Marketing in Japan

I am currently reading “Toyota Talent: Developing your people the Toyota Way” by Jeffrey K. Liker and David P. Meier, and I have to admit that I am loving every aspect of the book. Even though I was a Marketing major when I was getting my MBA a few years ago, it never occurred to me to read this book since I thought that it only focused its attention on training and development (big mistake people, no matter what role you have in the company you are working for, this book is a must-read.) 

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While searching for Japanese businesses´approaches and Japanese marketing, I found a blog post by Robert E. Peterson talking about “Why Japanese Companies Struggle with Marketing.” I thought it was both curious and interesting, so I am going to share the points that I liked the most about the article. You can click here to go to the original one (and read the entire post.)

(…) marketing does not have a core function in the Japanese business model, and plays only a small role in corporate decision-making.

Unless Japanese companies urgently embrace marketing, they risk becoming (even) less competitive in the global marketplace. The Japanese electronics industry, hit hard by Apple and South Korean brands, should serve as a warning to other Japanese industries.

There are three reasons Japanese companies struggle with marketing:

1) Language

In English, the word marketing in the currently used sense is only slightly over 100 years old. In the Japanese language, there is no direct translation for the word or concept. It is spelled via katakana characters (Japanese phonetic alphabet for non-Japanese words) and, as a result, is instantly seen as a foreign word or concept

2) Cultural History

In Japanese, the words mono (thing) and zukuri (process of making) taken together literally mean the process of making or creating things, but monozukuri – a relatively new word in Japanese – means more. Monozukuricombines the desire to produce excellent products with the ability to constantly improve production systems and processes. In Japanese business, the drivers of monozukuri (and of business direction) are product engineers.

During the Edo period (1603-1868) the Tokugawa government created a social order called shinokosho, or the four divisions of society. Samurai were at the top of society because they set a high moral example. Farming peasants came second because they produced food, artisans and craftsman came third, and merchants were at the bottom because they generated wealth without producing any goods. The classes were not arranged by wealth or capital but by what Confucian philosophers described as moral purity.

A parallel can be seen in the structure of modern Japanese companies, where marketing staff are the merchant class, engineers are samurai, and all other company functions are the equivalent of farmers and craftsmen.

3) Education

Marketing is poorly taught in Japanese universities. Professors do not have academic or professional experience in marketing like their western counterparts. Neither do Japanese companies have marketing training programs. Employees are rotated through the marketing department at some point during their careers; it is not an area of career specialization.

Leading from the front

The future of Japanese business lies outside Japan as its domestic market shrinks and ages. Japanese CEOs and their management teams must figure out the best way to adopt the Consumer Marketing Office.

Embracing marketing as a core function of the business does work in Japan. Over the years, Coca Cola, P&G, McDonald’s and many other American and European companies have entered the Japanese market with entirely new brands and product categories (with cultural adjustments) and were accepted by Japanese consumers.

A few Japanese companies like Nissin FoodsCalbeeUniqlo and Rakuten have progressive CEOs who understand the importance of marketing as a core function of the business, and have fully embraced it by adopting American-influenced marketing systems. This has allowed them to successfully expand their businesses globally.


*Article by Robert E Peterson via Btrax

{Image via, via (header)}

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