Navigating The Undercurrent Of Search Marketing In Japan – Part 2

1 comment

Part 1 of this post appeared here.

Bridging the Cultures – Boasting Doesn’t Work

“Best prices.”  “Largest selection.”  “Nobody beats us.”

In the United States, we’re expected to make bold statements about ourselves and our products and services.  It’s common for our advertising messages to be strong, even boastful.    Hey, if we don’t say how great we are, then who will?  Right?  Wrong – at least in Japan.

In Japan, the focus should always lead to the value that organization places on the customer and the value of the product or service.  Think old-school, customer-centric service we used to have in the United States.  Additionally, being self-aggrandizing is a social faux pas in Japan.  Instead you have to prove your value by description, knowledge, experience, and being helpful and caring toward customers.  Likewise, being negative, or the perception that you’re trashing competitors, won’t win you any fans.

For example, in a landing page, you may find that the dominant message would read something like this:

For a Hair Salon & Spa:

“We are close to train and bus stations.  Each day can bring job stress, and rest and relaxation is important.  Feel better in our soothing atmosphere and with our staff that can counsel you on the best hair style for you.”

For a Wine Bar & Bistro:

“It’s common to hear the word ‘pairing’ when discussing food and wine.  It can be a worry for some people.  Don’t worry.  We have a staff that will be here for you to make recommendations based on the food specials we have on a given day.”

Be Flexible with Best Practices

If you’re a search engine marketer targeting audiences in the States, you’ve likely studied and tested numerous strategies for page design, ad copy, ad network placement and effective calls-to-action.

If you want to be successful in Japan, be prepared to tweak or throw out dogmatic strategies.  Those best practices you’ve honed have a likelihood of falling flat.

For starters, colors in general aren’t impregnated with bias in Japan like they are here.  For example, pink isn’t a “female” color – it’s popular with both men and women.  When colors do have meaning they don’t necessarily correlate to our own – to symbolize love you might use orange instead of red.

Even background colors that we’ve determined are pleasing to the US consumer’s eye won’t work well in Japan.  They may be seen as lifeless and dead.  Be open to color palates that you would never consider here in the States. A light grey background may not go over very well, but aqua blue or black may get the job done.

As for page layout, the Japanese craving for loads of data and information means that landing pages can and should be busier and fuller than you would use in the United States.  They don’t share our need for white space.  But there still needs to be a clear, strong call-to-action.

An Evolving Search Industry – Modeled After Our Best Practices, But Made Their Own

Japan businesses have made an art of taking an American practice and making it better – cars, cameras, other consumer technologies.

The search industry is the same.  The search landscape in Japan is behind the United States.  The average small business owner isn’t doing search engine marketing at all – and there’s not a lot of in-country infrastructure to support local search, like agencies or experts who specialize in SEM.  Consumers are still used to finding local products or services through flyers or other print-based advertising.

That said, Japanese search marketing companies are watching US and UK best practices and beginning to create their own viable strategy.  They’re looking for ways to perfect it and to make it their own.  They are actively partnering with US companies to make their service offering more robust.

If you’re targeting consumers in Japan, just remember that search advertising – just like anything else – doesn’t translate word-for-word.  You can’t just take an ad or a landing page, put it in Japanese and think you’ll be successful.  Be aware of the undercurrent of cultural elements that drive Japanese consumers, and create campaigns that show true cultural understanding.

About the Author

Brendon David is a Senior Manager at the Los Angeles-based SEM software and online advertising company WebVisible. He has extensive experience working in Japan and with Japanese clients, and helps head search marketing initiatives in Japan for WebVisible.

Add Your Comments

  • (will not be published)

One Comment

  1. Debra

    In terms of PPC advertising superlatives won't fly in the U.S. either, since they are not tolerated by search engines in paid ads.