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Marketing in Japan with Your Home Country Program as a Starting Point

Many companies find that the amount of business they are doing in Japan is far less than they had expected, considering that Japan is the world's largest market after the US. Its GDP is larger than the GDP of Germany and France combined; almost three times that of the UK. While there are many obstacles to doing business in Japan, and it is important to take them into consideration when strategizing, it is imperative to focus on developing a process that is based on what can be done.

One very effective tool to begin this process is to make a list of all the marketing activities your company uses in your home country; then consider using the same activities (converted to Japanese language) in Japan. The principle here is that your company has learned over time what works best to sell your products. As a starting point those activities should be strongly considered for use in Japan.

The first step is to catalog all marketing activities used in your home country. Include such things as the amount of collateral material, direct mail programs, media advertising, press releases, trade shows, seminars, direct salespeople, and distributors' salespeople.

The second step is to create a preliminary marketing program for Japan. If your home country is the US, then the marketing program for Japan might be sized at one half that of the US—the ratio of the two economies. If you know the business size ratio in your particular market area, then that ratio can also be used. Often this produces a program that is more aggressive than the initial budget will allow, but it establishes a good goal.

The third step is to make the necessary changes based on available resources. Experience teaches that, with the high cost of marketing in Japan, executing a piecemeal program costs more that the expense justifies. It is therefore important that a balanced marketing and sales program be created. It is equally important that benchmarks be created by which the program can be measured and managed.

Companies without their own sales operation in Japan may find it difficult to convince a distributor to implement the marketing program for them. Even when the distributor has the experience required, they often lack the incentive to do so. In such cases it is best to have separate management implement the program.

Following this approach to building a marketing program in Japan, it is easy to monitor the ratio of marketing activities at the home office versus Japan, and to compare the ratio of those activities to the sales ratio between the two countries.

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