Contributed by Kathryn Sloane, Director of Growth, APAC, SGK /
Co-author: Reiko Nakamura, Managing Director, Schawk and Anthem (Japan)

Kathryn Sloane
Reiko Nakamura

Anyone who’s done business in Japan knows there’s nothing like it in the world. The Japanese market is unique, complex and has specific needs. And because Japan’s consumers are quickly going digital and expect perfection from goods and services, brands expanding in that nation need a targeted approach.

Here are ten ways to make your brand more desirable to Japanese shoppers and more profitable to you.

(1) Find your meaning in Japan. 
It’s been widely accepted for many years that global campaigns rarely work in the Japanese market. From a design perspective, a global brand means nothing in Japan unless Japanese typography is made a holistic part of the brand. A dual language identity system is essential to covey a relevant, complete message to Japanese consumers.

(2) Localise your design.
Localised visual assets emotionally help consumers feel that the brand understands them and makes them feel they’re part of something bigger. At a bare minimum, localisation of content – imagery and language – is critical.

(3) Think from the Shelf Out.
Japan’s shelf space is reorganized every two weeks, making this a very pertinent challenge. A Shelf Out approach begins with the understanding that the package is the brand and brand message. Brands must not only make their presence felt on the shelf, but make the brand radiate off the shelf. Attention Stickers, for example, are a core part of the way brands in Japan build deeper dialogue with shoppers from the Shelf Out.

(4) Become “My brand.”
This is a special expression the Japanese use to convey their feeling towards those brands where consumers feel a sense of ownership. Few global brands succeed in this area since becoming “My brand,” requires an ongoing commitment to innovation, limited edition development and swift responses to seasonality and cultural events.

(5) Design for the future, not for now.
If you are in an emerging market, you can look at what the West is doing to see how brands are pushing the category forward. If you’re in the West, you can look to Japan. In Japan, you need to explore the unknown. Particularly in Japan’s food and beverage category, global brands should reconsider the brand relationship: what brands will do for their consumers, how brands will fit in consumers’ lives and how brands will progress consumers forward.

(6) Learn the business of Japan.
Japanese business principles differ from other markets so be sure your team is attuned to values like these: 
Business is built on relationships and trust and the only way to build them is through commitments. Only the highest quality of services is expected and accepted. In Japan cost saving is not a first priority – consumers are willing to pay extra for quality.

(7) Optimise your workflow.
Many brand owners try to implement smooth, streamlined, linear workflows that work well in other markets, only to grow frustrated when they don’t work in Japan. To ensure consistency of output in Japan, a hybrid model is required to balance disciple with the need for iteration.

(8) Produce brand assets across touch points.
When you’re working with multiple agencies, each producing their own outputs for package design, POP design, e-commerce sites and more, inconsistencies can be costly. To avoid this, all digital assets including imagery must be housed in a centralized resource.

(9) Protect your equities in a renegade market.
While brand-owners in Japan generally have more license to get “adventurous” with global brands, they still need to protect the integrity of the brand for the long-term. Color standardization, centralized color management and print troubleshooting can help brands protect design integrity all the way to the printer.

(10) Continuous Improvement Through Consensus.
Most global brands start in one domestic market and have to learn how to adapt as they enter each new market. Instead of fixing these issues one by one, develop a holistic brand approach that caters to Japan-specific ranges and variants and don’t let your global brand strategy fall short on local considerations.

Building a global brand in Japan, for Japan, requires determination to stay the course, willingness to adjust, and the ability to respect and genuinely embrace the journey.

Kathryn Sloane is Director of Growth, APAC Region for SGK, a leading global brand development, activation and deployment company that drives brand performance. By creating brands, helping sell brands and protecting brand equities, we help our clients achieve higher brand performance. SGK’s global footprint spans 20 countries. 

Reiko Nakamura is Managing Director of Schawk and Anthem in Japan. Reiko has expanded Schawk Japan business with clients including Coca-Cola, Unilever, Hormel, Microsoft, Tesco, Mars. She also helps Japanese Brands like KAO, Suntory, Bridgestone with their global market expansion. These services include Brand Development and Brand Deployment or sometimes both. Reiko is member of SGK’s Steering Committee for Women In Leadership.

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