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Breaking into the Japanese market

January 10, 2017 James Ormiston

Which international market will you expand your trade show portfolio into next? This is a question that keeps many of our clients up at night and that’s why Circdata sponsor the AEO’s international dinners. As our clients’ portfolios expand we find our team clocking up more and more Airmiles each year, so it is important for me to prepare the business for the cultural differences in business that it will encounter.

The country at the heart of the conversation at the last dinner was Japan, and boy, did I come away with a whole host of tips, ideas and anecdotes from fellow peers who have ‘been there and done that’! I thought I would share a few of them with you, just in case you were thinking of launching in the Land of the Rising Sun.

No room at the inn

Fortunately, one of Japan’s largest trade show organisers joined us at the Buddha Bar that evening alongside a few other firms with a foothold in the country. Needless to say, there was a lot of experience in the room to draw upon! What became quickly clear, is that there is very often ‘no room at the inn’.

That’s right, event space in Japan is incredibly difficult to come by, with most venues reporting that tenancies are full. So, your plans may be scuppered before they even get started! The advice from someone in the know? If you do manage to find availability, book it, even if you know you won’t fill all of the space in Year One. Or, co-location may initially be your only option so, if it’s offered, grab it with both hands!

A slow burner

As with launching into any new market, it’s important to do your culture homework. The Japanese are a proud nation with a distinct and respectful culture and many people fall at the first hurdle by making an error of judgement in thinking that doing business in Japan is the same as doing business in China. Even those around the table with the most established experience in the region conceded that it takes a lot of time, patience and energy to build relationships and a profitable business, with guests on the night unable to come up with any quick fixes for an event organiser looking to break into the market. One guest commented, “when you start to think that you understand the Japanese culture, you actually know nothing!”

The advice here was that you must be prepared to put in some hard graft to be successful. It can take months – or even years – of what might feel like a meetings marathon which can go round and round the houses, but it is these gatherings that play the most crucial role in building effective relationships. The Japanese prefer to conduct business face-to-face and time spent in meetings establishes the trust and respect that defines the business culture; so, don’t make the mistake of delegating a meeting to a junior member of staff. It is important that you attend them personally, and remember it is customary in meetings for the most junior members of the team to do the majority of the talking! Hierarchy is key. Adopt an attitude of politeness and always be prepared to listen. This will result in a reciprocal attitude of respect and deference being shown to you.

The results are worth it. It was generally agreed that Japan has a vibrant, exciting and hard-working exhibition sector which offers great rewards for those who are willing to earn them. One guest reported that it was their Japanese division that outperformed all others.

When in Rome

In our role as a registration company, we know that our on-site staff who greet your visitors, speakers and exhibitors are viewed as your staff. Therefore, it is critical to us that their performance is up to the standards you expect. Two things I have learned ready for our first event in Japan; hiring event staff is much more expensive and they are unlikely to speak English (nor should they be asked to as this would be considered incredibly rude). So, we’ll be ready to conduct our meetings with an interpreter and we will ensure to convey the important role they play in your customers’ journey and their decision as to whether to return next time.

Good night and good luck!

It was an enjoyable evening, and whilst entering the Japanese market presents an interesting challenge, we’ve come away well-armed with the key things to consider. The key message I think was; once you decide upon embarking on business in Japan, be prepared to go the long haul. Invest time and money; you can’t make a quick buck!

I am already looking forward to the next one; I wonder which market will be next? Why don’t you join us? Get in touch with the AEO for more details.