2018.9.12 Report

The Unique B2B Marketing Challenges for Foreign Companies in Japan – and How to Overcome Them!

At our recent Bigbeat LIVE B2B marketing event in Tokyo, we had a chance to interview a number of marketing executives who work at the Japanese subsidiaries of American and European B2B companies in Japan. We wanted to understand the unique challenges, struggles, and ideas that they had, and in doing so provide those marketers at headquarters outside of Japan some advice on how they can better leverage the presence of the talented marketers working at their Japanese subsidiaries.


Why Japan?

We all know that Japan is a special market, and because of that Japan is a notoriously difficult market for foreign companies. It’s not only the different language but also the completely different business culture that challenges most foreigners in Japan. From a B2B marketing perspective, Japan’s journey down the digital transformation road has taken slightly longer in some ways than their American or European counterparts, and this provides further challenges to foreign companies wanting to emulate what has been successful for them overseas and finding it not to be as effective in Japan.
Many companies will simply ignore the Japanese market for some or all of the above reasons, but one thing should not be forgotten: Japan is still the 3rd largest economy world after the United States and China, and since it is still an active hotbed for technology development, it is a market that businesses would be foolish to ignore for their future business development.
Our advice: If you still don’t understand the potential that Japan has for your business, please reach out to us so that we can provide you a complementary assessment!


Treating Japan as Part of a Region

 For those companies investing in Japan, the next question is how to manage them. Those companies who understand Japan’s importance will give them autonomy in how they do local marketing or at least create a region for them or have their Asia headquarters located in Japan. For decades, this is what even consumer brands like Proctor and Gamble did. Some B2B companies do this, but for many that we engage with, we are finding many American or European companies will establish some sort of an APAC or APJ office to manage their regional marketing in Asia outside of Japan, specifically in Singapore or even Australia. The choice of geography makes sense from a language perspective; however, the further away these regional headquarters are physically removed from Japan, the less influence that local decisions that need to be made for Japan will have.
Quite simply, for those B2B businesses that don’t treat Japan as a region of its own and instead group it together with other locations with management done remotely thousands of miles removed, there will always be inherent friction in their Japanese marketing. Japan marketing executives will have to work through their regional headquarters, and their regional headquarters will have to prioritize how important they feel requests from Japan are when they might inherently be different than requests they receive from other countries they manage.

The Challenge of the Japanese B2B Marketer

When different social networks are being used and business professionals have different habits regarding digital content consumption, you can imagine the challenges that Japanese B2B marketers in executing marketing initiatives that have been dictated to them by headquarters. With little or no say in the 4 P’s that govern marketing, it can sometimes be quite difficult to try to apply foreign requests to their local market and be successful in doing so.
At the end of the day, Japanese B2B marketers working at foreign subsidiaries in Japan realize that they need to show results in terms of the marketing KPIs determined by their headquarters. This often ends up being a combination of following instructions from headquarters and implementing marketing initiatives locally the best they can, requesting changes in those initiatives to their regional headquarters that can help the company best reach those goals, and even sometimes making slight local tweaks or filtering that still abide by headquarter requests in the grand scheme of things yet provide better results for their Japanese marketing operations.
Overseas companies can better manage Japanese marketing departments by deciding on a measurement scheme but allowing the local marketers more freedom in to how they can achieve those KPIs. If headquarters can judge their Japanese marketing efforts based on clearly measured data, the participants in our interview were confident that they could reach marketing objectives. Japanese marketers are very experienced and detail-oriented when it comes to marketing tactics like marketing automation, and this can work to your advantage when providing them the freedom to show you good results as measured by data.
Judging Japanese marketing efforts by data is extremely important because the Japanese culture is centered around being humble about one’s work. The phrase “the nail that sticks out gets hammered down” is a popular saying that best describes this cultural phenomenon. That’s why foreign equity companies should be proactively analyzing their Japanese marketing efforts by looking at the data, not the undoubtedly humble reporting of their Japanese staff. In doing so, you might find results that are worthy of replicating in other countries (more on that below).
At the end of the day, every Japanese B2B marketer working for a foreign equity firm has to be a little crafty, but it shows in the results that they can bring to your Japan marketing efforts!


You Get What You Pay For

Like anything else in business, you get what you pay for. If you want to see more sales from the Japanese market, you need to invest more in the market. Part of that investment should also be in marketing, and simply allowing Japan to be its own region with direct access to headquarters resources and receiving higher priority for their requests can have a significant impact on your business here.
Another way to look at your investment in Japan is that of talent. Japan is one of the most advanced markets in the world in many areas including education, and with the standardization of marketing tools such as customer relationship management, marketing automation, and business intelligence, you should consider the potential of your Japanese marketing staff to be regional leaders and replicate their success to other regions of the world. The hard-working ethic and detail-oriented nature of Japanese professionals can benefit your company both inside and outside Japan.
Just as Bigbeat is a marketing partner for B2B marketers in Japan helping them achieve greater ROI and becoming a leader in helping to educate and inspire B2B marketers locally, your headquarters should look upon your Japanese marketing team as the same: They are your partners there to ensure your success, but the reality is how you go about doing that in Japan will probably be different than other major markets. If you want to treat Japan as a higher priority, start with prioritizing your communications with your Japanese team and always be asking them and be open to implementing their ideas as to how they can help you achieve your global marketing goals. A little internal restructuring in how you manage your Japan marketing can help your company go a long way here!
Bigbeat is proud of our unique experience and reputation in Japan as a B2B marketing agency. If we can offer any assistance to help your local marketing organization here, we are on standby ready to help!