Marketing to Japanese consumers and winning customers for your brand will require a different approach than in your home market. Here are some considerations to help you succeed in this large, competitive market.

Japanese consumers can be highly selective and tend to prioritize brand trust, reputation, quality, and value over price. When marketing your brand or product, be sure to emphasize quality and reputation. Doing so can go a long way in gaining the trust of this discerning audience.

A BIT OF BACKGROUND

A history of economic struggles has resulted in cultural cost consciousness and lower disposable incomes. This is especially true of the Yutori (Millennial) generation. Japanese consumers have historically shown a preference for quality products and lowered interest in mass consumption. But the consumer experience is shifting – and it’s important to take these changes into consideration when connecting with this audience.

Japan has not been exempt from the worldwide economic slowdown, driving many consumers to purchase cheaper (and lower-quality) products than they may have considered before. Although Japan is home to the oldest population in the world (median age: 49.2 years), younger generations are considerably more open to trying new brands and opting for products at a lower price point. And it is the older generation that is more loyal to established brands. Younger consumers are more likely to try own-label products and discount stores that are more budget-friendly.

The younger generation is more cost-conscious, but they were still raised in a culture that values luxury and cutting-edge technology. Many younger Japanese consumers are willing to shop around to meet their budgets, but they still appreciate fine things. As with their elder peers, they want to know what sets your product apart and how they can justify their purchase.

For example, the so-called “Ikina-Rich” value integrity, credibility, and rationality when it comes to luxury goods shopping. They prefer to spend money on products that are either easy to update or replace, or which are long-lasting for the price. Meanwhile, Gen Z’ers, known in Japan as the “Satori Generation,” look for sustainability and nobler motives behind the brands they buy from. But no matter which generation you’re marketing to, you’ll want to ensure Japanese consumers understand what sets your product apart and makes it a reasonable purchase.

While the younger generation may be more open to sacrificing price, eroding consumer confidence may prove tricky for some brands to navigate as they try to get a foot in the door. The good news? Online shopping, while less prevalent than in western countries, is growing in popularity as the younger generation shifts consumer behavior.

WHAT JAPANESE CONSUMERS VALUE

Unlike in domestic markets, quality, value, and brand recognition outweigh affordability for many Japanese consumers. Here are four behaviors to consider if you want to succeed in this market:

1. PRACTICALITY

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 13.96 million people. With limited living and storage space for belongings, Japanese consumers need a good reason to buy something new. So putting forth content and marketing messaging that successfully persuade your target audience of your worth are essential for overcoming this obstacle. Be sure to emphasize reliability, longevity, and quality.

Overall, spending on home improvements, TVs, and luxury goods is 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.

Converting this discerning audience will require you to appeal to their preference for practicality. They’ll be on the hunt for products that are functional, aesthetically pleasing, and easily adaptable to small living spaces – so make sure the messaging reflects these elements every step of the way.

2. LUXURY ITEMS AND EXPERIENCES

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. Meanwhile, nearly one-fourth of Louis Vuitton’s physical stores in the Asian region are located in Japan. 

If you’re a luxury or aspirational brand marketing to Japanese consumers, focus on justifying your price positioning by proving your brand value. Champion your prestige, heritage, and superior quality to convince consumers you’re worth the cost.

3. COMMUNAL CULTURE

In Japan, consumers often view other consumers as a more reliable source of product information than the experts. According to the 2022 Edelman Trust Barometer, Japan ranked 26th out of 27 nations surveyed for their level of trust in institutions. So user reviews and testimonials are essential for building trust and engagement.

Overall, Japanese culture values “teamwork, dedication, and selflessness in the service of a larger cause,” making this audience highly communal in function and form. Brands entering Japan should be aware that public opinion can make – or break – a product’s success. Even products with high potential can fail to take off without support from the general public. 

So how do you gain public favor? Avoid treating Japan as a single mass market, opting instead for hyper-localized messaging that’ll resonate within demographic subgroups and communities. You’ll want to establish product and brand reliability by giving specifics about the materials and methods used to produce your product or service, and seek out expert testimonials to eliminate doubts.

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.

4. AESTHETICS

Appearances aren’t everything – but they are certainly critical when it comes to marketing your products to Japanese consumers. Culturally, presentation is extremely important, from messaging to packaging and everything in between. 

Consider the Japanese term teinei, which translates to “politeness.” Teinei goes beyond the English interpretation of the word, applied to far more than just people and their actions. In Japanese, you can treat a fragile item “politely,” meaning “gently” or “with care.” A birthday present should be wrapped “politely,” with utmost care given to the presentation. Teinei is more than just a manner of behaving – it’s a way of living. 

Make sure your messaging and products adhere to a high standard of artistry and respect to deliver the ultimate customer experience.

MARKETING CONSIDERATIONS

When marketing to Japanese consumers, emphasize the quality and value of your product or service. Implementing self-generated content and expert testimonials to establish solid reasons to believe will be highly beneficial. 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 audience. 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.

3. HOLIDAYS AND SEASONS

Many Japanese employees receive excessive annual bonuses 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.

DIGITAL MARKETING IN JAPAN

Your domestic strategy won’t cut it in this drastically different online ecosystem. Tightening up these three elements of your digital strategy can help to make the best impression on Japanese consumers.

1. WEBSITE

What might feel cluttered and busy to the western eye is typical (and appropriate) for Japanese audiences. You won’t find a lot of white space on Japanese websites. Don’t pour your energy into cultivating an emotional connection with your reader. Instead, focus on providing useful, specific information and several smaller images throughout the page with plenty of CTAs for viewers to engage with.

2. SOCIAL MEDIA

Japanese consumers use many of the familiar social platforms you’re likely using domestically – Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and Twitter. But LinkedIn isn’t as popular as it is in the US and European markets. You won’t want to overlook LINE – an all-in-one app offering messaging, video, shopping, pay, and more. LINE is the most-used social media platform in Japan, boasting over 95 million Japanese users, with 82.5% of internet users aged 16 to 64 using the app daily. 

What originated as a disaster-response app in 2011 during the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami has rapidly become popular across Japan and other Asian countries, in part because of its unique use of user-generated/animated stickers, as well as sound stickers of celebrities. Brands can develop their own free stickers to raise brand awareness and gain popularity. The app is used across a number of sectors, from banking to video streaming to shopping. Users can make purchases through a number of online retailers using LINE’s payment feature, making this an ideal app to explore.

3. DATA PRIVACY

Data privacy is not as much of a concern as it is among consumers in European countries, although data is still regulated by the APPI. Japanese consumers have a high level of trust in the legislation concerning their data usage, while many also believe the accumulation of personal data to be worth it, as it results in a more tailored ad experience.

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. Employing segmentation can be an effective strategy to ensure the right message meets the right audience – ensuring a tailored feel across socioeconomic gaps and age groups. By speaking their language and building a specific and targeted marketing strategy, you can drive brand awareness, growth, and loyalty in the Japanese market.

Need some support to get your Japanese marketing strategy on track? Our on-the-ground experts can provide the insights you need to truly connect with this audience. Get in touch now.