Challenge your assumptions about Japan.
One of the things we often hear about Japan is that, "it's so different" than other markets around the world. It's a comment that often unduly influences the perception of doing business (or even living) here and leads to sub-optimal outcomes for all parties.
The reality in Japan is far more nuanced than this common stereotype suggests, especially when it comes to technology adoption by businesses. There are some things that are very different, and many other things that are strikingly similar. As always, knowing your market intimately makes a huge difference to your endeavours.
Indeed, there will always be differences and similarities between markets, especially in a diverse region such as the Asia Pacific. It is important to remember that this is as true when comparing Japan at a country-level to other places in the world, as it is when comparing the many markets (city-based, industry, size, etc) within Japan. To be sure, while there are stark differences when doing a country-level comparison in this region, often city-level reviews show many common traits. Tokyo and Hong Kong share many common characteristics, whereas, comparing China to Japan reveals many differences in maturity. The point being, that we need to test our assumptions about Japan as many stereotypes simply do not hold true when put to the microscope.
The below image which shows the wide differences in number of establishments per square kilometer across the various prefectures in Japan highlights this point about market diversity. (Source: Statistics Japan).
With the right planning and preparation, a market entry into Japan can be very rewarding. Some observations to consider for any start-up or established technology company considering entering Japan or looking to improve current operations:
- Privacy, security, and confidentiality are critical. This applies to all data you collect and the manner in which you conduct your company. It will often be offered as the first barrier to any proposals you put forward.
- It's an engineers' market at enterprise level. Yes, strategy and business outcomes are of course important. But you need to have a strong narrative and proof points for the many excellent engineers working in Japanese firms.
- Yes, faxes and paper documents are still used widely. This is especially true among small and medium-size businesses, government agencies at all levels, and public services. But there are also many very progressive industries and organisations that rival international firms for technology use and digital transformation.
- Details and evidence are important. Make sure you can provide detailed breakdowns of what it is you are offering and have the evidence to back up your claims.
- Local support and Japanese language documentation or content assets are critical. Localising your offering involves more than just translating the marketing materials.
- Be in it for the long game. Meetings are not always set up to make decisions. Often they are attended to gather data and information, and then take back to the organisation to consider further. Building relationships over time and showing long-term committment is important.
- Consider your channel partners and local employees carefully. Often success is determined not by how good your product or service is, but by the people that are representing you on the ground.
This is just the proverbial tip of the iceberg about entering the Japanese market. Tech Research Asia offers a full-service market entry program for start-ups and established technology companies to help. The program involves several phases with associated modules tailored to your requirements, including:
- Quantitative research into prospective customers to understand market dynamics, current state of adoption of the technology or service, requirements of suppliers, opportunities and challenges, roles to engage, and other characteristics.
- TRA facilitation of a roundtable event with prospective customers to capture in-depth contextual information on opinions and experiences with selected technologies, services, or brands.
- Profiles of the main competitors in the market including their go to market strengths, examples of accounts, capabilities, and brand reputation.
- Review of existing market research and TRA modelled market size, growth, and segmentation.
- Profiles of potential technology partners and non-technology partners or possible alliances that have strong capabilities in the target market.
- A list of analysts, journalists, events, and influential information sources for the target market
- A findings report with full TRA recommendations for strategy and tactics.
- A half-day workshop with TRA and executive stakeholders to plan the strategy and evaluate capabilities.
- Written introductions to potential partners in the target market – both traditional technology partners and non-traditional channels
- Enablement session in-person or via webinar for sales teams and partners to understand the strategy and underlying research.
- Curation of an internal social site with content curated by TRA. The aim of the site is for TRA to introduce the research in more detail and answer any questions that sales or partners have on the plans.
- Development of sales tools to assist sales teams and partners when engaging prospects.
- Lead generation activities
- TRA will produce independent content - traditional and digital - on an agreed upon topic leveraging the research undertaken in the inquiry phase for use in go to market campaigns.
- TRA to deliver a keynote presentation at an event of sponsor’s choosing using the research as the basis of the presentation.
- TRA support in media outreach and PR campaign.