Taming the Giant: How to Succeed in Japan

Foreign companies entering the Japanese market may assume that leveraging their existing business model and brand identity would be enough to succeed. The world’s third-largest economy with a GDP equivalent of that of India and Brazil combined is an enticing place to expand your business. But beware of prepackaged recipes if you truly want to succeed and instead focus specifically on Japan.

Tailor Your Products and Marketing Style to the Japanese Market

To achieve success in the Japanese market, it is essential to tailor products and marketing style to evoke a sense of place and Japanese aesthetic. Let’s take a look at the success story of the world’s most famous coffee shop from Seattle. Starbucks entered the Japanese market two decades ago, offering options that are catered to Japanese people. For example, Starbucks Sakura Chocolate Latte inspired from the Japanese festivity of Hinamatsuri, during which Japanese people eat a traditional confectionary called sakura mocha, made with the leaves from a cherry blossom tree and occasionally the flowers as well. The hot white chocolate-based drink is made with real sakura flowers and leaves, and topped with strawberry infused whipped cream and crumbled pieces of strawberry chocolate candy. The drink has been a wild success in Japan, where Caramel Macchiato does not thrive.

Be Sensitive to Cultural Values

Sensitivity to culture and cultural values goes a long way in Japan. Starbucks in Japan has avoided its usual method of asking for one’s name to write on beverages, there is uneasiness in Japan with regards to giving one’s name in public. Years ago, Apple changed the nature of their American advertising campaign to make it suitable for the Japanese market. While their approach in America had been to highlight the differences between Mac and PCs in an irreverent and competitiveway (the use of a cool hipster looking person to represent the Mac and a nerdy-looking individual to represent the PC), their approach in Japan was less confrontational and more subtle. The message that the Apple campaign conveyed in Japan was that Macs were for personal weekend use, while PCs were primarily to be used in the office. Clever localization, indeed.

Strive for Perfection

Japanese culture calls for perfectionism and attention to detail. Perfection is expected, regardless of the content type. When the Japanese buy products, they want detailed user manuals and you can bet they are going to read it! Detailed printed materials are essential. The key to gain trust from your consumer base is to include substantial quantities of detailed brochures and pamphlets when going to Japan’s numerous trade fairs and exhibitions. Japanese are known to be avid readers and consume huge amounts of product literature and brochures. Japanese people also tend to be used to very detailed user manuals and instruction guides. In terms of layout, the Japanese display a preference for engaging visuals over long texts.

In-country Translators

When it comes down to translation, Japanese translation is expensive as higher quality requirements often mean more review cycles and higher costs. It is essential that translators meet directly with the client reviewer to clarify expectations early on. It is also very beneficial to have in-country translators, who will make sure that the content resonates perfectly with a Japanese audience in addition to being technically perfect. The English equivalent of “we can’t do that” for example, would never be translated literally by a native Japanese, but it would be the equivalent of a smoother “that will be difficult” more appropriate for a less direct culture and less offensive. Japan is a wonderful market to expand into with its high tech, knowledgeable, and wealthy consumer base; however, a copy and paste method of expansion from the United States or Western Europe into the Japanese Market will fall short and could easily fail. Become a smart localizer to get “Big in Japan.”

Originally published at https://goo.gl/ny1Taj

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