Why Steve Jobs Admired Japanese Companies

Steve Jobs wasn’t someone who was easily impressed — his dim view of consultants is well-known — but there were a group of people he admired deeply.

Steve Jobs thought highly of the quality of Japanese products. “The group of people that do not use quality in their marketing are the Japanese,” he had said in an interview. “You never see them using ‘quality’ in their marketing. It’s only the American companies that do. And yet, if you ask people on the street which products have the best reputation for quality, they will tell you, it’s the Japanese products,” he added.

“How could that be?” Jobs asked. “The answer is because customers don’t form their opinions on quality from marketing. They don’t form their opinions on quality from who won the Deming award or who won the Baldrige award. They form their opinions on quality from their own experience with the products or the services,” Jobs said.

“One can spend enormous amounts of money on quality. One can win every quality award there is. And yet, if your products don’t live up to it, customers will not keep that opinion for long. In their minds. Where we have to start is with our products and our services, not with our marketing department,” Jobs concluded.

Jobs seemed to be saying that customers formed their opinions on quality after using the product, not from its marketing. The Japanese were so confident of the quality of their products that they didn’t mention in it their marketing materials at all — customers simply knew that Japanese companies created high-quality products from their experience of having previously used them.

This was at a time when Japanese products were going head-to-head against American products. In tech, companies like Sony and Nintendo were taking on American tech companies, while Japanese automakers like Toyota and Honda were building their marketshare in the US. And even though Apple was competing with Japanese firms in many respects, Jobs clearly admired the quality that the Japanese brought to their products.