Bold keywords such as ‘future’, ‘innovation’ and ‘dreams’, and phrases such as ‘driving change’ and the ‘betterment of society’, feature among Japan’s top corporate slogans. But do these companies walk the talk when it comes to accepted global standards of communication?
In 2017, Japan welcomed a record-breaking 28.7 million tourists, according to the Japan National Tourism Organization (JNTO). On the business front, merger and acquisition (M&A) deals involving Japanese companies rose 15 percent year-on-year to 3,050, an increase that broke the record of 2,775 set in 2006.
With the 2019 Rugby World Cup and Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games just around the corner, these numbers are expected to increase further as the world’s spotlight shines on Japan. However, corporate Japan continues to fall short when it comes to communicating its stories, brands, products, services, culture, hospitality, and great landscape to a global audience.
Missing the mark
As a bilingual content-creation and communication company, we are often asked to help major corporations and government bodies with their English-language messaging. We support their efforts through the development of sales and marketing materials that target international visitors or investor relations, and M&A communication tools that drive their global expansion plans.
Apart from the content that understandably needs rewriting to improve the quality of the language, we are often shocked by the total lack of professionalism in overall presentation.
Jarring layouts with clipart callouts and arrows for the sake of arrows, poor choices of typeface, and wordy presentation slides don’t communicate the top-notch quality and high service standards on which those acquainted with Japan know they can rely.
Capturing your audience
Eager to provide prospects with the information needed to make an informed decision, Japanese companies pack their presentations, marketing material, and web pages with excess data. The intentions are good, but the clutter defeats the purpose and often ends up confusing the reader.
This approach may work if the target audience is Japanese—they expect it—but we believe there’s a lot of room for improvement.
Western audiences prefer a minimalist approach. Instead of cramming every possible bit of detail into the materials, choose the key points that can move the reader to the next level of engagement. This holds true for brochures, print ads, websites—any type of collateral that is part of your marketing mix.
When creating a presentation, a visually appealing design with a few key points per slide works best. The onus then falls on the speaker to deliver an engaging story, with the slides serving as support.
Choosing what to include on each slide is a fine balance. Too much information and the audience will be distracted and have trouble following along. Too little and you may come off as unprepared, lacking the substance required to deliver a convincing message.
At the end of day, the goal should be to inform the audience—to persuade and entertain them—as they listen to your story. In this way, you can motivate them to take action.
While Japanese prospects may expect clutter and accept it, this minimalist approach allows you to more effectively reach them and will set you apart from the competition.
In our work with clients, we see a genuine desire to change. A few companies take the bold leap to embrace global communication standards, but many remain stuck in their old ways. Their younger leaders unanimously nod their heads in agreement that change is needed, but are often shot down by bureaucracy or, perhaps, a resistance to change. What’s disheartening is that many of these companies are major sponsors of the upcoming RWC or Olympics, offering them an excellent opportunity to make an impact on the world stage.
If this continues, we fear Japan is doing itself a great disservice as it tries to sell itself abroad. With the world’s attention on the country, now is the time for true action.
Robert Heldt is president and co-founder of Custom Media, an award-winning, bilingual, content-creation and communication agency in Tokyo.