Thrive in Japan: 5 Insider Tips for B2B Market Success

Given its cultural differences, B2B marketing in Japan is a tough nut to crack for many brands. Owen Narita explains how it can be done… 

Japan is the world’s third largest economy, making it one of the most attractive places for global B2B brands to expand their business opportunities. However, many western companies have faced difficulties marketing to Japanese businesses. 

Since Just Global acquired Plaxton Inc. in 2023 – a marketing agency with 10 years of experience in helping tech companies enter the Japanese market – we’ve been able to offer localized expertise and Japanese market entry strategies.

But what makes it so different? Why do brands find it hard to get a foothold there, and how can they create effective B2B marketing strategies in Japan? 

SVP of Japan Market at Just Global, Owen Narita, explains some keys to success.

An aging population

28.6% of Japan’s population is over 65 years old – an increase from 26.6% in 2015. The second baby boomer generation, born in the early 1970s, forms a significant portion of the population and business leadership. 11.1% of the population of Japan lives in Tokyo, which is increasing year-on- year. 2.2% of the population are foreign residents, which is rising. 

Businesses need to tailor their marketing strategies to target this older demographic, while the increasing foreign resident population presents an opportunity for organizations to explore a multicultural marketing approach. 

Japanese business culture

In contrast to most companies in the West, Japanese organizations emphasize group culture and team-based project management rather than focusing on individual responsibilities. This influences the decision-making processes. When networking or meeting in a face-to-face situation, it’s a given that business cards will be exchanged.  

Given this slant toward group culture and a more collegiate decision-making process, marketers must tailor their messaging toward teams, not individuals. As the sales process involves numerous stakeholders, be prepared for sign-off to take longer than usual.

Japanese B2B market trends

In Tokyo, 79.5% of commuters travel to work by train, presenting a massive out-of-home-marketing opportunity. While print media is in decline across all markets, in Japan, 43-77% of those aged 40-60 still read newspapers, with Asahi (not the lager) being the most popular, so print advertising is still a viable way to reach key decision makers. 

The most popular online portal in Japan is Yahoo, which reaches 85% of internet users and is a successful way to reach business audiences. Organizations looking to cast their demographic net wider should consider social media marketing on Line – Japan’s most popular social media platform – which attracts 94 million active users each month.

Visually different

What works visually in the US, Europe, and APAC may not be as effective in Japan. While website designs in these regions often look similar, Japanese website design stands out with its unique approach. Japanese websites are typically dense, information-rich, and reflect the country’s vibrant urban culture. Therefore, any web pages and advertising placements created for the Japanese market should be optimized to align with these design preferences.

Japanese business etiquette

As touched on above, prioritizing networking to build relationships is still considered an important ingredient in any overall marketing plan. Japanese clients have high expectations when it comes to customer service, so customer service teams must have the capacity and ability to respond promptly and politely to any client inquiries. 

We’re here to help

By adapting marketing strategies to align with Japan’s unique demographic trends, cultural nuances, media consumption patterns, and customer service expectations, organizations will be able to navigate, and succeed, in this market. 

And, of course, our team on the ground in Japan is here to help start that process. Connect with our team today.

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