いらっしゃいませ!In Japan, shopkeepers call out “irasshaimase” or “come on in” to greet shoppers. But how can marketing to Japanese consumers win customers for your brand? Here’s what you need to know.

 

First and foremost, Japanese customers are unique. They prioritize trust, reputation, quality and value. And so you’ll need to rethink your marketing strategy to reflect these values.

Many foreign brands have already seen great success in this region. But in doing so, they’ve discovered the heart of what makes a Japanese audience tick.

WHAT ARE JAPANESE CONSUMERS LOOKING FOR?

Unlike in the UK or US, quality, value and brand recognition are prized over affordability.

There are four reasons for this. And if you want to be successful in your marketing to Japanese consumers, you’ll need to understand and respond to each.

1. LACK OF LIVING SPACE

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

This is partially due to limited living space. Tokyo in particular is a very crowded city, hosting 6,200 people per square kilometre. For comparison, there are 5,590 people per square kilometre in London.

As a result, people have less space to store new things and there has to be a good reason to buy something.

This means that when you’re marketing to Japanese consumers, you’ll need to convince them your brand is a worthwhile investment.

2. COST CONSCIOUSNESS

Recent economic struggles mean that cost consciousness is on the rise. 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.

It’s true that this has benefited discount shops and restaurants like Walmart and McDonald’s, which are now commonplace in Japan.

But the Japanese predilection for value over price remains. Spending on home improvements, TVs and other luxury goods is still high. With less money to spend, Japanese consumers would rather spend it on fewer, higher quality things. And they’ll shop around more than they used to, compare products online and save money by going out less.

3. LUXURY

Nowhere is the Japanese desire for quality clearer than in their attitude towards luxury goods. In fact, Japan is the one of the largest luxury markets in the world.

This makes it highly lucrative for luxury brands. Bvlgari, Salvatore Ferragamo and Gucci earn 27% of their global revenue in this market alone. Louis Vuitton, meanwhile, earns half its global profits from its 60 stores on the island.

So if you’re a luxury brand and you’re marketing to Japanese consumers, don’t be ashamed of your higher price tag. But justify it by proving your brand’s value. Champion your prestige, heritage and superior quality to convince consumers you’re worth the extra cost.

We’ve written an article on how luxury brands can use social media to engage Japanese consumers – check it out here for more information.

4. REPUTATION

Honour and reputation are highly valued in Japan and so guarding your reputation is crucial. Negativity about your products or ethics could be highly damaging because other people’s opinions hold a lot of sway. In fact, Japan is the only country where consumers see users as a more reliable source of product information than experts. According to the 2017 Edelman Trust Barometer, Japan came 26th out of 28 nations surveyed for their level of trust in institutions.

This means two things for your brand. Firstly, user reviews and testimonials are essential to build trust. If you aren’t already using them, find a way to incorporate them into your content strategy.

This can even extend to product or store launches. Japanese consumers are incredibly “queue-rious”. When asked for their reaction when they see that a queue has formed, 88% said they’d be interested in what’s going on. Of these, 60% said they would stop to investigate and 3% would join the queue without even knowing why.

So if you want to build excitement about your brand or a new product, consider hosting a launch event with queued entry – it’s sure to pique the interest of potential consumers.

Secondly, online verification in Japan is very high. The Edelman report also found that search engines are the most trusted source of information in Japan. So it goes without saying that an effective SEO and digital marketing strategy will reap dividends here. Read our article on Japanese SEO to find out the best way of going about this.

HOW TO APPEAL TO JAPANESE CONSUMERS

When marketing to Japanese consumers, emphasize the quality and value of your brand. But what’s the best way of spreading this message? Here are three things to bear in mind.

1. MARKETING

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

They were also more likely to rate advertising as eye-catching than Americans – and online ads less distracting. This may well be because they are used to seeing more complex visual information on the screen and it is therefore less irritating. In any case, it’s good news for your brand, as you can maximize both on and offline advertising.

2. LANGUAGE AND LOCALIZATION

To connect with consumers, you need to speak their language. In Japan, it’s a legal requirement – even foreign adverts must contain some Japanese.

The best approach is to fully localize all your content, as it will quickly build trust, engagement and brand loyalty.

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 flavour each year. The strategy is so successful that it’s now an annual tradition. 50% of students receive the chocolate bars as motivational gifts before exams begin.

KitKat also created over 300 limited edition flavours. Some of these are seasonal, but others are unique to specific Japanese regions. They’re based on the fruits and food from the area and aren’t found elsewhere.

KitKat’s limited edition strategy builds hype for the brand. Its regional localization, meanwhile, establishes an emotional connection with the consumer. The result has turned KitKat into one of Japan’s favourite products.

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 President Trump’s 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, as it makes it much easier to establish your brand.

3. HOLIDAYS AND SEASONS

Japanese employees receive annual bonuses of nearly $3,000 during the summer months. Unsurprisingly, this means spending is higher during this period, and it’s usually focused on luxury goods, leisure and travel; the perfect time to ramp up your marketing activities.

Christmas, New Year’s Day and White Day (a second Valentine’s Day in March) are other important spending holidays you could capitalize on. Similarly, spirits are high during cherry blossom season. As a result, many brands choose this period to advertise and encourage consumers to buy their products.

Starbucks is a great example of this. They release a range of limited edition Sakura (cherry blossom) products for the season, which vary from year to year. These products are highly anticipated and create buzz for the brand.

Understanding your audience is key to marketing to Japanese consumers on specific holidays. Find out which annual events they’re most interested in and build marketing campaigns around them. It can be a great way of integrating your brand into Japanese culture and ensuring your longevity in the market.

ABOUT Isabel Evans

Busy studying for my Master’s in Cognitive and Decision Sciences at UCL, I’m fascinated by how and why people do things. As well as researching and writing for Wordbank, I love learning about culture and was in my element living and studying in Paris.

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