At its core, marketing is about building a relationship between a person and a company, and creating a mechanism that sustains and grows the business. That mechanism has largely become digital.
The aim of marketing always remains the same — no matter what new technologies come along. Of course, that does not mean that the way marketers reach their audiences does not change.
In 2001, when Google launched in Japan, directory-type services and portal sites were the norm. Since then, the Internet and smartphones have completely altered consumer behaviour, and hence marketing. Here are my top three ways marketing has changed in Japan since Google’s launch in the country 14 years ago:
1. A shift to user-centric marketing
The spread of digital technology has completely transformed how companies and users relate. The development of video platforms, like YouTube,have made digital ads more than mere information: they have grown into media that forms powerful emotional bonds with users. In addition, the rise of mobile has made it possible to "send the right message to the right person at the right time." This is the biggest change.
2. Higher transparency and measurement on digital
Digital marketing is much more transparent and measurable than its offline counterparts. Companies can now gain insight into consumer wants and needs at a speed and scale that was unimaginable fourteen years ago. With digital, it’s also possible to measure the return on investment of many marketing activities and make changes to campaigns on the fly.
3. Growing emphasis on brand value
The third change is the rising importance of brands. In the 90s, when branding first became a hot topic, many people in local marketing were thinking about logos and symbols — and did not understand the true nature of brands. Today, Japan’s business leaders have come to see that a brand that builds long-term bonds with customers is an asset. The Internet has accelerated this trend tremendously. In an era when people demand transparency, establishing a brand is a must-have foundation for any business. This increasingly requires brands to tell not only who they but why they do what they do.
In view of these shifts, here are my suggestions as to how companies should approach marketing to Japan’s consumers:
- Seize the “micro-moment”. Today, over half (54 per cent, according to Consumer Barometer) of Japanese people have smartphones and already more than half of web searches via Google in Japan come from smartphones. In 2015, users are searching for information whenever they need it on their mobile devices. We call these I-want-to-know, I-want-to-go, I-want-to-buy, I-want-to-do moments “micro-moments”. For marketers, these moments represent a great opportunity to influence consumers when they are forming preferences and taking immediate action. Getting these moments right can make — or break — a campaign.
- Engage with content. User-centric marketing means making content that users choose to watch — the key is to make the content as helpful, engaging and inspiring rather than using gimmicks to capture attention. Brands need to provide creatives that are relevant to the audience’s needs, and have variations to cater to different needs and objectives. Here are two recent examples by Google Japan showing these two approaches - one is engaging and useful content, which highlights the Google App; another one is “hero” type content that touches and inspires people to promote Google’s Women Will initiative that empowers women with technology.
- Keep learning. Insights and analysis enabled by digital have implications that are much broader than simply advertising ROI. Successful companies use the insights from digital to keep driving improvements across the business. In my experience, a company’s ability to learn defines the quality of its marketing—and its long-term growth.
If I had to choose one word to conjure up the most important quality for marketing today, it would have to be “authenticity." Technology enables brands to communicate authentically with consumers. User-centric marketing requires authentic story, not hype, to make engaging content. Technology has brought users and businesses closer together than ever before and brands can now share their authentic values through marketing. What does the future of digital marketing hold? No one really knows, but one thing is certain—it’s going to be incredibly exciting.