How can you market to Japanese consumers and win customers for your brand? Here’s what you need to know.

First and foremost, Japanese consumers prioritize brand trust, reputation, quality, and value over price. So taking these into account as you build your Japanese marketing strategy is key.

Many Western brands have already seen great success marketing in Japan by adapting to what appeals most to Japanese consumers.

WHAT ARE JAPANESE CONSUMERS LOOKING FOR?

Unlike in the US or UK, quality, value, and brand recognition outweigh affordability in the minds of Japanese consumers. Here are four behaviors to consider if you want to succeed in the Japanese market:

1. SPACE SAVING

It’s common for people in Japan to consider all their options before making a purchase.

This buying behavior is partially due to the reality of limited living space in Japan. Tokyo, in particular, is a crowded city, hosting 13,185,502 people. With limited living and storage space for belongings, Japanese consumers need a good reason to buy something new.

When you’re marketing to Japanese consumers, you’ll need to reach them at each relevant point in the customer journey and convince them that your brand is the most worthy investment.

2. COST CONSCIOUS

A history of economic struggles has resulted in cultural cost consciousness and lower disposable incomes. This is especially true of the Yutori (Millennial) generation. 43.8% of people under the age of 25 work part-time and earn around $100–$500 a month. While this has benefited low-cost retail and fast-food restaurants, such as Walmart and McDonald’s, the Japanese preference for value over price wins out.

Spending on home improvements, TVs, and luxury goods is still high. With a careful buying decision process and less money to spend, Japanese consumers would rather purchase fewer, higher quality products. Shopping around, comparing products online, and saving money by going out less are key factors in their shopping behavior.

3. LUXURY CENTERED

With the Japanese consumer’s desire for quality comes the desire for luxury goods. Japan is one of the largest luxury markets in the world and a highly lucrative target market for luxury brands.

Bulgari, Salvatore Ferragamo, and Gucci earn a quarter of their global revenue in this market alone. Louis Vuitton, meanwhile, earns half its global profits from its 60 stores in the Japanese market.

If you’re a luxury or aspirational brand marketing to Japanese consumers, don’t be concerned about your price point. Instead, justify your price positioning by proving your brand value. Champion your prestige, heritage, and superior quality to convince consumers you’re worth the cost.

4. REPUTATION FOCUSED

Honor and reputation are highly valued in Japanese culture, so having both in your brand representation is crucial to in-market engagement. Negativity about your products or ethics could be damaging because other people’s opinions hold a lot of weight for Japanese consumers. In fact, Japan is the only country where consumers view other users as a more reliable source of product information than the experts. According to the 2017 Edelman Trust Barometer, Japan ranked 26th out of 28 nations surveyed for their level of trust in institutions. So user reviews and testimonials are essential for building trust and engagement.

The power of consumer sentiment can even extend to product or store launches. For example, Japanese consumers are incredibly “queue-rious.” When asked for their reaction when they see a queue has formed, 88% said they’d be interested in what’s going on, with 60% likely to stop to investigate and 3% willing to join a queue without knowing why.

Online verification in Japan is also very high, and search engines are the most trusted source of information. An effective content strategy supported by Japanese search marketing will help drive overall performance.

MARKETING TO JAPANESE CONSUMERS

When marketing to Japanese consumers, emphasize the quality and value of your brand. Here are three things to keep in mind as you spread your brand message.

1. ADVERTISING

Despite their comparative mistrust of institutions, Japanese consumers generally view marketing positively. According to a survey of seven developed nations, Japanese consumers are the most likely to express positive or neutral feelings toward advertising.

They were also more likely to rate advertising as eye-catching than Americans – and, unlike many Western cultures, don’t consider online ads to be distracting. This is good news for marketers since, with proper consideration of Japanese consumer behavior, online and offline advertising will likely produce results.

2. LANGUAGE AND LOCALIZATION

To connect with consumers, you need to speak their language. In Japan, in-language content is a legal requirement – even foreign advertisements must contain some Japanese.

The best approach is to strategically localize content that’s relevant to your Japanese target market. Doing this will quickly build trust, engagement, and brand loyalty. You can even adapt your product or service for regional preference to establish more of a personal, authentic connection with Japanese consumers.

KitKat

For example, KitKat’s localized Japanese name – “Kitto Katto” – sounds like “kitto katsu,” an inspirational Japanese phrase that means “you will surely succeed.” The brand capitalizes on this by releasing a special exam season product each year. The strategy is so successful that it’s now an annual tradition with 50% of students receiving KitKat bars as motivational gifts before university entry exams begin.

KitKat also created over 300 limited-edition varieties (like wasabi and melon). Some of these are seasonal, but others are unique to specific Japanese regions. They’re based on the fruits and food from specific areas and aren’t necessarily found elsewhere.

KitKat’s limited-edition strategy builds hype for the brand. Its regional localization, meanwhile, establishes an emotional connection with Japanese consumers. The result has made KitKat one of Japan’s favorite products.

Diesel

Clothing brand Diesel is another great example. Their Japanese content strategy is independent from its global content. But it still remains true to its “Only the Brave” slogan. For example, the global “Make Love Not Walls” campaign was a barbed jab at US policies of exclusion. In Japan, however, the LGBT+ community is not widely accepted. So the campaign here focused on overcoming barriers to expressing love.

Diesel backed up its messaging by being the first brand to advertise on gay applications like 9monsters in Japan. This was incredibly successful – the click-through rate was four times the expected amount.

So to break into the Japanese market, don’t cut corners when it comes to localization. Speaking your audience’s language is essential to establishing your brand.

3. HOLIDAYS AND SEASONS

Many Japanese employees receive annual bonuses of nearly $3,000 during the summer months, resulting in higher spending in luxury goods, leisure, and travel.

Christmas, New Year’s Day, and White Day (a second Valentine’s Day in March) are other important spending holidays in Japan. Similarly, spirits are high during cherry blossom season. Many brands opt for seasonal advertising to drive sales by encouraging consumers to consider their products.

For example, Starbucks releases a range of limited-edition Sakura (cherry blossom) products for the season, which vary from year to year. These products are now highly anticipated and create valuable buzz for the brand.

Understanding your audience and being familiar with seasonal trends are key to marketing in Japan. Consider which annual events are most relevant to your consumers, and build marketing campaigns around them. This can be a great way of integrating your brand into Japanese culture and ensuring longevity in the market.

FINAL THOUGHT

When marketing to Japanese consumers, it’s crucial to first understand buying behavior and cultural preferences most relevant to your brand, products, and marketing goals. By speaking their language and building a specific and targeted marketing strategy, you can drive brand awareness, growth, and loyalty in the Japanese market.