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Targeting Japan’s Evolving Population

Date: August, 2011 --

Japan is a puzzling market for many American marketers. There were “glory days” in the ‘80’s and early ‘90’s when catalog mailings into Japan were like fishing in a fish farm.  You couldn’t do wrong. The emerging consumer class, especially housewives and young working women, were curious and doing well as the Yen appreciated and full-employment was the rule. 

But every gold mine sooner or later plays out, unless the management controls the extraction rate, as some US merchants have carefully done. Brands like L.L. Bean, J.Crew and many others continue to do well in the Japanese market. Sweepstakes mailers have traditionally been successful in Japan, and continue to mail in a steady stream.  

Finally, we understand from our sources there that the financial industry, banks/credit cards/insurance companies, continue to be heavy mailers. No doubt the aging Japanese population has to do with the increased volumes coming from this vertical.

The Japanese market is also following data trends showing a clear pattern supporting the increased effectiveness of direct mail with the increased age of a population.  The population is aging with 22.6% of the population at 65 or older, making Japan the “oldest” developed-world country. Despite the growth of the online population of those in this age group, they are still much less likely to use the Internet or a mobile phone, let alone be responsive to offers in either medium. 

Second, more and more elderly are living by themselves and not with their children, as some 37% currently do. More good news for marketers is that, for the most part, the older generation is fairly wealthy. The average savings of this cohort is Yen 25 million ($320,000), 1.5 times the national average and some 19% of these people have savings of Yen 40 million ($512,000).  

The domestic spend on direct mail in Japan has held steady, according to the latest research published by Dentsu, Japan’s largest ad agency.  Last year it constituted 7% of the ad spend in the country.  Although actual spend decreased from 2009 by some 2.9%, its share of total ad spend only fell 0.1% and was still above 2008 spend by 0.3%. 

More money is spent on direct mail in Japan than on magazines (4.7%), radio (2.2%), free magazines and newspapers or display screens (each 4.5%).  Undoubtedly, this is justified by the fact that the elderly are much less likely to be “digital” in Japan, so the best way to reach them is via the mail.  In fact, the percent of the entire population that uses the Internet at least once a month has stood stubbornly at 70% here for some years now.

Ad spend was up in many of the traditional direct mail categories such as cosmetics, personal items/accessories, and apparel. As noted, direct mail is used by the financial and insurance industries as a preferred medium.  Despite the privacy law enacted with much fanfare some years ago, mailing lists, some with robust data and select capabilities, are readily available.

The Japan Post has an excellent reputation, despite the fact that thrifty pricing is not part of it, and it faces stiff competition in parcels from FedEx, DHL, Kintetsu and many others. However, like the USPS it has offices, and delivers, everywhere.

The tricky thing now is determining how the triple play of disasters has impacted consumer spending and the culture itself. There is a growing debate in the country about its future, especially the role of the government and the future for young people. 

Whatever that outcome, the mail will still work well and Data Services will help you assure your Japanese addresses are correct.  This is not a simple task, by the way.  Japan and Korea are the only two places in the world using an address system sometimes referred to as the “block” system.

Addresses start with the “big” part, such as the prefecture, and proceed down through successfully smaller administrative areas, such as city to ward, ending with the building/apartment or house address, which is a number.  Streets are not named and building/house numbers are assigned, sometimes in sequence, “around the block”.

Whether your address data is in the Roman alphabet (Romanji/Romaji) or in any of Japan’s multi-byte character sets, Kanji, Katakana or Hiragana, Data Services’ Japan-Complete Data Processing solution has the technology to ensure the accuracy of the records in your file.