ITL #432 What Japanese brands want: strategy and digital

1 month, 3 weeks ago

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There is strong demand from Japanese brands for measurable strategic communications and digital support, according to findings from clients at a major PR trade fair. By Keisuke Maeda.



In April 2021, Tokyo hosted the inaugural, landmark PR & IR Expo. It was held offline – that is to say, with people meeting face to face at the venue – but understandably, on the ground strict covid-19 countermeasures were put in place by the organisers.

Over three days, the expo attracted 21,723 attendees, making it one of the largest events in that time. It also underlined the importance of PR in helping organisations meet business objectives.

 

My agency, Asoviva, took part in the expo to showcase our newly developed Waves PR service, a digital PR solution that delivers news in online media first to quickly generate a buzz and awareness which underpins successive brand activities. But we also had another good reason for being there. We wanted to talk to delegates from Japanese brands and find out what matters to them, especially in this difficult time. We wanted to uncover lots of insights.

 

150 meetings

That meant talking to many people. All told, we conducted 150 meetings, and out of these two major themes emerged: strategy and digital.

 

For example, there was a strong interest in strategic PR with measurable outcomes and effectiveness. Conventional AVE (advertising value equivalent) is no longer seen as satisfactory. So what comes next? We often argue that measuring brand lift in consumer touch-points is more reliable.

 

Delegates also showed expectations on digital PR that go beyond traditional execution. They want expertise in social and owned media, website UI/UX and the effective use of video contents. Even now, not many agencies in Japan can deliver all this in one shop.

 

Our research also identified 10 common issues of interest. These are brand awareness; IR; product PR; new service PR and category awareness; internal communications; overall communication strategy; B2B awareness; attracting visitors (on-ground); KPI setting; team building in PR department.

 

Let me share some examples. One delegate from an infrastructure company had a brand awareness challenge to address. His company had integrated some businesses and as a result needed corporate branding. Consequently,  he was looking for effective tools and a reliable partner for external communications.

 

Putting strategy first

In light of this, I suggested he look back at the company’s brand vision and re-define its value before developing external communications. After an audit to be sure on what they could tell, we could think how to tell it. Team building and resource investment, message development and media relations comes next, once you have truly established the goal of the activity. Strategy always comes first, especially in the middle of business transformation.

 

Another delegate from a manufacturing company in disaster prevention goods, like emergency lights, batteries and other protections, also came to us. Their challenge is a lack of media attention in normal times. Considering the company specialises in emergency goods, this is understandable. But from a business point of view it’s unwelcome.

 

Our advice is to be ready, like with disaster prevention itself. This includes preparing a company fact book, list of goods, loan product availability for press preview and shooting, and most importantly targeting online. Many media now search the internet to source information, so having a strong digital presence is key.

 

Running an owned media campaign to warn of the potential for upcoming disaster or crisis – and how to prepare for these – is effective too. If people, including reporters and journalists, are well informed they are likely to search for and find the necessary goods.  

 

Digital trends

Today, many communications professionals are thriving online. Yet they are not always fully equipped with digital. Traditionally, PR and communications has been a ‘people business’, a big part of which is meeting reporters and journalists in person, formally or informally, to inform them. However, the industry is being transformed through a more strategic and digitally-led approach.

 

The media landscape is changing too, at a radical pace. Every newspaper now has a digital outlet and TV broadcasters also deliver online content. Online news sites are ever increasing and social media platforms are constantly evolving.

 

Likewise, consumer behaviour is shifting. Our research found that access to digital news media grew by as much as 141% during 2020. Of course, a big factor here was people staying at home as a result of the government’s state of emergency coming into effect three times since April 2020.

 

However, our research also discovered that 80% of the respondents were concerned about fake news. This means that credible communication is needed, and here PR plays a more important role than ever.

 

Behaviour change sparks opportunities

If consumers change behaviour, markets go the same way. In Japan, marketing spend on digital hit 2 trillion yen (US$ 20 billion) in 2019, surpassing television spend for the first time in history, according to advertising giant Dentsu.

 

In this environment, PR agencies are in greater demand. A survey by Senden Kaigi magazine found that PR agencies are the second most consulted partner for those working in digital.

 

Large market, trusted by clients. Now we are in play!

 

There are plenty of reasons to be optimistic. The Japanese people have been resilient through history, as well as over the last 18 months. Many corporations are in good shape having prudently set aside internal reserves in case of turbulent times and business sentiment has improved.

 

PR is, and will be, the way communicate with people who are distrustful. But this must be done in a strategic way, making good use of digital channels.

 

 

 

 


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The Author

Keisuke Maeda

Keisuke Maeda is CEO of Asoviva, an integrated communications agency in Tokyo that is part of the IPREX global agency network. Asoviva helps international brands succeed in the Japanese market and companies expand overseas by providing PR, marketing, research, digital, content and creative services. Keisuke has worked with blue-chip clients including Amazon, Philips, Panasonic, NTT Docomo and Rakuten, having moved into Comms after his retirement as a professional football player for A.C. Perugia, Italy.

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