Global Marketing Guide: Japan

By United Language Group

Until the late nineteenth-century, Japan was characterized as an isolationist nation with a self-contained economy and culture. The twentieth and twenty-first centuries saw Japan’s rapid rise as a major player on the international stage, and today it boasts the third-largest economy and the tenth-highest population density in the world.

Japan offers a robust market and ample opportunities for international organizations, but only when culture, language, and consumer habits are taken into consideration.

A combination of demographics, unique Japanese traditions, and constantly-evolving technologies will determine the strategies your organization should use when launching a new campaign or expanding operations. Here are a few of the top takeaways for marketing in Japan.

Relationships are exceptionally important when doing business in Japan

Since the end of World War II, much of Japanese business has been governed by keiretsus, a conglomeration of businesses linked together by sharing equity stakes, collaborating on projects, sharing information, and reducing costs. Mitsubishi is one such keiretsu, which includes interlocking branches for manufacturing, banking, and insurance. Keiretsus helps strengthen relationships between large Japanese companies while limiting competition from outside competitors.

Globalization in recent years has reduced instances of keiretsus, but the importance of relationship building remains. Before reaching out to Japanese consumers or launching a business and marketing strategy, organizations are still advised to connect with local businesses, affiliate marketers, and other corporate liaisons who can lend more credibility in the marketplace and help navigate the complex business landscape.

Japan is a largely homogeneous country, but has regional differences

Japan is well-known for its homogeneity — 98.5% of the population is ethnically Japanese, and image-based marketing materials (ads with pictures, social media, video, etc.) should reflect that.

However, a larger source of diversity is in its regions, and especially in the urban-rural divide. Japan is comprised of nearly 7,000 islands, 430 of which are inhabited, and each has its own customs and character. In addition, someone who lives in Tokyo or Osaka has a different set of experiences and consumer expectations than someone who lives in a rural village like Kiso. Hence the reason localization is still important in Japan, but on a smaller, more community-based scale.

All marketing materials must be translated into Japanese and further adapted where necessary

With Japanese being the official language, marketing campaigns must be translated and adapted to suit a Japanese audience. In some situations, there is no direct Japanese equivalent for a word, so it can be helpful to change the name of a product or slogan.

For example, when Disney released “Frozen” in 2014, it changed the movie’s name to “Anna and the Queen of the Snow” to more accurately convey what the movie was about – the word “Frozen” would not have carried the same meaning for a Japanese audience as it did for an English-speaking audience.

Understand how demographics affect the marketing channels you should use and the way you position products and services

Japan has had a low birth rate for decades. Today, 28% of Japanese consumers are over the age of 65, and this number is expected to keep growing. This older demographic in Japan is more likely to consume print media, especially in the form of newspapers. They will also have a certain set of needs and expectations regarding products and services, such as healthcare.

By contrast, about 36% of Japanese consumers are under the age of 30. Following the worldwide trend of this age group, Japanese youth are more likely to consume digital media, especially on their smartphones. When launching a product or campaign in Japan – as with any country or locale – it’s important to know your target audience and choose your marketing mix of print and digital accordingly.

Breaking into a new global market can be a challenge at first, but it is ultimately a rewarding experience. Having a plan in place beforehand and understanding the new landscape will help you reach your intended audience while showing respect to a country’s culture and heritage.

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