Marketing an app in Japan is a common topic we field from prospective clients. Japan is one of the biggest mobile app markets in the world, in terms of revenue, with the average user having over 100 apps installed on their smartphones. Furthermore, when taking into consideration Japan’s population, 120 million+ people, and the fact that smartphone ownership continues to increase to near universal levels, it’s easy to see why app developers would be keen on entering the Japanese market. In order to successfully promote your app in Japan, however, there are a number of things you and your team need to consider.



Things to Keep in Mind When Marketing an App in Japan


You MUST Localize

Localization is absolutely critical when marketing an app in Japan. The fact is, most people prefer to use apps in their native language. Moreover, in Japan, you must also take into account that only around 1% of the population speaks English, or any other foreign language, fluently. If you have not localized your app and translated relevant marketing materials into Japanese, you may find conversions exceedingly hard to come by. That is why before even considering marketing your app in Japan and spending money on advertising, make sure your app and supporting materials are localized for Japan.


Low Effort Equals Low Rewards When Marketing An App in Japan

Japan is the world’s third biggest economy and is well-known for its sophisticated consumer base. It also has a very competitive domestic market. It’s highly likely that you will already have some serious domestic competition in your vertical, who know more than you about both the Japanese app market as well as Japanese app users. Not to mention competition from your own market, or other global rivals, may have also entered Japan and could be putting more effort into the market than you currently are. App developers that are unwilling to invest the time, energy, and money into properly marketing an app in Japan will definitely struggle.


Set an Appropriate Budget for Advertising

Here’s the thing about advertising budgets, it’s highly dependent on your particular situation and industry. Certain verticals are inherently more competitive, and thus require more budget to advertise in than others, while others may be less competitive, but lack a large enough audience on any one platform. In either case you may need to optimize your efforts across all the various channels, such as Japanese SEM or social media advertising, in order to get the best results.

Another important thing to remember when marketing an app in Japan is that it is a highly developed country so you should not expect low prices to acquire users. If your rivals are spending significant sums on each platform in advertising per month, you cannot expect to run a decent “test” or “trial” without being prepared to invest enough to actually compete on equal footing. This kind of low-investment approach simply won’t cut it as you won’t even have an accurate picture when it comes to data. In other words, campaigns with inappropriate budgets are more like a shot in the dark or a Hail Mary pass than anything as you won’t generate enough data to make informed decisions.

In terms of real numbers, CPI (cost per install) x 50 is commonly given as a rule of thumb to establish a daily budget. This means that if your CPI is $5 USD, you are looking at $250/day. But keep in mind when using numbers from other markets to guide budget decisions that both CPI and total cost per acquisition (CPA) may be higher in Japan. All developers should plan to spend accordingly when marketing an app in Japan.


Set Realistic Goals

Given the competitive landscape of Japan it’s important to set realistic goals.

KPIs are just one example of goals that you have to be realistic about. For example, shooting for a Target CPA without any data for your app in Japan that justifies said target should be avoided. Every market is different, so benchmarking various metrics, such as TCPA, between markets is usually unproductive and can set you up for major disappointment.

Deciding what the main objective for your marketing and advertising campaigns is ultimately the most important part of goal setting for Japan. Are you focusing on in-app purchases? App installs? Your objectives will directly inform your strategy, which will in turn affect the tactics you use to achieve them.


Choosing the Right Platforms for Marketing An App in Japan

Facebook, Instagram, and Google are all bases that many app developers think to cover when marketing an app in Japan. However, you shouldn’t overlook other options if your budget allows. For example, Yahoo! JAPAN and LINE offer advertising platforms that can be used to promote your app in the Japanese market as well.

In addition to advertising platforms you also have PR and influencer marketing at your disposal, depending on the type of app you are trying to promote. Having someone familiar with the various platforms and methods of promotion who is able to create an effective media plan for Japan can drastically improve visibility for your app in the market.



The biggest benefit of digital advertising, whether it be SEM or social, is all about targeting specific users who are most likely to purchase or install your app. This is why when marketing an app in Japan targeting those individuals who are most likely to be interested in your app usually delivers the best results.

While you might first look to narrow your audience based on interests or demographics, targeting users based on device and browsing habits are also things worth considering to improve your targeting.

One of the most overlooked aspect to targeting is market expertise and knowledge of Japanese consumers. When combined with techniques to build consumer profiles or personas, it can be a powerful marketing tool.


Analyze the Data

If the performance of your app marketing in Japan isn’t where you would like it to be, having someone who can properly analyze and interpret your data can yield tremendous insights.

Once again, a deep knowledge of Japan, including cultural considerations, can further elevate the value you can get out of your data analysis.

Data, especially when gained from A/B testing, can also help inform your creatives and marketing campaigns for Japan.

Whether it be website or digital advertising analytics, the impact that proper data analysis can have on your ability to succeed in the Japanese market should not be underestimated.


Understand Your Target’s Customer Journey

Your target’s customer journey and funnel, or however you choose to conceptualize these ideas, are critical to properly marketing your app.

This is true no matter what market you are in, however, when it comes to Japan we would recommend paying particular attention to the beginning stages of the customer journey, when building trust and educating customers are key.

Building trust is actually the culmination of various activities you may take in promoting and communicating your app to potential users and needs to be an ongoing part of your business in Japan. But without establishing trust early on the customer journey never even starts.

With regard to education keep in mind that Japanese consumers on average need more information to make a decision, and if you are unable to provide this to them, they may not even give your app a second thought.

Educating customers can also take many shapes and finding the right solution to educate potential users for your app is a major part of the marketing process in Japan.


Manage Expectations About Timelines

It can be difficult for those who have enjoyed success in other markets to take this warning to heart, but you need to understand that you are starting fresh in Japan and it may take time to see results.

In the case of running Google universal app campaigns, for example, it takes at least 100 conversions for the first learning process to be effective. And this is just the beginning, which means optimization hasn’t even truly begun in earnest yet.

Just think about how long it took you to gain traction in your own market, a market that you understand and know very well. Now take a minute to consider how you are in a new market and you probably don’t know as much about this one as you do your own. You might have a slight boost if you’re a well-known commodity, but even global brands like Amazon and Netflix started from the bottom when they first came to Japan.


Find the Right Partner for Marketing Your App in Japan

Japan is a very different market and underestimating this fact (i.e. simply doing what worked in other markets) is what leads to so many foreign companies failing to truly take off.

The right partner can provide you with expertise which will help you gain insights and understanding about the market and its consumers. This enables you to make informed decisions that help you to achieve your objectives in Japan.


Bottom Line: Marketing an App in Japan

Local marketing support makes a huge difference when taking your app internationally. This holds especially true for Japan.

At Plus Alpha Digital we specialize in developing effective digital marketing campaigns for businesses looking to expand in the Japanese market. If you would like to find out how we can assist you in marketing an app in Japan, contact us to see how we can help.


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Categories: Marketing