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Ultimate Guide to B2B Marketing in Japan

In the ever-evolving world of business, the quest for new markets and opportunities knows no bounds. For foreigners looking to venture into B2B marketing in Japan, or even established companies seeking to expand their reach, understanding the details of B2B marketing in this unique market is crucial. This guide is here to support newcomers and those struggling to enter into B2B marketing in Japan with both marketing and localization to back up that marketing.

What is a B2B Business?

Before delving into the specifics of B2B marketing in Japan, let’s clarify what a B2B (business-to-business) business is. B2B companies primarily sell their products or services to other businesses, as opposed to direct consumer sales. This type of commerce forms the backbone of many industries and economies worldwide while often being unseen to the regular consumer.

Top 3 Benefits of Opening a B2B Business in Japan

Opening a B2B business in Japan may be a hard decision to make but with the benefits listed below, it might just be worth the risk:

1. Loyalty and Consistency: As mentioned, the Japanese B2B market excels in fostering loyalty. Building strong relationships with Japanese partners and clients is not just an option; it’s a business necessity. Japanese businesses prioritize trust and reliability, which translates into long-term partnerships. This loyalty ensures consistent sales and reduces market risk, providing a stable foundation for business growth.

2. High Market Potential: Japan boasts one of the world’s largest and most developed economies. The demand for quality products and services remains consistently high across various industries. Venturing into the Japanese B2B market opens doors to a vast pool of potential clients and partners, offering immense market potential for growth.

3. Global Expansion Hub: Japan serves as a strategic gateway to the broader Asian market. With its well-established trade relationships and geographic proximity to other major Asian economies, establishing a B2B business in Japan can facilitate expansion into neighboring markets like China and South Korea. This positioning offers a unique advantage for businesses with regional growth ambitions.

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B2B Marketing in Japan

B2B marketing in Japan is highly nuanced. Market research is the first step and this gathers insightful information about target markets, consumer habits, and market trends. This data-driven analysis aids in creating marketing plans and campaigns that successfully target and engage the target market. Andrew Edsall, the CEO and head researcher for Great Wave Consulting, discusses Conducting Market Research in Japan in this podcast episode.

To begin this journey, we look at why we need marketing in this space in the first place. With no consumers in the mix, why do B2B businesses need to put themselves out there instead of doing direct sales? 

B2B Businesses in Japan are heavily reliant on sales partners

B2B businesses in Japan are distinctively reliant on sales partners. Even companies like Zoom, which obtain 90% of their sales directly in the US, find that in Japan, direct sales account for only 40%, with the remaining 60% coming through sales partners. 

To simply differentiate the two, direct sales involves selling directly to the customer. Meanwhile, selling through a sales partner involves collaborating with third-party partners, such as distributors, resellers, or independent sales agents, to sell your products or services to customers. However, some exceptional cases, such as Cybozu, do exist. 

Cybozu, which had a 6.23 billion USD annual revenue this past year, is one of many B2B businesses that has managed to reduce their dependence on sales partners. They do this through the use of case studies, weekly seminars for new potential clients to explain things easily, and 60-second explainer videos. They also provide specific use case guides for companies of all types.

With less reliance on partners and more effective B2B marketing strategies, they have vastly expanded their operations and broadened their success. In any case, it’s clear that B2B businesses require sales partners and that marketing is one of the best ways to do that. In this section, we will outline the different methods of B2B marketing in Japan.

B2B Digital Marketing Methods in Japan

digital B2B marketing in Japan

The consumer space and marketing isn’t the only thing that has adapted to the new digital age. Japanese B2B digital marketing has become a wide and multifaceted aspect of the B2B marketing toolkit. It employs a wide range of methods that may differ from Western approaches such as the following:

1. Webinars: In B2B marketing in Japan, webinars are a powerful tool for engaging potential clients. They go beyond traditional presentations, allowing for real-time interaction, Q&A sessions, and valuable networking opportunities. Webinars facilitate direct communication, helping businesses build trust and credibility with their target audience.

2. Email Marketing: Personalized and targeted email campaigns are a cornerstone of B2B marketing in Japan. These campaigns are meticulously crafted to resonate with the recipient’s needs and preferences. In a culture that values personalized communication, email marketing enables businesses to establish and nurture relationships with potential clients over time.

3. Digital Sales Pamphlets: These digital assets are tailor-made to address specific pain points of potential clients. Unlike generic brochures, digital sales pamphlets are highly focused and informative, offering solutions to the unique challenges faced by Japanese businesses. They play a pivotal role in the decision-making process.

4. LinkedIn Ads: LinkedIn is a preferred platform for recruitment agencies in Japan. However, it’s not limited to hiring efforts. B2B companies leverage LinkedIn ads to establish thought leadership, share valuable industry insights, and connect with key decision-makers in their niche.

5. Facebook Ads: While Facebook is often associated with B2C marketing, it is also leveraged effectively for B2B visibility in Japan. Facebook is actually one of the most used social medias for businesses in Japan so if you’re thinking of starting a business, make sure to make it official on Facebook. Companies use targeted ads to reach specific professional audiences, promote their brand, and share relevant content.

6. Search Ads (Google and Yahoo): These ads are vital for maintaining a robust online presence. Japanese consumers and businesses heavily rely on search engines like Google and Yahoo to discover products and services. Investing in search ads ensures visibility when potential clients search for relevant solutions.

7. Ebooks / White Papers: In-depth content such as ebooks and white papers showcase a business’s expertise and industry knowledge. Within B2B marketing in Japan, these materials serve as valuable resources for educating clients, addressing complex issues, and demonstrating thought leadership.

8. Case Studies: Sharing real-life success stories is a compelling way to build trust and credibility. B2B businesses in Japan use case studies to illustrate how their products or services have solved specific problems for clients, reinforcing their value proposition.

9. Press Releases: To announce significant developments, partnerships, or product launches, press releases are commonly used. Japanese businesses rely on formal announcements to convey important news, enhancing their reputation and standing in the market. Within B2B marketing in Japan, this may be only needed once your business hits it big.

10. Sponsored Articles: Effective content marketing involves publishing sponsored articles in industry-specific publications or online platforms. These articles position businesses as industry leaders and provide valuable insights that resonate with potential clients. 

The best example would be Tech in Asia, a platform that caters to tech-oriented businesses in Asia. It offers opportunities for B2B companies to share their innovations, connect with like-minded professionals, and gain exposure in the tech ecosystem.

11. SEO (Search Engine Optimization): SEO is fundamental for organic discoverability in Japan’s digital landscape. Optimizing content and website structure according to Japanese search engine algorithms ensures that businesses rank higher in search results, increasing their chances of being found by potential clients. There are a variety of SEO marketing agencies in Japan, but first, think about if it suits your business to hire one with this guide on SEO Marketing Agency in Japan

SEO Marketing Agency in Japan

Incorporating these digital marketing methods into your B2B marketing strategy in Japan will enable you to effectively engage with your target audience, build credibility, and navigate the nuances of this dynamic market. For some examples of great B2B marketing to model your business after, look to Cybozu, Partner Success, and Sairu

These businesses have a variety of resources to help make your business efficient in B2B marketing starting with in-depth case studies on a variety of target-relevant data such as customer management, ordering and billing operations, and subscription strategy. Check out their websites for simple video introductions on their goals and what they can help out with. 

B2B Non-Digital Marketing Methods in Japan

While digital marketing methods are growing in popularity, we can’t deny that Japan is still largely traditional. The following are more popular methods and mediums where B2B businesses market themselves:

1. TV Commercials: B2B companies use TV commercials to reach a wide audience in Japan. These ads air during prime time slots, conveying complex messages and building brand credibility through visual storytelling. Though expensive, this remains one of the more popular ways to successfully conduct B2B marketing in Japan.

2. Train Commercials and Billboards in Stations: Advertising on trains and in stations is highly visible to commuters, making it an effective way to reach professionals during their daily commutes.

3. Billboard Signs: Placed along major roadways and central business districts, billboards offer prime advertising for real estate, capturing the attention of both commuters and pedestrians.

Tokyo with Billboards

4. Flyers: Flyers are distributed at trade shows, seminars, and business gatherings, providing a tangible means to convey information about products, services, and events.

5. Newspaper and Magazine Advertisements: Print media, particularly industry-specific newspapers and magazines, are trusted sources of information in Japan. Advertisements in these publications target niche audiences and are good for B2B marketing in Japan if you plan to get into specific circles of people.

6. Sponsoring Events: By sponsoring events like golf tournaments, networking events, and seminars, B2B companies gain exposure, demonstrate commitment to industry engagement, and align themselves with their target audience. Event sponsorship showcases support for key business activities. Networking events are

B2B Marketing Channels Unique to Japan

B2B marketing in Japan offers channels that can be highly effective for businesses looking to connect and engage within the Japanese market. These platforms cater to the specific needs of professionals, industry experts, and potential partners, helping connect you to businesses that want you.

1. Eight: A specialized social networking platform designed for professionals and businesses. It allows users to create profiles, showcase their expertise, and connect with potential partners, clients, or collaborators. Eight facilitates networking, relationship-building, and business opportunities, making it ideal for B2B marketing efforts.

2. IPROS: A comprehensive database of industry professionals in Japan. This resource assists businesses in identifying and connecting with the right experts, suppliers, or partners within their niche. IPROS streamlines market research, collaboration opportunities, and lead generation, providing a valuable tool for B2B marketing in Japan.

3. MONOIST: A marketplace that connects companies with suppliers. This platform simplifies the process of discovering and engaging with potential partners or suppliers, making it an efficient channel for B2B buyers. MONOIST is a valuable resource for streamlining procurement processes and expanding business networks in the Japanese market.

These unique B2B marketing channels in Japan offer targeted and efficient ways to establish a presence, build partnerships, and foster collaborations within Japan’s dynamic business landscape. Leveraging these platforms can be a strategic advantage for businesses seeking success in the Japanese market.

Top 5 Differences Between Japan and the West in B2B Marketing

Strategies for B2B marketing in Japan are not one-size-fits-all, and understanding the differences between markets is crucial for success. When it comes to B2B marketing, Japan and Western countries exhibit distinct approaches and cultural nuances. 

These differences reflect variations in communication styles, decision-making processes, and cultural values. We’ll delve into the essential distinctions that businesses should consider when navigating the Japanese B2B marketing landscape compared to their Western counterparts.

1. Polite Sales Talk: Japanese culture places a strong emphasis on politeness, respect, and harmony. B2B marketing in Japan often reflects these cultural values, with messaging and communication adopting a more formal and courteous tone. In contrast, Western marketing can be more direct and assertive.

2. Long-Term Relationships: Building enduring relationships is fundamental in Japanese B2B marketing. Trust is paramount, and Japanese businesses prioritize long-term partnerships over quick transactions. Western marketing, on the other hand, may prioritize immediate results and ROI.

3. Hierarchy and Formality: Japanese businesses often have hierarchical structures, and communication tends to be formal, especially in initial interactions. Western marketing may adopt a more informal and egalitarian tone in its messaging.

4. Language and Localization: Japanese consumers and businesses highly prefer content in their native language. Localization is crucial, involving not only translation but also adapting content to align with Japanese cultural values and preferences. In the West, English is often the global business language, but in Japan, content must be in Japanese to be effective.

This also means assimilating to the three alphabets that Japan uses. Having Japanese staff to know when to use which alphabet is the way to go for this because it really does depend on context. 

There are a number of ways to go about localizing your business. It usually starts with translating your website or any product information, establishing an office in Japan, and hiring Japanese staff. To learn more about localizing your products, read this Insider Guide on Selling products in Japan.

5. Design Differences: Japanese businesses usually employ text-heavy formats, such as dense articles and detailed written explanations, to convey information comprehensively and with precision, whereas the West often leans towards more concise and visual forms of communication. 

This is because Japanese buyers tend to be concerned about the details about the product and want to get right into it. Meanwhile, western buyers want something eye-catching and not visually cluttered.

For example, look at the example below that compares the two design preferences.

key differences between Western pages and Japanese Pages

Additionally, Japan leverages illustrations and manga to convey content in a visually engaging and story-driven manner, enabling complex ideas to be communicated effectively, a method less commonly employed in Western media. Even a little comic art is popular for businesses to use.

These differences underscore the need for businesses to adapt their B2B marketing strategies when entering the Japanese market. Understanding and respecting these distinctions is essential for success in B2B marketing in Japan.

Common Mistakes Foreign Companies Make

Navigating B2B marketing in Japan successfully requires an understanding of its unique nuances. Avoiding these common mistakes is essential for establishing credibility and trust:

1. Neglecting Testimonials from Local Clients: Trust is a cornerstone of Japanese business culture. Neglecting to showcase endorsements from local clients can undermine credibility. Using local testimonials reinforces trustworthiness. This is one of the best things you can do for your business so don’t skimp out on getting great reviews. 

2. Using the Same Design as Headquarters: A localized online presence is crucial. Employing the same design as the headquarters’ website may lead to misunderstandings and reduced engagement. Tailoring the website to Japanese preferences is essential.

3. Translating Content: Just translating content from other markets instead of creating unique content for the Japanese audience can result in messages that don’t resonate. Crafting content specific to Japanese needs and interests is key to successful engagement.

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B2B Marketing Agencies in Japan

Collaborating with a specialized agency can significantly impact your success in B2B marketing in Japan and help you avoid any mistakes. Several noteworthy agencies offer their expertise:

1. Custom Media: Custom Media is an award-winning full-service B2B agency located in Tokyo, offering marketing solutions that humanize B2B brands through the power of storytelling.

2. Humble Bunny: This agency is renowned for its innovative solutions for B2B marketing in Japan. They specialize in helping businesses navigate the intricacies of the Japanese market, ensuring effective strategies and measurable results.

3. Zo Digital: With a strong focus on digital marketing, Zo Digital excels in data-driven approaches. They leverage technology and analytics to optimize B2B marketing campaigns in Japan, making them a top choice for tech-savvy businesses.

4. Scaling Your Company: Scaling Your Company specializes in helping businesses expand and scale their operations in Japan. Our comprehensive services cover everything from market entry strategies to full-scale marketing campaigns, making us an ideal partner for growth-focused companies. Read more about what we do and our clients on our website.

For personalized recommendations tailored to your specific needs, don’t hesitate to reach out. We can assist you in finding the right agency to drive your B2B marketing success in the Japanese market.

Final Thoughts

B2B marketing in Japan presents a unique set of challenges and opportunities. Understanding the market’s intricacies, embracing both digital and traditional marketing methods, and partnering with the right agencies are key steps toward success.

It’s incredibly important to know what mix of traditional and digital you need to cater to by reaching out to your customers yourself through Japan’s unique marketing channels. But with the long list of mistakes you could possibly make, it might be the safer option to just hire a marketing agency that can better handle the Japanese market. Even so, it’s important to know the market.

For a more comprehensive guide on market research, read this article on Market Research in Japan, which gives tips and techniques for you. It’s important to grasp B2B marketing in Japan because this will show you exactly how you want to promote yourself to increase your sales partners and grow your business. 

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