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  Ken Yamada

Getting Digital: Three Things to Consider When Marketing in Japan

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With the world’s third largest economy, Japan is brimming with possibilities for companies thinking about taking a global leap. As with most countries, digital marketing should be high on the list of priorities. For US digital marketers, engaging a Japanese audience comes with its unique challenges and opportunities. Here are three things to consider when planning your Japanese digital marketing strategy.

Walk two blocks in Tokyo

Japanese consumers use the internet in a very different way than their American counterparts. To understand this, walk two blocks in the shoes of a Tokyoite. On almost every corner you’ll find one of many convenience stores, known as conbini (コンビニ), where people can buy everything from toothbrushes to concert tickets, pay for phone and electric bills and receive packages. In a society where you can handle most day-to-day shopping and errands right on your street corner, Japanese customers have only recently started to appreciate the internet as a place for exchange.

This means that you can expect your customers to be a bit more cautious before clicking that bright orange “sign up” button. Give them some space and build trust by providing more information and support.

Think about your world five years ago

Even today, the real world (as opposed to the digital world) is where most Japanese consumers will get their information. Though online content and media is readily available, paper Japanese newspapers still occupy the top five most widely distributed news publications in the world, and the majority of households only have twelve television channels to choose from.

Typically, twenty hours of the day is spent outside of the home, and most professionals rarely spend work hours for personal use. As a result, effective marketing and promotion have traditionally happened through offline channels. Increasing smartphone usage coupled with long commutes on public transport, however, are quickly shifting marketers’ focus to digital media.

This is great news for American digital marketers, who can leverage tactics known to work well in the US. However, digital marketing channels have been embraced by early adopters very successfully so don’t make the mistake of thinking it’s an open gold rush.

Embrace the double-byte

The Japanese language can be both a limitation and advantage for digital marketers. Double-byte characters, for example, can completely transform your brand’s presence on Twitter, which is very popular in Japan. This is because each Japanese character represents almost two English characters, giving you space to say twice as much in each tweet.

Marketers should also think about the differences between Japan’s three character sets: kanji, hiragana and katakana. The nuances of marketing taglines and calls to action expressed in the different character sets, for example, can have a massive impact on your clickthrough rates and conversions.

Finally, if you’re translating marketing copy designed for US audiences into Japanese, be sure to provide contextual guidance. This is a general best practice for translation, but particularly important in this situation given how different the two cultures are.

These are only a few tips among many that stem from the underlying belief that different cultures demand a different approach. Just walking two blocks in the shoes of your Japanese customers can open up a world of ideas that would give you a competitive advantage, starting today.

Ken Yamada
Ken Yamada
Ken is Director of Marketing at Gengo. Born in the US to a Japanese family, Ken has spent most of his career helping companies grow through the internet. Prior to Gengo, Ken launched ecommerce for Gap Inc. in Japan, helped event holders and attendees find Eventbrite online and managed digital marketing programs for Salesforce Japan. Ken makes time to spend with his family and fills the rest moonlighting as the lead singer for a cover band.
  • Tianchen Zhou

    Good article! Japanese consumers use the internet differently not only with their American counterparts but people in pretty much every country… I usually hate nihonjinron (for their simplicities) but I can hardly resist it in this incidence.