You used Localization: it’s super effective!
Considering that English has become the world’s lingua franca for basic communication across cultures and countries, it should come as no surprise to know that the business world is no different. In addition, seeing as language can color the way that we think and act
, it should also come as no surprise that, to a certain extent, the ways in which individuals approach business in the English dominated business world are not immensely varied.
But there’s always that one exception, isn’t there?
Welcome to Japan.
Photo credit: Colin Snow
Japan is a country recognized for its rich in culture and history, but is also well known for its modern influences on pop-culture through things like Pokemon and Playstation, or for its influences on technology; something readily apparent in the fact that all of the top digital camera companies are Japanese.
But while the rest of the world readily accepts and consumes Japanese products and services, it’s not always the case the other way around.
This is where localization comes in.
You would be forgiven for thinking that localization is just some translation and brushing up the imagery. After all, localization can be relatively simple in some places. Unfortunately, it’s going to take a bit more if you’re looking to expand your business and penetrate the Japanese market.
So why is localization so important in Japan and how should you tackle it?
1. Cultural Mindset
Japan,” as they say.
If you want to get your business up and running in Japan, you’re going to need to think like someone from Japan would.
If you’re really into it, you could study up on Shintoism, but it’s not necessary to do so to understand how it will affect your approach. The point is, in Japan there is proper respect given to all things in order to not disrupt the harmony of the worl
d. This school of thought bleeds into most aspects of life in Japan, including business.
What does this mean for you and your company?
Well, for example, if you’re a packaging company, it could mean taking proper care of packages and ensuring they don’t get damaged in delivery. If you’re a software company, it could mean making sure that your product is reliable, or that you have a Japanese branch with Japanese speakers available to help with any issues that may arise. These ideals of Shintoism, while not necessarily "practiced" like you might practice Christianity, have been ingrained in Japanese culture and society for thousands of years, and therefore is not easily ignored.
If these kinds of things are not taken seriously, you will be creating another barrier between your company and something that is essential for expanding in Japan.
Unfortunately, trust building in Japan is a bit more difficult than doing an ice breaker and calling it good.
In general, you will find that it is much harder to gain the trust of the general Japanese public than in other places. In fact, the only country that has a lower overall trust rating globally is Russia
, particularly when it comes to institutions.
This means that unfortunately, you can’t rely solely on a good product and marketing campaign. You could have a good reputation overseas and the best product in the world, good enough even to get the average Japanese consumer to buy it at least once, but unless you are a trusted company, the consumer is highly unlikely to continue buying your product.
So what to do, what to do. First of all, it will be beneficial to have information about your company and brand displayed in places that Japanese people find to be trusted sources of information. This means that you probably shouldn't underestimate the power of the [online] newspaper. Sounds odd, I know.
Though newspapers are quickly losing support around the world in favor of other forms of online media, in Japan the newspaper (online included) is still a trusted common source of information. In fact, while the number one most trusted source of information in Japan is NHK (the Japan Broadcasting Corporation), newspapers are the second most trusted source
. In addition, considering that NHK maintains neutral reporting as a broadcast system, and therefore brand-name mentions are basically non-existent, as far as you and your business is concerned, newspapers are number one.
You should also keep demographics in mind. Most of those that trust NHK over newspapers are in the upper age brackets, often uneducated, and live in rural areas. This is in contrast to the demographic which places more trust in newspapers and other forms of media; educated individuals in their 30s and 40s, living in urban areas.
This means that while you’re building your brand, you can start to build and keep trust within your target market by choosing to advertise in trusted newspapers, particularly online newspapers.
You could also try to go for pure volume by advertising on the website with the highest traffic for news and media
in Japan, Yahoo.
You read that right. Yahoo, not Google, is number one in Japan as far as news and media traffic is concerned, and only barely number two in overall ratings. Though in many other countries, Yahoo is used primarily by individuals in the upper age brackets, in Japan it's used by everyone, including businesspeople in their 30s and 40s who likely fit much more snuggly around your target demographic.
The third and final point to touch on is simple, but important nonetheless.
Merely translating a web page won’t be enough to justify calling something “localized,” obviously, but that doesn’t mean that the translation isn’t important. As touched on at the beginning of the article, language plays a part in the way that we think, and the language that we use is of course born from the culture that we were born into
. Therefore, it’s easy to see how language could be particularly important in a country with such a rich culture.
In Japanese, in addition to regular casual speech, there are multiple forms/levels of polite speech, with varying levels of directness, nuance, humility, and so forth. This means that you will have to be extremely careful when picking your translation services. One way to verify the ability of any given translation service is to check their portfolio, and what other companies they have worked with in the past. If they have a good track record, filled with other companies that are trusted in Japan, that’s one point for that translation service.
Another way to check if the service you’re interested in will do the job the right way is to check how well they actually know Japan and its culture. They need to be able to understand nuance, and also have the ability to glean the true meaning of a word or sentence, as opposed to trying to translate that word or sentence directly. After all, you probably want to avoid things like “crunchwrap supreme” being translated as “supreme court beef.”
In addition to being careful about which service you choose in the first place, you can further ensure that everything is translated properly by working closely with the translation service, and going over anything that you think might cause trouble, nuance wise.
In the end, "localization," even in Japan, isn't some big bad boogieman, and it can obviously be implemented properly, as can be seen from the various international companies doing business in Japan. You just need to remember that things might be a bit more complicated than usual and act accordingly. if you focus on a cultural mindset, building trust, and remembering just how much language barriers will play a part in your push into the Japanese market, localization can be an important, yet simple beast to conquer.