by Michael O'Neill
July 31st, 2013

Japan can be a difficult nut for global companies to crack. It has a unique culture, a homogeneous society and a world outlook that evolved from a long history as an island nation, separated from the rest of the world. So for global companies, communication here is often complex with deep levels of engagement difficult to achieve.

However, there are some very simple guidelines that you can follow to forge better connections with Japanese stakeholders and consumers, that will help build trust in your brand and inspire engagement with Japanese people.

Demonstrate commitment

There is generally a greater aversion to risk here than in most Western countries. People work hard to avoid uncertainty in their lives, and there is a natural tendency among business people and consumers to prioritise risk mitigation ahead of potential future rewards.

Some of the most important messages you can send are statements that underline your commitment to Japan, its people and its economy. People from all levels of society are more likely to engage with you once they believe you are here for the long term, and after they are sure your relationship with Japan will be harmonious and equitable.

Japanese media in particular are interested in evidence of your long term plans here, and the progress you have made. In media engagements, consider highlighting any new partnerships you have formed with reputable, well-known Japanese companies. Highlight investments you have made in the local economy or the number of jobs you have created by opening a permanent local office, for example.

Back up your claims

Similarly, it’s important to recognise the type of information that Japanese audiences generally prefer to receive, and to be aware of what they are accustomed to receiving from Japanese companies.

Japanese people are generally quite detail oriented, preferring content supported by data and analysis. It is common for the corporate and product communications of Japanese companies to contain significantly more detail than is typical in Western countries. In addition, remember that Japan has now experienced two consecutive decades of economic plateauing, so it is natural that some scepticism permeates daily life.

Both of these factors mean people here aren’t easily convinced by big, bold claims without substance backing them up. So where possible, it is important to provide proof that supports any claims you make about quality, authenticity, safety or popularity. The type of information you distribute in Japan will be central to building understanding of and confidence in your company and its products.

Change the record

Unsurprisingly, Japanese people feel refreshed by messages of positivity and hope that counterbalance two decades of lacklustre economic performance – a theme that is often the main focus of international media. For foreign companies in Japan, this presents an opportunity to attract, energise and engage Japanese people simply by being a source of outside optimism about Japan, and a refreshing voice.

If you are genuinely committed to a long-term partnership with Japan, it’s important to recognise and embrace the role you can play in helping it progress. As its partner, you can help define and shape a brighter future in Japan, and this begins with the way you communicate here about your company.

Ensure you highlight your big-picture vision, and also that your tone is positive. As much as possible, be upbeat about Japan’s future and invite Japanese people (avoid thinking of them simply in terms of numbers or as a ‘market’) to engage with you, to share your vision of the future and to join you in your movement towards a new and positive era.

Hitoshi Shioya is executive vice-president, Japan at Weber Shandwick

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