If you’re in the global market, you can’t afford to ignore doing business with Japan. Home to the world’s second largest economy and with its booming population, Japan is a very important country for businesses. Before jumping in head first, it must be said that Japan is unique and has a certain way of doing things. Westerners will find that without the right know-how, marketing a product in Japan can be doomed for failure.
1. Establish a Business Contact
It’s important to understand the culture and economy that you will be marketing to; getting to know the Japanese culture can be difficult. While it will still be in your best interest to familiarize yourself with the Japanese culture and economy, the nation of Japan was never westernized. Getting on the right terms to market in their unique economy, may prove unmanageable. Set yourself up for success by establishing a Japanese business contact. For example, you can hire a Japanese accounting firm, private consultant, or even a marketing/advertising agency as a direct contact. Once you have your business contact, they will be able to do preliminary research and marketing before you fly across the world. Local partners can conduct market research, meet with potential customers, target distribution channels, and detect marketing opportunities, before you even hop on a plane.
2. Localize Your Brand
While American brands do well in Japan overall, it’s paramount that with any brand you’re marketing, you need to tailor it to the local demographic. Consider the tactics of many American food brands who have marketed products specifically for Japanese tastes. McDonalds, for example, even though it is a popular American franchise, they needed to meet the particular tastes of Japan. Thus, they created the “Gracoro” burger (a breadcrumb-encrusted patty of macaroni and shrimp, topped with a white sauce and cheddar cheese).
3. Understand the Japanese Distribution System
Japan is notorious for their complex distribution systems that are based on long-term relationships and complicated hierarchies. In order to successfully market your product in Japan, you need to familiarize yourself with the traditional network. However, foreign companies should not let the Japanese way of doing business intimidate them. It is possible to get Japanese partners on board with business changes. You just need the right business metrics to prove it. For example, much of the retail system in Japan is comprised of millions of mom-and-pop shops that just can’t stock enough inventory to make a profit. Rather than distributing to all, a moneymaking solution would be to suggest eliminating a third of the resellers and retail outlets. While it might hurt your distributors, showing the numbers would be enough for them to change their mindset.
4. Focus on Providing That Personal Touch
In the world of Japanese business culture, personal relationships are vital. Foreign marketers and business will find that establishing a level of personal trust to potential partners and customers, is what will make the difference between sealing the deal and failure. Rather than obsessing about learning the language, consider focusing on making your interactions personal. As things progress, it is wise to deepen your involvement with that company. For example, the best way to do this is by making yourself available to answer any questions and concerns personally. In addition, employees in Japan tend to follow the ‘Work is life’ mentality, therefore make sure to show that your work is very important to you and is not just a hobby or part-time job.
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By understanding the unique and personal business culture, developing a suitable business strategy and localizing your products alongside an established business contact, marketing your product in Japan will prove to be relatively lucrative for your company.
Have you marketed a product in Japan before? Are you planning to? Share your experience and advice with us in the comments section below.