Before the era of social media, the old-school influencers of the digital age were bloggers. Popular sites enjoyed tens of thousands of daily visitors who came to learn of new trends, information, or reviews of products, stores, and services. Since that time the digital landscape in Japan has significantly changed, and the position once held by bloggers has been replaced by influencers.
According to a number of recent surveys, Japanese women in their 10s and 20s find influencers more helpful when making a purchase compared to conventional advertisements. Moreover, 39.8% of women in their 10s and 20s tend to trust influencers more than the advertisements whereas only 14.4% of women in their 30s and 40s do so. Brands and companies have now taken notice that influencer marketing may be the next successful strategy to promote their products and services among younger generations.
Initially, when the idea of influencer marketing arrived in Japan, companies were inclined to use successful “mega influencers,” or those influencers with more than a million followers. These days, with the growth and diversification of influencers, companies have numerous options from which to choose, including nano-influencers, with less than 10K followers, up to mega-influencers. Influencers can also be found in a wide variety of different fields ranging from cosmetics or food to niche industries like camping goods or even kitchen utensils. Whatever your product or service, there is most likely an influencer to be found in that space.
The greatest benefit that brands can get out of influencer marketing is increased publicity and customer awareness. Influencers tend to have a loyal following of fans and supporters (i.e. followers) who are responsive to the influencers’ posts. Influencer marketing can be an opportunity for companies to discover potential customers, targets, and fans. Additionally, influencers’ posts can lower barriers to consideration and increase the purchase intention. Finally, using influencer marketing can help mitigate the rejection towards conventional advertisements among some consumers, especially those who utilize adblocking programs.
The compatibility between the product and the best platform for its promotion depends on each social media’s characteristics. For example, Instagram is a perfect platform to promote products and services related to fashion, food, travel, cosmetics or house decor as the user range on Instagram is mostly women in their teens to their 30’s.
At first, Instagram did not allow users to insert a URL to their posts, so it was mainly used to improve a brand’s image or gain greater recognition. Once Instagram began allowing links to be inserted into posts, influencer marketing on Instagram became more popular than ever, as customers could now be directed to an ecommerce site or landing page, making it much more attractive for brands looking to connect sales with social media channels.
YouTube, in comparison to Instagram, is more effective for large-scale promotion. This is primarily due to the fact that the user demographics are wider compared to Instagram, with Japanese from all age groups using the site on a regular basis. The main value of influencers on this platform is in the ability to showcase a product or service and react to them directly in front of a camera, in addition to interacting with followers either in comments or through live streaming video. Furthermore, almost any product or service can be promoted through YouTube, making it accessible for companies in nearly every industry.
One example of a successful YouTube influencer marketing campaign was conducted by Morinaga & Co., a Japanese confectionary company which actually started the custom of Japanese women giving chocolates to men on Valentine’s Day decades ago. Morinaga made a short dance routine and posted on YouTube collaborating with twin influencers, RikaRiko, popular among teens, resulting in over 5 million impressions.
Calculating ROI of Influencer Marketing
Although calculating ROI with influencer marketing can be tricky, it’s not impossible, and there are a few indicators that companies can use.
The critical factor when measuring the effectiveness of an influencer campaign is to analyze the number of referrals. There are numerous web tools for that, a common tool being Google Analytics, which can help track how the user was led to a certain page or site. For companies who want to go a step further and know how many leads or actions a specific marketing strategy is generating, one way to accomplish this is to create a specific tracking link and share it with the influencer to include in their description of the post, video, etc.
Using various software or platforms available, it is also possible to measure things such as conversion rate, engagement rate, and monitor the actions from users such as retweets, comments, likes or shares all through a convenient dashboard.
Influencer Marketing in Japan is Still Developing
Influencer marketing in Japan is a relatively new market with much potential. Influencer marketing by companies and brands catering to a non-Japanese population such as inbound tourists is particularly popular. However, according to a survey, the number of influencer marketing experience rate drops to 24% when it comes to domestic promotion.
Why is influencer marketing not as popular as it is in western countries? One answer to that question may be because the brands do not consider influencers as “media” and do not respect their uniqueness. If a brand’s influencer campaign fails, then the brand will hesitate to try the same measure again in the future. Especially in Japan, where business is usually based on a successful case, becoming a pioneer and initiating an influencer marketing campaign from scratch can be a difficult task.
To prevent this kind of anxiety regarding success, companies can get help from influencer management agencies to create a smooth and productive campaign. For example, a successful case of influencer marketing using an agency was conducted by a cosmetics company Bobbi Brown for their new product launch event. The company started with choosing 120 influencers who had an affinity with the brand. They did not focus on the number of followers but focused on whether the influencer fits the brand view and image. The end result was more than 1.7 million reaches to the original KPI of 1.5 million. Thanks to the influencer marketing campaign Bobbi Brown gained new followers and saw sales increase by 165%.
5 Key Points to Successful Influencer Marketing in Japan
From the above example, we can conclude that there are a few key pointers when it comes to launching a successful influencer marketing campaign. The first key point is to clarify the reason why the brand needs to use influencers for their promotion. Selecting the most effective means for product promotion is vital, and the reason for choosing a specific mean must be very clear.
The second important point is to analyze the influencer. Different influencers have different targets and follower bases. In Japan, for example, if a company wants to promote cosmetics or skincare products to young females, influencers on Instagram or YouTube would do better rather than influencers on Twitter or on Facebook.
Additionally, finding the “right” influencer who fits the image of the product or service is a key. Recently, a Japanese company launched an influencer profiling service “Influencer Analytics,” which helps the companies select the influencers with high affinity with their product or service. The profiling service is operated by A.I. which will analyze the influencer’s social media account and estimate the engagement rate, the number of average likes and comments, and will judge if the influencer the company chose is the best match for their product.
The fourth point is to set concrete rules and KPI such as the number of posts, the amount to followers, engagement rates, etc., so as to be able to quantify the success of your influencer campaign.
And last but not least, choosing an influencer with a potential to become a true fan of the product can optimize the effectiveness of a campaign, as they will be more likely to authentically convey these positive opinions and feelings to their followers.
One word of warning with regard to utilizing influencers that we should mention as a footnote, however, is when launching a promotion campaign, brands must be careful with “stealth marketing” as a majority of the Japanese population dislikes it. Stealth marketing is a gray zone when it comes to influencers as it is easy to conceive that the post is an ad.
Although stealth marketing is not yet illegal in Japan and there are no regulations regarding it, companies and brands are advised not take those publicity measures and definitely should not encourage influencers to mislead their followers about the nature of their post (i.e. is it a paid promotional post or a genuine sharing of a product they enjoyed?).
Final Thoughts on Influencer Marketing in Japan
In monetary terms, the value of influencer marketing in Japan is growing every year and is currently about 4.6% of the total influencer market globally. While the overall market value is still small, numbering in the low hundreds of millions of dollars, it has shown exponential growth in a short period of time and the potential to grow remains strong thanks to a number of exciting events being held in Japan in the very near future, which will likely increase brands’ desire to promote products using various methods.