What Sells in Japan: A Quick Course
by Laurel J. Delaney
In celebration of a 20-year anniversary to writing my first exporting book, “Start & Run a Profitable Exporting Business,” I’ll be sharing excerpts from that book here over the coming months. This post provides eight common denominators of successful products imported into Japan. Read on …
Sheer determination and superhuman patience will get you to the Japanese border, but it will take a unique product and smart marketing to get you in. Japanese consumers are always ready to sample imported goods, but my experience has shown that there are eight common denominators of successful products:
1. Knock-out” products. Japanese consumers like novelty, and they love to feel that they are buying into a trendy, cutting-edge lifestyle. If you have a novelty product, find an appropriate market niche in Japan and sell away. Knock-out products find their own path. Modify your product if need be. It can mean the difference between a sale, no sale, or astronomical sales. Also, status always sells. For example, you can give an ordinary good-quality cookie a beautiful new package under a recognizable brand name, and customers will buy on the basis of the presentation alone!
2. Real value. Japanese consumers prefer quality over all else, but still appreciate real value. Companies that push product boundaries will benefit from putting innovative new products on the marketplace (the recent development and promotion of “dry beer” is a prime example). These innovations extend product life cycle, expand the marketplace and open consumers’ imaginations.
3. Concrete and specific satisfaction. Japanese consumers, like consumers everywhere, like companies to satisfy needs they didn’t even know they had. They tend to remain loyal to companies that create that sort of pleasurable consumer experience.
4. Creative selling. Captivate the imagination of Japanese consumers, and you will win them over. Educate consumers about your product in a striking and innovative way. Eventually, the product will sell itself just because consumers keep talking about it!
5. Outstanding distribution. Know how to get your product from wholesaler A to retailer B and into customer C’s hands without layers of middlemen, out-of-control pricing markups, and massive confusion. Even a smashing product won’t sell if customers can’t find it or afford it.
6. Intense product support. Take a cue from Shiseido, Japan’s leading cosmetics company — commit to your customers over a lifetime. Japanese consumers won’t buy your products if they feel after-sales service is inferior to comparable goods produced locally, so develop a pre-sale, during-sale and after-sales service program from the outset. Provide samples and premiums. Consider using creative, high-quality print media, including newsletters and mini-magazines as well as standard advertising, to offer your Japanese consumers up-to-date information on your products and other matters of interest.
7. Sensitivity to changing consumer tastes. Japanese consumers change moods and ideas fairly often. This usually happens quietly but suddenly. This means that you, the exporter, have your work cut out for you to understand product acceptance cycles in mainstream Japan.
8. Being No. 1 in anything. The Japanese are a very traditional people. They are not rugged individualists, quirky nonconformists, or people who root for the underdog. They are reassured by the sense of “authorization” they get from associating themselves with a “No. 1” brand. If you are the first to come to market with a product that is the best in its category and has been around for decades, you will have a big advantage in Japan.
©1998 and 2018 Laurel J. Delaney. All rights reserved.
For a look at Laurel’s most recent exporting book, visit here.