For many Western companies, building relationships and exporting goods and services to China has long been the goal. However, at present, the political uncertainty and manoeuvring that is taking place will likely continue until at least after the US elections in November and this process has become increasingly challenging for some companies. Of course, China has and will continue to be a major focus in terms of long term investment, but in the here and now we are also seeing a re-emergence of Japan as a growth export market for both the EU and the UK.
Just last year the EU-Japan Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) was kick started, in a move that covers over a third of world trade globally. The deal lowers barriers to trade between the first and fourth largest global markets respectively, and in terms of bilateral trade deals is the biggest ever closed by the EU relating to market size. There has never been a larger free trade zone, and the subsequent reduction in tariffs could see volume increases at close to €36bn as a result of quicker and more simplified trade between the two markets, especially in areas such as agricultural products, automotive, pharmaceutical and high technology.
Also, in the UK, a post-Brexit trade deal is in the advanced stages, with a major post-Brexit trade deal signed on 11th September, to be ratified by Japan’s parliament by January 2021. This deal has the potential to increase the UKs trade with Japan by up to £15bn per annum. E-commerce, services, luxury goods and automotive are amongst the industries under discussion, and the UK is keen to sign an agreement by the end of the year as opposed to defaulting to WTO rules.
Western companies keen to do more business in Japan would do well to assess their communications approach well in advance. There are of course cultural differences that impact the way in which marketing and PR campaigns are carried out, for example, and the correct approach will ensure that a position can be achieved where a business can benefit from the potential of this stable, friendly and burgeoning market.
Atsuko Watanabe, Dragonbridge Communication’s Head of Business in Japan, comments: “Building interpersonal relationships with potential clients is a must in order to gain a level of trust. Relationships and trust are the most important things in Japanese culture, and quality outweighs efficiency in terms of importance. Secondly, understanding the Japanese consumer and how they behave is also important, because they are unique and the western norm may not resonate where marketing is concerned. Lastly, be aware of the hierarchical nature of Japanese companies. It may well be an entirely new approach to dealing with management teams, for example, as companies in Japan are generally risk averse and require time to make decisions.”
What many Western companies may require in order to help navigate this potential market is an international communications and marketing partner with a working knowledge and understanding of this unique landscape. Global identities can be effectively tailored and communicated to individual markets, such as Japan, but it also takes a team ‘on the ground’ to facilitate the best possible approach in order to achieve tangible traction, to build relationships and ultimately to grow ahead of the competition.
Let’s take virtual events as an example. A virtual exhibition booth can be dressed with branding, graphics, messaging, video content and imagery in any which way a company chooses. However, will it land effectively if the Western style is not adapted to suit the more minimalistic style that is often prevalent in Japan in the corporate and B2B sectors? Does your marketing team have the awareness to know that this is the case, or have the design team locally to execute the booth effectively? Can the senior team engage with and understand the cultural nuances that are so important to grasp when dealing with the Japanese C-suite? Well, perhaps. And if so then you are ahead of the curve.
What most will require is akin to the Japanese art of Kintsugi, where broken pottery pieces are placed back together using liquid gold. The idea is to embrace the flaws and imperfections to create a stronger, more beautiful and unique piece of art - and this is what a partner such as Dragonbridge is able to achieve with a company’s individual PR, branding and marketing approach. We will deconstruct the elements, add local knowledge and experience across a campaign, and place the pieces carefully back together in a way that is tailor-made to suit the target market in question.
It is important to be open minded where entering or growing a new market is concerned, as with countries like Japan a textbook western approach is unlikely to be a good fit. Having ‘boots on the ground’ will pay dividends even in the short term, and should continue to have far reaching benefits once a company is better established and growing.