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  • Writer's pictureTimothy

The Five “I”s that Japanese Customers expect (but won’t tell you)

If Omnichannel was Brand 2 Customer, Omnichannel 2.0 or New Retail puts the customer in the centerof every possible-brand related interaction and ecosystem. This is particularly true in Japan. The most highly developed and competitive consumer market in the world also has the most discerning customers. Some may say Japanese customers are demanding, but a better way to look at them is in terms of expectations. Japanese customers have a much wider range of expectations of a brand, across all their potential interaction paradigms. And Japanese customers expect brands to know what these expectations are, and to act in certain ways without having to tell them. You won’t get this intelligence from a standardized VOC survey. These are the five “I”’s that Japanese customers expect of companies and brands.

Immersive: Japanese customers expect brands to be wherever they (the customer) happen to want them to be. That means as a brand or company, you must ensure the customer is immersed in the experience in ways that are nearly subconscious but in the Japanese context. By gathering as much data from as many potential touch points as possible, smart brands will use culturally intelligent AI to work the data and predict where a customer will want to interact with the brand. This doesn’t mean you have to always be in direct touch with the customer, it means you must be where the customer is going to be. Japanese customers will be remarkably frank with researchers and data collectors who are savvy about how to interact with Japanese customers and ask the right questions in a culturally intelligent way.

Integrated: The brand experience has to be integrated into the customer’s lifestyle in such a way that they can “live the brand” because it feels normal and enjoyable. An integrated brand will feel natural to a customer, something that is comfortable for the emotions and inspirations that it renders into the customer’s lifestyle. Because the customer data should be integrated into the brand ecosystem, the integration can and should be entirely seamless. Japanese customers are extremely private about their lives and as a rule make a clear distinction between home, work, and social activity. If you know the boundaries, you can design an experience that integrates each of these in such a way that the consumer feels comfortable. Intuitive: Japanese customers spend a significant amount of time thinking and researching about what brand of shoes they want, which fashion style they want to follow, which vacuum cleaner to buy. They do their research online, in person, and rely particularly strongly on peer reviews and celebrity influencers. They think long and hard about these things and research where to find them, so a brand or company needs to do the same. It is imperative to get on the Japanese customers’ radar at the “discovery” stage. Then deep-down customers will feel that they know instinctively where to turn, and they will feel comfortable that they will find what they are looking for by going to your brand. Moreover, customers expect brands to know what they will be looking for next season, or as a complementary item. Japanese customers expect brands to learn about them, to predict what they are going to want or need next. Innovative: It goes without saying that innovation is essential for any brand. But the best reason for innovation is on display in the Japanese consumer market. Japanese customers need to be continually offered new experiences. Your brand or company product needs to be the first place customers go to look for new things, new ideas, new experiences. As your brand uses all the data you collect from all the potential touchpoints, AI can help to predict what direction a brand should go to keep your customers coming back to discover. Discovery is one of the most powerful drivers of interaction with a brand, and innovation is what will keep customers coming back for more. Japanese customers expect products or displays or communications to vary by location, environment, and season. It is essential for success in the Japanese market to always seem fresh yet familiar to Japanese customers. That is why incremental change, or “kaizen” is so popular and why radical change is rarely embraced by the Japanese. Integrity: We are seeing in customers, largely Gen Z driven, the rise of an absolute need for authenticity and doing the right thing. This is particularly true of Japanese consumer who demand authenticity and honesty. Japanese people and customers are by nature very honest, and they expect 100% honesty from any brand, company, or product on the market, regardless of if they are a purchaser or user. Brands need to communicate and act with integrity whether in direct, indirect, or not at all contact with Japanese customers. What happens halfway around the world is right in front of customers on their smartphones, of course, yet Japanese customers are almost fanatically focused on what is happening in Japan. A brand or company faux pas will reverberate instantaneously in Japan. With the highest number of Twitter users typing in Japanese and given the ferocity of a consumer who has been ill-treated, nothing is more important than to be vigilant about the communication around your company or brand. And Japanese customers expect brands to do what is good. Even if customers do not tell you in their words or actions that they expect you to do what’s right in terms of ESG, they do. Japanese customers rather expect brands to act responsibly in ways that the customer identifies with, and they may not tell you what that is. Sustainability is becoming the new luxury, and authenticity is everything.

Instead of thinking that Japanese customers are demanding of you, rather think that you need to earn the trust of your Japanese customers. This takes time, patience, and a solid understand of the five “I”s that Japanese customers want. More than any other market, once you have earned the trust of your Japanese customer, they are famously loyal and will not drop you at the sign of the newest trend. But you must do your homework and maintain a high-level IQ, emotional intelligence (EQ), and cultural intelligence (CQ) within the context of Japan and its culture.

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