Digital Marketing in Japan: A How-To Guide for Internet Marketers


Japan, the third-largest economy and one of the most mature markets in the world, still has an isolated nature. With a significant number of Western companies presenting successful market entry cases, digital marketing in Japan remains a complex issue.

Advertising in Japan and Japanese Market Overview

Japanese Market Overview

Japanese companies believe in traditional marketing like magazine ads, handing out flyers on the streets, and TV advertising. Even though the traditional approach is the first choice in Japan, digital marketing is always a part of the process.

Japanese brands do not heavily invest in digital. Affiliate marketing, for instance, has been widely recognized only recently, which caused the growing investment in performance-based campaigns. Although Japan has one of the strongest e-commerce markets, the usual game rules and marketing techniques do not apply. The success of any ad campaign significantly depends on the culturally authentic connections with the audience and established partnerships.

Existing business models in Japan are also primarily traditional. Therefore, digital transformation is a long-term process for traditionally managed Japanese companies. Regardless of the industry, incorporation of digital marketing strategies and e-commerce into the local businesses requires a significant investment of time and money. Nevertheless, the Japanese e-commerce market remains lucrative and keeps growing.

Inbound marketing might become one of the best approaches to attract Japanese customers. However, it includes risks and a lot of testing to determine the best practices in local marketing. Therefore, it has not taken off in Japan.

Customer Experience

Understanding and identifying your audience is the obvious goal in any case on any market. The Japanese market, for instance, differentiates with the enormous quantity of self-published content. In other words, the influencers or KOLs are an integral part of the shopping experience and the best technique to move customers through the marketing funnel. Creating a positive customer experience is a sought-after idea for Japanese companies.

Opinion leaders are organically created because of the conventional views the Japanese society has. Japanese culture puts a high value on reputation and honesty. Therefore, Japanese customers are viewed as the most reliable sources of information by potential clients. In a nutshell, content marketing is the key to creating a strong community and establishing connections with all types of audiences in Japan.

Advertising in Japan

Advertising is another aspect of Japanese culture. Typical for most Asian countries, consumerism rules Japanese shoppers as well, creating endless opportunities for advertisers and internet marketers to make a profit. Japan is expected to be the third-largest advertising market with a total expenditure of $45.37 billion by the end of 2021.

As a rule, Japanese consumers react positively to all kinds of ads. Their ad tolerance, in particular, distinguishes them from most of the Western audiences. Naturally, Japanese consumers can easily perceive all types of advertisements and are accustomed to comprehending a substantial amount of information daily.

When it comes to offline advertising, the billboards are usually bright, big, and surprisingly bold. As for the design, offline and online do not have many differences. The J-Pop aesthetic is mostly present in all types of ads. Therefore, big Japanese cities are covered with ads in a literal sense. No space is ad-free.

Japanese consumers are accustomed not only to the immense amount of information but also to the crowded design, regardless if it is a website, an app, or an ad. One of the best examples is the website of Yahoo! Japan. Western customers appreciate minimalism and consider it to be a standard of style in design, architecture, etc. Japanese consumers, in contrast, value the amount of information the company provides. Again, it has everything to do with culture. In Japan, the amount of information equates to hospitality. Therefore, any types of ads can and should be crowded not only with design elements but also with the important information.

Attracting Users and Driving Traffic in Japan

The number one rule is that featured products attract a target audience. It is usually applied by Japanese brands online and offline. Therefore, promotional banners will not be an old-school approach in this case. Naturally, banners in Japan differ from the ones customers got used to seeing in the United States or Europe. The same rules apply: flashy, big, colorful, a lot of information.

Running affiliate marketing campaigns is the best way to drive traffic and attract users. There are several local affiliate marketing services in Japan. However, the language barrier might be an issue. Therefore, if you are an affiliate, you might consider working with the well-known affiliate networks that already have stable relations with Japanese advertisers.

As for e-commerce marketplaces, there are several famous Japanese platforms, providing services just like eBay in the United States. Such e-commerce marketplaces as Rakuten Ichiba or Amazon Japan are the best choices for running banner ad campaigns. In fact, these platforms account for almost half of the e-commerce sales in Japan.

LINE is the most popular social network in Japan. LINE also provides such services as a digital wallet called Line Pay, a free communication app, a news stream service called Line Today, and a video service called Line TV. LINE in Japan is a lot like WeChat in China. Even though it is so popular in Japan, LINE is not a local product. It was created by the South Korean company Naver Corporation. According to Statista, LINE’s messaging app reached 80 million monthly active users in the Q1 of 2019. content and Japanese SEO. First and foremost, machine translation is never the best choice. The Japanese writing system is complex, and some Kanji symbols have multiple meanings. Therefore, SEO and translations cannot be done by amateurs or Japanese language enthusiasts. There is a cultural significance to certain symbols. Therefore, local insight is a must-have in this case.

To successfully market to Japanese customers, it is critical not only to understand the buying behavior but to know the cultural background and preferences relevant to the product and the target audience. Only the specific and accurately targeted strategy will result in profitable marketing campaigns in the Japanese market.

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