- How business in Japan can be extremely profitable
- Why Japanese consumers buy foreign goods
- How to overcome risk adverse consumers
- Why brand trust is crucial in Japan
- How to show value to selective purchasers
- Catering to a well educated and informed market
- Why marketing segmentation matters in Japan
- Japanese aesthetics in web marketing and design
- Meeting high consumer expectations
- Marketing to the younger Japanese generation
Foreign businesses can make a lot of money in Japan’s consumer market, therefore they keep coming here. However, to those who don’t know much about the country’s history, culture, or economy, it might seem like a mystery, and some even claim it’s the most difficult market to enter.
Despite its notoriety, it might be challenging to adequately describe the wide range of cultural and social factors at play here. However, as an inbound firm bringing your brand to Japan, we’ve also discovered a few fundamental realities about the Japanese consumer that might help you better grasp what you’re getting yourself into.
Here you’ll learn the top 10 things about Japanese customers that will help your marketing efforts.
1. "Western" Is Not Always Better
China and Korea, Japan’s mainland neighbors, had a significant impact on Japan’s culture and society throughout the country’s early history. Later, notably in the late 19th and 20th centuries, it was bombarded with modern Western cultural values. And after WWII, there was a dramatic increase in the influence of American culture.
Japan has always maintained a strong sense of its own identity, even though all these influences contributed to creating the goods, technology, behavior, and ideas that arose here over the decades.
So, while you may believe that Japan is a “Westernized” country because of the high regard in which American and European goods are held, the reality is that Japanese consumers are considerably pickier than their Western counterparts.
Domestically produced goods with well-known brand names have a distinct advantage over foreign imports (with a few exceptions). Additionally, many households have preferred brands (such as Hitachi, Sony, or Panasonic) that they purchase many appliances from.
Why do people in Japan buy overseas products?
There’s no doubt that Japanese culture is a patchwork of influences from all around the world. However, rather than wholly embracing foreign concepts and models, many firms seek to modify them to better fit the needs of the Japanese market.
The Japanese have shown adept at going their own way in many fields, including the culinary arts, the fashion industry, and the technological realm.
One thing is for sure, you must carefully consider how to appeal to Japanese consumers as a foreign brand.
2. Marketing to Risk-Averse Japanese Consumers
The Japanese consumer market is more risk-averse than its Western equivalent. One of the highest scores of any culture, rating as high as 92/100 on Hofstede’s Uncertainty Avoidance Index. Among the many consequences, this has for customer behavior is a reluctance to try items from lesser-known companies whose quality can’t be guaranteed.
Many consumers will pay more for a well-known brand because of its reputation, even if they can obtain the same or a comparable product from a lesser-known brand. In light of this reluctance to take risks, businesses that are unable to create reliable, long-term connections with their clientele may struggle.
Expert advice for international companies introducing new items to the Japanese market: eliminate any doubts or uncertainties about the reliability of your goods and services. To do so, you may need to give specific details on the materials, methods, and technology you employ.
3. Mistrust of Companies
Brands usually have an easier time connecting with new clients and selling their products or services to those who are eager to try something new in societies where confidence in institutions is high.
However, it would be more challenging for companies to gain customer trust in Japan, which has one of the lowest ranks in the Edelman Trust Barometer at 37% (second only to Russia).
When people have little faith in authorities, they turn to their neighbors for advice on what to buy. What this means is that user-generated content (such as reviews, testimonials, word-of-mouth recommendations, and so on) plays a bigger role in the purchasing decision.
How do Japanese consumers determine brand trust?
4. Marketing to Highly Selective Japanese Consumers
It’s common knowledge that Japanese shoppers are among the pickiest in the world. Most Japanese homes routinely use some combination of reading internet reviews, consulting friends and family, utilizing product comparison websites, and watching product tutorials before making a purchase.
In addition to the aforementioned factors, the scarcity of available real estate in Japan is also often cited as an explanation for this purchasing pattern. Free space is precious and idle storage is unusual in big metropolitan regions like Tokyo, one of the world’s densest cities.
When faced with this reality, consumers are considerably less likely to squander space (and money) on unnecessary objects that might wind up cluttering the home. Because of the limited storage available, consumers are forced to opt for a select few high-quality things over a wide variety of cheaper ones when looking to celebrate and flaunt their financial success.
It has been hypothesized that Japan’s picky shopping habits are the result of a combination of cultural norms emphasizing thrift and frugality and economic hardships. However, regardless of your perspective, you should be prepared for the level of scrutiny that the ordinary Japanese consumer may apply to you.
Content and marketing messaging that successfully persuade your target audience of your worth are essential for overcoming this obstacle. Always put an emphasis on reliability, longevity, and quality.
5. Collectivism and Homogeneity
Japan’s consumer culture is a key target for marketing efforts.
Language, color, ethnicity, education, money, cultural views, and social awareness are only a few things that Japanese people have in common. All these factors combine to make the country extremely homogeneous, especially when compared to other Western countries.
Furthermore, people tend to be more communal than solitary. They place a premium on teamwork, dedication, and selflessness in the service of a larger cause. People may also be wary of taking leadership roles because of the spotlight they would get.
Brands from other countries entering the Japanese market must realize that the general public’s opinion can play a role in determining the success or failure of their offerings. To rephrase, you may have a game-changing product with enormous disruptive potential, but will people really buy it?
Many companies have tried and failed to break into the Japanese market because of this same difficulty.
Pro Tip: Treating the whole Japanese population as a single mass market and using generic strategies won’t get you very far, despite the collectivism and uniformity that could imply. Despite the fact that humans have a lot of commonalities, there is still significant variation between populations.
6. Targeting Japan's highly educated populace with marketing campaigns
In Japan, education is a top priority. Further, enrollment in and completion of postsecondary institutions are both exceptionally high. Many private organizations provide training and education outside of the regular school day for both children and adults.
Japanese consumers have been regarded as knowledge junkies with a voracious desire for technical details. Compared to the West, Japan’s marketing materials feature an unprecedented wealth of detail.
Pro Tip: If your product is technically complex or otherwise creative, you should think about how to highlight these features to potential customers. Japanese consumers value transparency in regards to product functionality, construction, and durability.
7. The Challenges of Marketing to Japan's aging Population.
In Japan, where one’s age and life stage are major factors in many areas, age is an even more crucial component for market segmentation.
Salary levels, for instance, are extremely age-relative; in general, people increase their purchasing power as they age due to promotions at work. That’s why, in a very basic sense, marketing to the elderly is the perfect strategy for selling expensive luxury goods.
Tailoring your brand and marketing plan to the tastes, beliefs, and outlook of this particular Japanese audience is essential.
Knowing and catering to the ideas and tastes of the younger generation in Japan, who are regarded to be less materialistic and career orientated than their predecessors, is also of equal importance.
8. The Importance of Aesthetics
Knowing how to market to Japanese through the lens of aesthetics.
Almost everyone is aware that Japan has strict aesthetic standards. Japanese people place a premium on presentation, so it’s crucial that everything looks its best.
Food presentation, flower arrangements, urban landscaping, gardens, store layouts, animation, and promotional content are just a few of the countless examples that attest to this.
Finding the most appealing approach to present your brand, logo, and marketing materials is essential if you want to attract customers and make sales.
If you want to know what Japanese customers expect from your brand, we recommend consulting with a native Japanese graphic designer. There are specific methods to “present oneself” in Japan that can help you achieve success, whether you’re developing your first website for Japan or putting together an SEO or PPC campaign with graphic assets, having some insider support is crucial.
"How you present yourself to the Japanese public is crucial to your success"
Features of Japanese web design
Web sites created in Japan have certain distinctive features that often catch people by surprise. While a lack of white space, various focal points, and many calls to action on a single landing page might be off-putting to Western eyes, these are essential elements of a successful website for Japanese customers.
9. Highly Image Conscious Consumers
Consumers in Japan look for products that may fulfil both a practical need and a status symbol. Even if your product outperforms the competition in every measurable way, it may not be chosen over a competitor with a superior brand image.
Many people in Japan are on the lookout for products that will not only serve their practical needs but also elevate their social standing.
10. Quality is expected to be a very high standard
Quality in Japan tends to be consistent across the board, from the smallest to the largest things sold.
It is generally accepted that goods should always fulfil a useful function that is closely attuned to the unique requirements of individual consumers, and that functional design and quality assurance should be prioritized during the production phase.
Japanese engineering is held up as an ideal to strive for, much like German automaking is in other parts of the world.
There is also a high standard for aesthetic qualities. Japan places equal value on a product’s use, ease of use, and aesthetics. So much so that even if a device had superior technology, but was unsightly and hard to use, it would not be regarded as good quality.
Priorities in Japan
To be courteous – When doing business in Japan, visitors may expect to be treated with the utmost respect and decency in keeping with cultural norms such as Omotenashi, a phrase that describes the thoughtfulness and thoughtfulness with which Japanese hosts tend to their guests’ every need. If you want your brand to be seen as trustworthy and dependable, you need to communicate and deal with customers in this manner.
Success rate – Potential buyers evaluate several brands and goods, therefore it’s important to have a solid track record through user evaluations and testimonials. Having other consumers refer to the quality of your items will go a long way.
Uphold your end of the bargain – Deadlines, descriptions, and promised delivery dates are all taken very seriously in Japanese society. Simply put, you must follow through on your commitments. It’s really rude to keep someone waiting or fall short on their promises.
Be wary of rough guesses and calculations, as they may have unintended consequences. If you’re promoting your wares on e-commerce sites like Amazon or Rakuten, it’s important that the images and descriptions you provide accurately reflect the things you’re selling. Customers will feel misled if you exaggerate the capabilities of your product, even if it still performs well.
We have covered a lot of ground that will remain important parts of Japanese consumer culture for years to come. Nonetheless, the fact remains that Japanese culture is ever-evolving and adjusting to new circumstances. Thus, the ever-changing panorama of Japanese customers must be taken into account.
When trying to reach new customers in Japan, it’s important to keep in mind the country’s rapid rate of change as a result of both technological advancements and the inevitable battle between traditional values and modern ones that inevitably emerge among the country’s younger generations.
Getting rid of assumptions is the greatest method to ensure your brand and marketing messages are always on-point. Try to construct your marketing plan around facts that can be verified, whether via your own in-depth analysis of the industry or the assistance of knowledgeable local partners.
Nans is the founder of Medusa Japan. Originally from Paris, he has been living in Japan for 5 years. He’s into the latest audio, video, and artificial intelligence technologies.