The title of this blog post might hint that this was written decades ago before the advent of the Internet, but for many reasons, the use of paper, especially in B2B marketing, is as important as ever in Japan today in 2018. Many foreign equity companies in Japan make the mistake of trying to go completely paperless, but there are many reasons why you want to make sure you include paper as part of your marketing efforts in Japan. As a marketing agency with expertise in Japanese B2B marketing, we speak from decades of experience to make sure that you do not make the mistakes that many other foreign companies entering Japan have made before.
First of all, when we speak in terms of paper, we want to point out that we are specifically referring to marketing and advertising promotional materials. Japan is advanced in technology like other leading countries in the world, and of course is moving towards a paperless process like everyone else. Unfortunately, often the most important process from a B2B marketing perspective, the purchasing decision, requires something called a Ringisho（稟議書）. The Ringisho is often paper documentation on a clipboard that is passed around from department to department and decision maker to decision maker, in order to gain consensus or nemawashi （根回し）as it is called in Japanese. Not having paper from your company attached to this clipboard brings two specific issues to your company:
How can you be a famous company yet not have any paper materials? It raises a serious issue of credibility that is unheard of for large Japanese organizations who are quite accustomed to producing paper marketing materials.
How do we find more information about your company if we can't see it in front of us? This forces decision makers at potential customers to have to type in links to find the information that should be right in front of them. In our opinion, this is never going to work in your favor.
The second important thing to realize about paper marketing is that paper allows you to do a lot more creative and branded communication than digital might allow you to do. For instance, we are a leader in managing events for B2B companies. Part of our work is designing promotional collateral for our clients’ events. When we work with Japanese companies, they have freedom in design that allows us to exploit our creative capabilities and better align our customers’ sales tools with the specific event branding and localization. For instance, for one of our Japanese clients, Veeva, a medical equipment manufacturer, we were able to design collateral that literally looks like pharmaceutical capsules, creating an unparalleled and targeted branding experience. On the other hand, foreign equity companies in Japan are often paperless or have very strict design guidelines. These design guidelines are often based on the existing paper collateral that exist overseas and do not give their local Japanese colleagues the ability to customize and better align their branding with their local events. This literally makes their Japanese branch look even more “foreign” in Japan!
Another important thing that you might not realize is the experience of an event attendee. When Japanese attend events, they often do so on behalf of Executives or departments and will tour various booths and bring back information to report back to their head office. That information is often found in the paper collateral that they collate and collect from the various booths they visit. As you can imagine, for those foreign equity companies that don't provide paper collateral, these employees literally have nothing to report back about when they get back to their office!
On the same note regarding events, foreign equity companies often push attendees in Japan to download applications that contain all of the information regarding their event in it. This is an additional issue in terms of social etiquette. When Japanese business people communicate with each other, it is disrespectful to look at a smartphone while talking to someone at a conference. It is, however, okay to look at a piece of paper while talking to someone, as it is clear you are referencing the piece of paper. When you try to reference something on a smartphone, it's hard for the other person to know whether you are viewing the event app or if you are multitasking or doing a non-related business activity on your phone.
It should also be reminded here that there are still some IT departments that might not allow their company employees to download your event app as well based on their internal guidelines.
As you can see, if you want to expand your market in Japan, a digital presence alone is not enough. Now that you've seen the value of paper marketing in Japan, here is some advice that you can follow as to the bare minimum paper collateral you should have in describing your company.
In Japan, think of your paper collateral as a way to build trust through creative communication. As you can imagine, first Impressions count, so your choice of colors is going to be critical in paper collateral as it is for all of your branding materials, both digital and paper.
One of the most basic types of paper materials every company here should have is the Kaisha Gaiyou（会社概要）, or company profile. Any company that is considering buying your products or services in Japan will certainly want to look at this information. Of course, we expect you would also have this digitally on your website, but for the reasons mentioned before, this is the most basic type of paper collateral that you will need. This paper collateral will include information that you might not think is important overseas. For instance, we often see foreign equity companies have company information that is more of a branding exercise and doesn’t answer a lot of basic questions about the company itself. That is why your company profile should include not only exactly what your company does for a business, including all the products and services you offer, but also when your company was established, who is on your executive board, who are your main customers up until now, and even who are the banks that you do business with. If you are a public company or private company, you should also include the amount of your stock capital as well as the number of employees that you have. All of this information provides a trustworthy environment to the Japanese buyer and makes them feel comfortable doing business with you.
Paper allows you to stand out with all of the creative ways you can modify. Don’t be afraid to be bold in design to differentiate your company here!
Life would be boring if doing business with every culture around the world was as easy as it is in your own home country. Of course, doing business in any country is not easy, so Japan, like any other foreign country, will provide you with challenges. As your local partner in Japan, we strive to help all companies be successful here through not only our advice through this blog, but for those that want to have a deeper relationship, to become your agent in Japan and help you more directly with your marketing and or events here.
Did you know that paper marketing was still important in Japan? Is it hard for you to believe that a high-technology country like Japan would still be invested in paper? Please feel free to connect with us in social media and carry on a conversation there in Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn!