equipment area, but it has yet to be widely recognized,” Otsubo said in a recent interview.

Taking advantage of the image of state-of-the-art technology that is already associated with the Panasonic name, the company must also build up a new image that will provide the sense of assurance and trust that have been associated with the National brand, he said.

Otsubo surprised consumers and the business world in January by announcing the company’s name-change plan scheduled for Oct. 1. The conglomerate, with some 650 group firms and a workforce of 310,000, will drop its late founder Konosuke Matsushita’s name from its title during the 90th anniversary of the originally company’s founding.

In line with the name change, the company also announced that it will use the Panasonic brand for all its products, terminating the National brand.

Panasonic has been used in overseas markets while National has been used in Japan for appliances such as refrigerators and washing machines for nearly 80 years. All products will be labeled Panasonic by the end of March 2010.

Otsubo said he is fully aware that many consumers want to buy Matsushita products because they believe in the business philosophy of the founder.

The company will maintain that philosophy by enhancing his teachings in employee training, Otsubo added.

Konosuke Matsushita (1894-1989) was one of Japan’s most respected entrepreneurs, turning a small business into a globally renowned player. His business philosophy, including the idea that “a company is a public entity” and the principle that “the customer comes first,” has inspired many businesspeople.

With the unified brand in sight, Otsubo is now seeking to expand businesses in various sectors in an apparent attempt to compete with rivals on global markets, including Sony Corp. and Samsung Electric Co. of South Korea.

Matsushita plans to invest about ¥300 billion to build a new plant for thin liquid crystal display panels in Himeji, Hyogo Prefecture.

The company, which is Japan’s leading plasma display television maker, is also now building a plasma TV factory in Amagasaki in the same prefecture.

“It is our basic policy that we first draw up a global growth strategy for our products, and build up parts-supply capacity to fulfill our targets,” Otsubo said.

“Then, if we have excess capacity, we will be able to sell (our products) to other (TV makers),” he said, adding Matsushita may sell LCD panels from its Himeji factory to other TV makers.

Otsubo is also aggressive on sales of household appliances in overseas markets.

In January, he announced that Matsushita aims to start selling refrigerators and washing machines in Europe in business 2008 through March 31, 2009.

“The full-scale launch of our business will likely be in fiscal 2009 or later, but we will definitely establish a successful model in Europe by introducing products that will be adjusted to consumer lifestyles there,” Otsubo said.

“If we can do so, (success) in other areas will not be so difficult,” he said.

Despite growing uncertainty over the global economy, Otsubo said Matsushita’s overseas business remains solid and growing.