Japan is different
I don’t say this because I come across headers like these twice a week:
(Ok, maybe that’s because I’m always on questionable sites…)
I say this because there is a different social structure at play.
Traditional roots that are embedded deep within each and every Japanese soul.
Yes, they can be quite quirky at times.
Absurdities like Hatsune Miku are only possible in Japan, for instance. (I mean, what else do you expect from a country that developed in relative geographic isolation?).
For better or worse, these differences are here to stay, underlying every interaction you may have, be it face-to-face or digital.
If you’re a marketer or an entrepreneur looking to gain exposure and traction, you’d better understand them thoroughly if you’re to have the faintest whiff of success.
And so, here’s a quick overview of the Japanese digital marketing scene to get you started.
Japan and Digital Marketing
All around the world, digital marketing is hailed with cult-like enthusiasm.
Understandable, of course.
The digital approach is fully data-driven, making it possible to track ROI more accurately than ever.
Typical of Japan to have missed out on that one.
Here, traditional marketing rules all.
Businesses still believe in basic advertising, from passing out flyers at university campuses and at populous areas to cashing in on some of the infamously absurd Japanese television ads, perpetually on display.
Digital marketing in Japan is always part of the whole process, no doubt, but the amount of investment made in it, both in time and money, doesn’t compare to what it’s like elsewhere.
This is most visible in the world of inbound marketing.
I know what you’re probably thinking..
What in the world is inbound marketing?
If you don’t know, inbound marketing is a technique to draw customers through the marketing funnel.
Here’s a lovely, little infographic from Hubspot to help you out:
From brand awareness, to engagement, to conversion, the inbound approach uses a wide range of digital strategies, leveraging everything from SEO and content marketing to social media.
So Why Hasn’t Inbound Marketing Taken off in Japan?
If you’ve been in Japan for a while, there’s this wonderful saying that you’ve probably heard before:
“The nail that sticks out gets hammered down”
Told you, wonderful.
The Japanese really are a friendly bunch.
Anyway, as you can probably surmise, this goes against everything we’ve been taught, being special snowflakes and all.
Generally speaking, of course, the Japanese working environment is plagued with strong cultural adherences.
The hierarchical structure is rigid, with seniority taking charge in action.
The traditional tends to dominate.
All too often you’ll hear the words “don’t fix what isn’t broken.”
Goes without saying, but this kind of curbs that whole experimental vibe we might have elsewhere.
Risk-taking is core to successful inbound marketing.
And this doesn’t only apply to inbound strategies.
Marketing, in its entirety, requires constant testing to determine best practices.
And so, inbound marketing doesn’t really see the light of day here.
Here’s the takeaway.
Low entry barrier.
Brand aren’t investing enough in digital.
The opportunities are for grabs.
Invest in your digital strategy.
Take a look at what happend to LinkedIn.
A few years ago, the market was completely unsaturated.
It was seen as just a networking site.
They created powerful personal brands as leaders in their industries. They showed that they knew their crafts. They stayed connected with their target audiences.
Since there was a no competition. Everyone read their content.
You should be doing the same.
Get on board, exploit this opportunity, and connect with your audience.
Tokyo’s SEO — What about Japanese Search Engine Marketing
Ok, first things first, know that Yahoo! is king in Japan.
And although Yahoo! uses the same exact algorithm as Google does to rank sites, keyword usage (and, therefore, targeted searcher intent) usually differ from one search engine to the other.
That’s not all.
Kanji (Japanese characters) brings in a level of complexity that search engines struggle to deal with.
The fact that a single kanji can often be read in multiple ways means that multiple keywords can be targeted with one character.
That complexity renders search engines incapable of in cracking down on black-hat SEO techniques like keyword stuffing and paid back-linking with the efficiency that it does in other languages.
Not sure what black hat SEO is?
It’s essentially whatever makes search engines believe that you’re trying to beat the system with sub-par, spammy, or fraudulent content.
Basically activities that land you in a search engine’s naughty list.
You might be thinking, “hey, if black hat tactics go unpunished in Japan, shouldn’t I give it a try?”
I know it’s tempting. Believe me it is.
Here’s the thing…
I’m not a big fan of dictating what other people are doing, and I’m certainly no saint, but let me repeat…
Don’t do it.
Yes, even in Japan. Geez…
The thing is, search engines will eventually get around to it. They always have and always will.
And when they do, their punishment will be merciless.
Don’t believe me?
Just ask Overstock. They tried to cheat Google’s algorithm by offering discounts for schools in exchange for links.
Now, buying links is a big no-no in the eyes of the search engine gods.
So how did Google respond?
They dropped Overstock so hard, that it wouldn’t even rank for its own domain.
See what I mean?
Aside from search engine popularity, there’s another thing digital marketers need to keep in mind here.
Japan’s English speakers are a market of their own.
There are tens of thousands foreigners working and living in Japan.
That’s not all.
With the ageing population here and declining fertility, the number of foreign goodness is going to increase.
What does that mean for SEO in Japan?
You have to be wary. English searchers use Yahoo! Japan differently and less often.
Google is still their preferred site.
Make sure you check both to make the most informed decision.
Japan’s Social Media in 2018
Well, I don’t want to delve too deeply into each social media platform trends in Japan. Honestly, each of these platforms deserves a post of its own.
But I promised you an overview, and an overview you will get!
Albeit, a short one.
Here’s a quick scope of what’s happening:
Instagram — The Future of Japanese B2C
With over 17.1 million users, Japan’s love affair with Instagram has been growing rapidly for quite some time now.
In fact, according to Nielsen/Net Ratings Japan, Instagram is the platform with the fastest and highest growth rate in the land of the rising sun.
Following the rest of the world, Japan is beginning to embrace influencer marketing.
The influencer movement is at a conundrum, however, with some of the larger influencers are struggling to quantify their value to brands.
In Japan, brands are generally more hesitant to transition to digital purchases and follow influencers.
And so, they move towards less-prevalent “beginner influencers” with smaller followings (2k — 15k followers) who are willing to feature products and services for free.
As the fastest growing platform in the country, Instagram holds massive potential for brands.
Japanese people are obsessed with the “packaging” of experiences.
If done right, like Twitter before it, the photo-sharing platform could actually bring about a whole new form of user experience and advertisement for brands.
Facebook — King of Japanese B2B
Facebook is easily the go-to social networking site for B2B marketing in Japan. It’s become identical to LinkedIn as a networking site.
As such, the demographics on the platform is a bit skewed, less than 7% of users under 20, and over 50% older.
For paid, social media advertising, the platform is even better, boasting some of the highest conversion rates in the world.
For any B2B marketer in Japan, Facebook is a no-brainer.
Twitter — A Missed Opportunity
Let me be clear.
Japan is big on Twitter. In fact, it’s the only country where it’s even more popular than Facebook!
And what has Twitter done with this opportunity?
This gift from god, almighty?
They’ve squandered it.
They did nothing.
They neglected the Japanese market, never investing to appeal to the user base appropriately.
With other platforms growing significantly, Twitter’s chances for growth seem stunted.
That’s not to say that there isn’t any reason to be on Twitter.
Just keep an eye out for other B2C opportunities (ehm…Instagram)
LinkedIn — Make or Break
Okay, full disclosure.
LinkedIn is my favourite social networking site.
It’s nothing like the other platforms, with all the selfies and other needless posts spat out by vaguely familiar people from the distant past.
It’s a professional platform.
As mentioned earlier, Linkedin is a powerful tool to brand yourself as an expert and gain visibility.
It packs a lot of potential.
It’s primarily viewed as a job hunting platform in Japan.
Remember those cultural roots we talked about?
Yeah, here they are again.
Since, generally, promotions and titles are primarily based on seniority (time spent at the company), Japan has developed an implicit expectation of lifetime employment.
Hence, Linkedin hasn’t really taken off yet.
But according to Jorge Suzuki, Sales Manager at LinkedIn Japan, the professional networking site is setting out on a powerful branding campaign to mitigate all that.
It’s up to you whether or not you invest your time on LinkedIn, but with the market being as unsaturated as it is, I’d make sure to keep this platform in mind.
YouTube — A Winner’s Platform
YouTube is a beast of its own.
It is, by far, the most used platform in Japan.
The way consumers interact with content here differs from other sites on here.
In terms of marketing, however, it’s probably the closest thing to traditional tv ads.
Nevertheless, it’s still incredibly popular among the youth.
Investing in this streaming platform is generally costly though.
Some strategic planning is necessary, be it influencer marketing or developing content, but get it right and the rewards will be worthwhile.