Succeeding in Japan as a Foreign Company

Succeeding in japan as a foreign companyFor foreign companies to succeed in the Japanese market, the following points are crucial.



Japan-Specific Strategy

The Japanese market has its unique business culture, and language and cultural barriers can be challenging. Success requires having local marketing personnel who are well-versed in Japanese culture, empowering them to formulate strategies.


Empowering Local Marketing Personnel

The success of your venture depends significantly on giving autonomy to your local team to tailor strategies to the Japanese market.


Adapting to Japan’s Digital Transformation

Japan’s B2B marketing lags in digital transformation compared to Western countries. Thus, strategies successful in the West may not work in Japan. Understand the level of digital adoption in Japan when planning your strategy.


Choosing the Right Partner

Selecting the right partner for market entry is crucial. This partner can be an individual or a corporation, but must understand your home country’s products or services and be knowledgeable about Japanese culture. Partnering with a Japanese marketing agency, which possesses all necessary market-specific knowledge and expertise, is highly recommended.


Establishing a Local Office

Gaining trust from Japanese consumers often requires setting up a physical office in Japan. Japanese culture places a high value on trust, and companies are often judged based on their physical address, capital, and clientele listed on their official website.

Understand that Japanese people may be skeptical about virtual offices or companies without a physical presence in Japan. Also, having a landline and Japanese-speaking staff is important.

While email and chat are popular, phone communication, and in some industries, fax, are still essential tools in Japan.


Market Research

Conducting market research is the first step before entering the Japanese market.

It’s necessary to understand the uniqueness, characteristics, and trends of this unfamiliar market, as data and expectations from your home country may differ significantly.

First, research the trends in your target industry and competitors in your target market.

Especially competitor analysis is crucial for identifying your unique value proposition and analyzing competitors’ strategies.

This helps to understand how the Japanese market functions and what should be included in your strategy.

A SWOT analysis is useful at this stage and can give an overall grasp of the market research.

However, if market research isn’t your specialty or you’re not familiar with Japan, it’s advisable to seek support from a Japanese marketing agency due to the market’s uniqueness.


Defining Target Customers

Once you’ve defined the trends of your industry and potential competitors, the next step is defining your target customers – who will buy your product or service.

Don’t assume that your target customers in Japan will be the same as those in your home market or other Asian countries.

Therefore, defining and analyzing your target customers is crucial before formulating your marketing strategy in Japan.

Many brands use segmentation to understand and narrow down their audience. Segmentation helps identify groups of customers, their locations, age groups, and some behaviors.

Personas, based on real customer analysis and research, are extremely helpful in building a more detailed image of a (fictional) customer.

They include more emotional information like personal motivations, what they value in your brand, and their communication preferences.

If you’re not familiar with the Japanese market or its people, it’s better to get support from a local agency. However, insights from keywords, social media, surveys, and feedback can also provide clues.

Customer personas are absolutely essential not just for your marketing strategy but also for your communication strategy in Japan.


Marketing Plan

A marketing plan summarizes your mission, competitive scope, value, and target users, outlining your marketing mix, budget, KPIs, and strategy schedule.

Creating an outline for your marketing plan requires setting the right strategy from the start and will likely need support from a local marketing agency to increase the chances of success in Japan.


Choosing Platforms to Acquire Customers

Japan’s digital transformation is behind compared to the West, but the COVID-19 pandemic has rapidly accelerated it, significantly changing marketing trends.

Focus on digital channels rather than traditional ones. Of course, depending on the type of product or service and industry, TV commercials may still be effective in some areas, but more often, alternatives to TV commercials are used.

In Japan, Google is the dominant search engine, but Yahoo! Japan is also widely used, especially among different age groups. While these two are mainstream, the rise of generative AI symbolized by ChatGPT has increased Bing’s share, so the platform choice should be based on the age group and technology comprehension.


Website and Content Localization

While corporate websites, landing pages (LPs), and content marketing are flexible and effective marketing methods, in Japan, English is generally avoided, and pages in languages other than Japanese are strongly disregarded. Localization into Japanese is a necessity.

Simply translating content from your home country into Japanese often results in awkward phrasing. Both the design and text need to be tailored for Japanese audiences.

Even if a foreign multinational corporation keeps the design of its Japanese website the same as in its home country, if it succeeds in Japan without localization, it’s likely due to branding success rather than web marketing. It’s important not to assume that what works for them will necessarily work for your company.


To succeed in the Japanese market, understand its unique culture, empower local experts, adapt to digital changes, choose the right partner, establish a local presence, conduct thorough research, define target customers, create a comprehensive marketing plan, focus on digital channels, and localize content effectively.


Author Profile

International Web Consultant

International Web Consultant Paveena Suphawet

A trilingual professional in English, Thai, and Japanese, she has numerous achievements in international SEO. She studied the latest IT technologies at Assumption International University, Thailand, and majored in International Business at the University of Greenwich, UK. Following her tenure at ExxonMobil’s Thai branch, she became a key member of Admano from its establishment.

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