Japan is a very unique market that many companies try to enter without much thought. Here are some golden rules to follow to succeed in Japan!
For companies trying to enter the Japanese market or grow their business in Japan, it may be worth knowing that so-called traditional mass media such as national papers, magazines, and especially TV, still have a strong influence on Japanese audiences due to their extensive coverage across the country as well as respect from the entire population.
As professional PR consultants, we are often asked by new market entrants and foreign prospects on how to roll out communication plans in Japan. You may be surprised to know most of such international work starts with no magic, but the basics of defining yourself and your goals.
B2B or B2C
First, clarify your positioning, goal, and communication mechanism.
Positioning starts with B2B or B2C. If you are in a B2B market including B2B2C, your targets are business users who can be reached through channels and influenced by third-party views such as positive coverage in trade/business media. If you are in the B2C market, the targets are consumers directly.
Secondly, clarify whether initially, you want to present your specific product or company as a whole. If your company is very technical, you could potentially focus on product PR. Then, gather competitive facts including statistics and customer endorsement, and outline the appeal of these specific benefits to users. On the other hand, if you focus on corporate branding, elaborate on high-level messaging to build trust and recognition while making sure your messages fit well in a Japanese context and back it up with facts.
In any case, you would need to promote both your product and company in the long run. So, you need to consider which to prioritize and plot steps. From then, either initially raise recognition of your product and move on to corporate branding, or first bring attention to your brand and boost understanding about your product later on.
Define how long and how much you can spend to achieve your business goals. Then you will be able to design a rough communication schedule and plan tied with your business/marketing strategy.
Partnering and budgeting
Upon planning, if you do not have your staff stationed in Japan yet, you may instead want to work with local business partners and/or consult with local agencies in areas such as law, PR, surveys, promotion, events, and advertisement to conduct extensive research and market analysis. The Public Relations Society of Japan lists PR agencies to meet with various criteria including business category, industry, size, location etc.
Concerning the budget, it is highly recommended to secure at least about US $110,000 per year for B2B communication activities. Marketing campaigns including advertising requires an extra budget. B2C communications will generally need to secure ten times more budget than B2B.
When done with strategy planning, it is time to move on to communication activities by leveraging relevant media.
Japanese media landscape
Although some changes have been implemented, what is still unique about Japanese media is first, the language. The Japanese-speaking population is slightly more than one percent of the world, which consists of the third-largest economy. Secondly, the existence of press clubs is unique but very useful as most major media and market players are in there; thus making it more apt to conduct ‘official’ message delivery. Companies use press clubs located in ministries, government bodies, and trade organizations to deliver announcements, while the registered press uses the club to get exclusive stories in an organizationally controlled way. So, it will be no harm to do some research on whether there is any press club that your target media can be a member of while securing your Japanese-speaking arms.
Local media tend to take neutral journalistic positions backed up by facts and figures. Therefore, the preparation of briefing materials in Japanese is critical. Figures such as revenue, sales targets, customer base and experiences, number of employees, and the year the company was founded will often be required, before you even pitch your announcement, especially when approaching economic news journalists covering businesses.
Compile a fact sheet listing facts and figures as noted above, and put together a target media list. Then, it is time to start building relations with key journalists who can be influential supporters. Become or nurture a spokesperson, ideally with media training, and deliver your message through interviews, briefings, and press conferences, depending on the business schedule. And/or, you may want to leverage your product and roll out press releases, present publicity, movie/TV placement, and magazine/web tie-ups.
Remember, before you talk with journalists, prepare. It cannot be emphasized enough the importance of the basics. Clarify your message and prepare background materials such as the aforementioned fact sheet as well as a corporate briefing sheet, presentations, press releases/references, and a Q&A in Japanese. Make sure you or your spokesperson is capable of pleasantly controlling the conversation, being humble and likable — something Japanese highly value. If you need a translator, try to designate the same person and train him/her to suit you. It is always nice to offer online channels and opportunities when reporters prefer to avoid physical interaction due to sanitary and security reasons.
Japan is no exception to the hardships hitting most traditional media. Social media in Japan, particularly Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and blogs are an ever-increasing popular platform to use as corporate messaging to influence consumers. Japan has approximately 79 million active social media users, over 63% of the population amounting to over 126 million. Although not strictly a social media platform, LINE is the most active monthly user platform with over 86 million, followed by YouTube at over 65 million, Twitter at 48 million, and Instagram at over 33 million.
It has become a common practice these days for companies to invite influencers of these platforms to try their products or services for free. Companies facilitate these influencers to create buzz for their products/services while giving the opportunity for influencers to create new content. There is, however low it may be, the risk of influencers commenting negatively about the product or service.
If you’re planning to enter Japan, be ready to navigate the unique nuances that make this market special. Do that and you may find success here. Should you be looking for the right company to enter Japan, please don’t hesitate to contact us! Kyodo PR is one of the oldest and largest PR agencies in Japan — we can definitely help achieve your goals.
Written by Kazuto Kotaki
Deputy Director, IT Business Development and PR Research Institute, Kyodo Public Relations