One characteristic of many great companies is always being on the lookout for new opportunities to increase their success. In today's global business world, expanding across borders into other countries and cultures is often the next big step.
When thinking about expanding your business into a new country, research to help you make the right choices to fit with its culture is key. With the Internet playing such a huge role in how people search for and buy what they need, a strong and effective digital presence is extremely important. It can even make or break your business.
What's the competition doing?
One of the first and most basic steps is to check out successful companies with similar products and services in the overseas market you have your eye on to see how they run their online and offline marketing campaigns. This simple step can often reveal a great deal about how they engage and generate user engagement. Even if you don't understand the language, you can get a feeling of how they use text, colors, and images to design content that presents the information potential customers want and need to close the deal.
In this article, we will look at some cultural and other factors that affect the design of marketing content in Japan and how SIJIHIVE can help you create the best flyers, ad creatives, and websites, among other marketing tools for maximum success.
Japanese design: simple and elegant... sometimes
Japan is famous around the world for simplicity and elegance in the design of its buildings, food, and art.
Even after 13 years in Japan, my breath still catches when I see a traditional ukiyo-e woodblock print with a minimalist landscape. Or I pause for a moment when I enter an empty tatami mat room with sunlight streaming across the floor to soak in its natural elegance.
And then I visit my Japanese bank's website... Or receive an email from my credit card company... Or read an advertising poster on the train...and I catch my breath again…
Why is it so cluttered?
Perhaps the best way to start is to give an example of what I mean. Below is a screenshot of the current Japanese Yahoo home page:
I don't know about you, but I almost can't look at this website. It's so busy and full of text that I don't know what to look at first. The red colors hurt my eyes and distract me. Why is there so much wasted white space on the sides? Trying to find the link that leads to the information I want seems overwhelming, and to be honest, I'm ready to give up.
Now, take a look at the screenshot below of the US Yahoo home page:
To my American sensibilities, this design is cool and calming. It doesn't hurt my eyes. I can quickly see my choices. And I know that if I want more, I can easily scroll down on the website to see more choices and information.
However, the key phrase is “to my American sensibilities...”
Not better or worse - just different
Like many other foreigners in Japan, when encountering this type of situation, I often throw my hands in the air and proclaim, “Who designed this? It looks like it was made in the 1990s!”
However, there are reasons why these things look this way. Design does not happen in a cultural vacuum. It isn't necessarily better or worse, bad or good. It's just different.
The Golden Rule
Perhaps the first thing to understand in regards to the differences in the above designs is one key demographic fact:
The Japanese population is old.
In fact, Japan has the oldest population in the world, with more than 28% being 65 years old or more, followed by Italy (22.8%), Finland (21.9%), and Portugal (21.8%).
Another key point to remember about Japan is that due to a low birth rate and high life expectancy, the population is quickly getting older. The Japanese Health and Welfare Ministry has estimated that over-65s will account for 40% of the population by 2060.
Why is this important?
One version of the Golden Rule is “ Treat others as you want others to treat you.”
Another version is “Whoever holds all the gold makes the rules.”
Due to the development and flow of Japan's economic situation, both now and in the past, the older population has all the gold in Japan. They are the largest consumer spending segment. They are also the ones holding the reins of power in politics, industry, government, and even in households when it comes to spending and decisions.
PC vs smartphone
The older generation also happens to be the group holding the computer mouse in their hands.
While smartphones are, like elsewhere in the world, prevalent in Japan, surfing the web to shop on a regular desktop computer is still the dominant method. In fact, many Japanese websites are not optimized for mobile surfing, making it extremely difficult to find and read the information when one tries to do so on a smartphone.
Pro tip: Many Japanese surfers never scroll down from the initial screen. That's why you should make sure your most important information is above the fold content when the website opens and is optimized for a PC web browser.
Old vs new
While Japan is a modern country known for technology and innovation, it is also an extremely traditional country that is slow to change. Some things that the rest of the world has left behind are still in regular use in Japan. For example, fax machines are still common because many official documents require a hanko, a stamp from a hand-carved seal. The majority of homes, in fact, have a fax machine that is used regularly used. One company that tried to do away with the fax machine? Their customers fought back until it was reinstated.
All of that said, of course, change is happening in the Japanese business world. It has to change in order to remain competitive with the rest of the world. However, in general, those at the top, the ones with the gold, prefer to keep things just the way they are.
Successful businesses in Japan understand this and are very careful to woo the members of this more senior demographic.
Remember the Yahoo Japan screenshot above? It doesn't look much different from the 1990s version.
More information, please!
Another interesting difference is how Japanese consumers make decisions when shopping for products or services.
In many non-Japanese markets, marketing materials are designed to inspire visitors to action. What's also considered a key message to convey in these materials is how the product or service will benefit consumers or make their lives easier. The content is designed to create positive feelings and emotions. Engaging with the consumer and creating a relationship is paramount. The philosophy is that the details can come later.
While these things can influence Japanese consumers, information is often of more importance.
Information for the Japanese consumer means numbers, size, specifications, performance information, technical details, and data among others.
Japanese consumers want to quickly see all of this, which means designers need to pack a great deal of information into small spaces. Designers also use contrasting colors, animations, and cute graphics to indicate which piece of information is more important than another or of a higher priority.
In fact, marketing content that does not provide such detailed information upfront may actually be viewed as suspicious.
Japanese consumers are not looking for inspiration; they are looking for information. This is why at grocery stores it is not at all unusual to see people standing or kneeling in the aisle carefully reading the label. They want to know as much information as possible before committing to a purchase or making a decision about a service provider.
An excellent analogy for this, that I have come to appreciate, can be found at the entrances of many Japanese restaurants. Large display cases present extremely lifelike, plastic models of dishes, desserts, and drinks. Potential customers can quickly scan the display and see their choices before making a decision to even enter the restaurant as well as what they might like to order. It's also the reason most menus here include pictures of the food. The Japanese consumer wants to know what they are getting into, whether it's food, technology, or a bicycle.
SIJIHIVE: Your localization partner
At SIJIHIVE, we understand the importance of reaching an audience with the right localized marketing message from design to content to images. Our experienced and professional team offers multilingual services that provide you with high-quality writing, localization, and translation in Japanese, Chinese, and English, as well as other languages.
Please feel free to contact us today to discuss how we can work together to make yet another success story!
Originally from Ohio, USA, Bailey is an experienced freelance writer and editor, especially for technical and scientific content. With an MA in English and a background in science, he also has more than 20 years of experience in teaching English around the world.