Japan Market Entry: If You’re a Startup, Read This

I have met a lot of startups who have the admirable ambition to enter the 3rd largest economy in the world, Japan. Japan’s innovation hub, business friendly infrastructure, economic re-emergence, and high living standards are just some of the well-documented reasons why it is an attractive country for foreign direct investment.  But all of these reasons are futile without a tailored-made market entry strategy that understand and/or appreciate the idiosyncrasies of Japan.

In an effort to save lost time and avoid losing a lot of money,  you can read my 7 keys for launching a new product or service here.  But, in addition to that, assuming you do NOT have a presence in Japan, below are 5 fundamental keys that I strongly recommend you to consider if you want to bring your company to the land of the rising sun.

Service and Support: Regardless of what you are selling, be sure you put enough energy in your customer service and support. In many cases, customers base their buying decision on the reliability (i.e., service and support) of the company.  They need to have reassurance that if something goes wrong that they can pick up the phone and receive high quality support.  Indisputably, corners cannot be cut here to be successful in Japan.

Product Marketing: As with any  country, how you market you product  to customers will  determine your success. Messaging  has to resonate with customers and  also connect with the  brand you are trying to convey.  This is  why I believe it is critical to have product marketing experts who are native Japanese speakers who can correctly tweak and tailor messaging for the local market effectively.   Relying on messaging that was created in the home country and then using Google translation will not work.

Route to Market Strategy:  If you plan to use a local partner to bring your product or service to market, spend ample time finding the right partner(s).  They will be an extension of you and your company’s brand so it is very important to meet them and discuss and define what is success in the first 6 months.

Hiring:   As with any business, hiring the right talent is fundamental to keeping an organization moving in the right direction.  And, naturally, Japan is no exception.  Be sure the local people you hire fully share your vision, values, and expectations.

Exit Strategy:  I have always believed that in business it is alwaysabest to plan for a worst case scenario and in parallel prepare for the best case scenario.  Having an exit strategy is a prudent exercise to clarify as an organization what is important and what is success for this unique market.  As communicated previouslu, be sure that this is well understood by your partners as well.

It is my humble opinion that If your strategy takes these 5 factors into account then you will have a much better chance of successfully bringing your business to Japan.


Michael Campbell is founder and managing partner of FullEffect International.  His company specializes in helping small to medium sized companies go big in their marketing with an effect-driven approach.  If you have any plans to launch your business in Japan or overseas, contact his company at info@fulleffectinsiliconvalley.com


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