Early December 2018, btrax hosted an event called Mission: Japan Expansion which featured a mix of presentations from members of the btrax marketing and design teams who are highly experienced in working with multinational corporations, helping them to expand their businesses in Japan and the U.S. This article features Mimi Yu, UX Designer and Jensen Barnes, Director of Design and Development, and their unique insights and strategies from their experiences working in the US and Japan.
Earlier this year, Mimi traveled to Japan from the US for the first time. Using her insights from observing the design and business culture, Mimi illustrates the UX differences she saw in day-to-day experiences.
Jensen has worked in design with well-known businesses for the last 15+ years — 7 of which while being based in Tokyo. Here he shares brand strategies applicable to companies both big and small, leading up to the Tokyo Olympics in 2020.
“UX Differences: East Meets West — Designing Across Cultures”
With experiences working both in the U.S. and in Japan, Mimi highlighted 4 areas she found differed the most in UX design from the U.S. and Japan:
1. “Rules are everywhere”
…And she means EVERYWHERE in Japan. During her business trip to the country of the rising sun, she found signs galore; some illustrating regulations like a rule that riders cannot put makeup on in the train and others showing her instructions such as how to properly sit on the loo. From her observations, she noted that Japanese people are more comfortable with busy and informative designs which affect the user flow in production and the expectations of Japanese and U.S. users.
Example of a sign found in Japan.
2. “TMI (or too much information) means different things”
Images from slide 25 of “UX Differences: East Meets West — Designing Across Cultures” presentation; comparing the use of text on Tabio’s U.S. website vs. Japan website.
Mimi compared the U.S. and Japanese websites for Tabio, a leading Japanese sock company, to illustrate the difference in information shared on each page. Text is the main focus with images to support the copy on the Japanese website because the text changes the value of the product and provides the guidance appreciated by the Japanese customers. On the U.S. website, images are the primary show to focus on the design of the product.
3. “We see color differently”
Mimi realized when helping a client launch their mobile app from Japan to the U.S. that the color red was interpreted differently. In the U.S., red is associated with an error, warning, and danger while in Japan it is believed to bring good luck. Her client used red accents for an app that encouraged tranquility which Mimi knew needed to be changed. The realization of the importance and different perspectives of colors became more and more evident as the two came to a final compromise.
Long pauses, good confrontation, and hierarchy are very common features of Japanese business culture and Mimi explains each of them:
- Long pauses: During meetings in Japan, Mimi noticed that colleagues would take a pause, whether it was to think or to listen to one another. Though meetings were longer, words and ideas were more meaningful because they were well thought out. In comparing meetings in the U.S., colleagues were quick to come up with answers and move swiftly.
Images from slide 25 of “UX Differences: East Meets West — Designing Across Cultures” presentation; clients brainstorming before and after taking a pause to think and take a breath.
- Good confrontation: Constructive confrontation is imperative to stimulate a selection, to challenge the purpose of the features, and to make mistakes that create a better product.
- Hierarchy: It is always a factor to consider in projects. In some situations, it can cause delays and sudden changes because the head of the group will make all the decisions. To avoid this, Mimi and her team built trust early with their client through their account manager, a strong design leadership, and in-person workshops because a crucial part of UX is collaborating and recognizing who make decisions.
As a final note, Mimi reminds us that whether in Japan or the U.S., the relationships built are the most important. So, engage with one another, be humble, consider other perspectives, and express gratitude. Remember to pause, take a step back, and listen. It’s the little things that make all the difference.
“Brand Opportunities for Japan Market Entry — Leading to the Tokyo Olympics 2020”
“Newness” is something Jensen is familiar with. He has worked with some of the most well-known brands in Japan and US and has found that each has had similar problems—they all wanted to do NEW things to expand. With that, here’s a summary of 5 relatively unknown brand strategies developed the past 7 years:
Strategy #1 – Brand Positioning: “Develop a ‘magic sauce’ of success”
The main ingredients of the magic sauce consist of:
- Powerful message: start a rumor and get people to talk about the benefits of the company’s brand value.
- Understand the past to develop new creative which captures attention.
- Develop relationships with HQ design team to adapt creative to local values.
Other ingredients to spice it up:
- Start a rumor, myth which benefits the brand value and let hype grow.
- Take campaign to the streets → drive to digital.
- Hack a situation, tune into Japanese lifestyle.
Strategy #2 – Target Group: “Establish a target by ‘state of mind’”
The Japanese culture is a social collective culture, so instead of targeting a socio-demographic, target a “state of mind”/mindset/lifestyle. Create a space where individuals with similar common issues or interests can connect and come together while also stimulating a mental or physical experience.
Strategy #3 – Marketing Philosophy: “Spend the marketing budget in events and activities (physical activities) which drive to digital (virtual experience)”
Why? In Japan, big competitors show off wherever they can, use celebs driven by an intrusive “religion of pushing.” Don’t follow them. “Do” rather than “talk” Instead of blanketing Tokyo with advertising talk only to the right people, at the right time, at the right place. Be a part of the life “on the block,” instead of advertising “lifestyle” to genuinely connect with your target market. Authenticity and credibility are the keys to gain friends in Japan.
Strategy #4 – Brand Value: “Leverage what makes you unique, but don’t take yourself too seriously”
In other words, don’t be afraid to express the unique qualities of your business in ways which show personality. Have FUN by creating opportunities for emotional experiences — digital or real, that immerses a local community. Strong emotional experiences lead to significant memories.
Strategy #5 – Management Mindset & ROI: “Love what is small as much as you love what is big”
If you want to do something new you need to start with a different mindset. If you compare something small to something big, the gap between the two is great. And yet, that is exactly how Jensen has seen innovations compared to the core of big companies.
“Innovation is often currently assessed with the same rules as the core business as they are reliable and they know that they work. Therefore the key in doing something new (what the CEO actually wants) requires a different, entrepreneurship approach to management. As companies grow, the goal is to transform the risk of change into an asset. Thus, it imperative to value the small wins, problems, and goals as much as the big ones.”
Jensen encourages the audience to take advantage of this knowledge to create small micro-events because they can make a big impact on influencing potential customers’ mindsets as well as increasing a company’s brand awareness. With new sports such as skating, surfing, climbing and more in the upcoming 2020 Tokyo Olympics, there is a lot of opportunities to try these strategies!
Expanding to the Japanese market is not as daunting as it seems now, is it? So, what are you waiting for?
If you are interested in expanding your business to Japan but aren’t sure how or if it’s the right market for you, feel free to contact us here at btrax. We are experienced experts in helping multinational companies expand their businesses and provide Japanese entry services among others. Check out some of companies we’ve worked with the in the past! We hope to hear from you soon!
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