Localizing Japanese Electronics Websites For The North American Marketplace
Localizing Japanese Electronics Websites
for the North American Marketplace

For more than 20 years, I worked for various Japanese Electronics Manufacturers (JEMS) as a digital leader, focused on providing electrical engineers and buyers with the best possible digital experience. As part of my job, I traveled around the world interviewing electrical engineers and other electronics buyers. A common and spontaneous discussion topic often centered on how Japanese companies localize their websites and the overarching digital presence.

Even when interview subjects were not made aware of the company conducting the research, they often would point out that the owner of the site they were reviewing was Japanese. They noted that certain characteristics about the site’s look-and-feel was Japanese-centric, including the following:

  • poor English usage;
  • atypical color choices for a Western audience;
    an antiquated user interface and user experience; and
  • the density of information presented.

What they were really saying was that the website wasn’t for them, it didn’t represent their business culture, and that the people running the site didn’t “get” them. Now that didn’t necessarily stop them from buying high-quality Japanese components, a quality known around the world, but it did create a bias and an acceptance barrier that made it harder to compete in the North American marketplace.

The good news is that many Japanese companies have improved the localization of their North American and European websites to better serve the Western audience. But even the largest Japanese electronics-company sites still have a long way to go to become digitally competitive in Western markets. The need for highly localized sites from Japanese companies has never been stronger. The continued adoption of digital channels to design-in electrical components continues to advance down the buyer’s journey, often mirrored by a digital demand funnel that is structured to move prospects and customers to design-in and purchase.

In this ebook, we’ll cover the state of localization of Japanese websites and supporting digital touchpoints, and how Japanese companies are working to bridge the divide from a Japan-centric to a Western-centric digital presence.

Tyler Crockett

Tyler Crockett
VP of Marketing & Demand Sales Big Zeta

Why Japanese Electronics Companies Need to Better Localize for Western Buyers

“Why would I trust a Japanese company’s components with my next design if their website is so poor?”
- Electrical Engineer

Japanese electronics companies are known for the high quality of their electronics components. Unfortunately, Western electronics buyers have concerns outside of the components themselves about whether they should consider a Japanese electronics manufacturer. Three concerns seem to top the list:

  • the level of support Western companies will receive;
  • the fear that Japan management will prioritize Japanese clients over Western clients when there are issues; and
  • the potential level of difficulty in interacting with a Japanese component manufacturer.

Often the starting point of the relationship is on the English version of the Japanese website. Western electrical engineers and buyers have high expectations and little patience for poor digital buyer journeys. I’ve had western engineers tell me, “Why would I trust a Japanese company’s components with my next design if their website is so poor?”

Regardless of the truth of that statement, a Japanese Western-facing website is one of the main interaction points between Western buyers and Japanese component manufacturers, and it is an interaction point that impacts every step of the buyer’s and design journeys. Localizing the English-facing website to the tastes and needs of Western buyers is a major step forward to lowering the “buyer consideration bar,” and leveling the playing field with Western component manufacturers.

Why Japanese Electronics Companies Struggle with Localization

Japanese electronic companies

One of the biggest challenges that Japanese electronics companies face in localizing their Western digital presence is the inherent bias and dominance of their Japanese operations. Usually, the largest digital team for a Japanese company is in Japan. This team generally manages the budgets, maintains the systems, and is the dominant driver of global strategy. Because these digital teams are tightly aligned with their Japan marketing teams, and the needs of the Japanese customer base, they often have little meaningful interaction with their Western regional marketing teams and customers. Having conducted buyer’s journey, persona, and competitive analysis work for Japanese and Western electronics companies, I can say that the divide between what a Japanese digital team thinks needs to happen outside Japan and what western buyers expect can be stark.

The top issues include:

  1. Poor understanding of the Western buyer
  2. An aversion to risk and experimentation
  3. Intricate organizational structures that result in slow decision making
  4. Emphasis on meeting the digital request of any large Japanese manufacturer (often resulting in one-off functionality useful to only one supplier)
  5. Strong desire never to be caught unable to answer a question digitally. This results in dense websites and convoluted buyer’s journeys.
  6. Ultimate ownership of parts of the website by business unit owners that lack digital experience, resulting in a disjointed experience
  7. Bias to Japanese language, with Japanese-language websites often having far more information than their English counterparts
  8. Inclination to over-engineer user interfaces, such as keyword search, part number search, parametric search, and configurators
  9. Bias toward building parts of the digital tech stack, instead of leveraging third-party technology that specializes in a given capability
  10. Organization hierarchies in which digital teams are lower on the totem pole than engineering teams. Often, digital teams are forced to make bad digital decisions because of the inexperience of other stakeholders who can mandate changes regardless of poor digital outcomes.

Organization hierarchies in which digital teams are lower on the totem pole than engineering teams. Often, digital teams are forced to make bad digital decisions because of the inexperience of other stakeholders who can mandate changes regardless of poor digital outcomes.

bridging the gap

Foundational Keys to Localization

Before you launch your localization journey, build a strong foundation. Foundational components include:

Personas

Developing personas for your Western buyers is critical. If possible, conduct real interviews with buyers to inform your personas. Common personas in the electronics industry include: design engineers; software engineers; purchasing agents; influencers (e.g., journalists); and professors and students. Creating personas for each target type helps build a shared understanding across JEM Japanese and western digital teams. Decision making improves because it’s informed by real actionable information, not opinions.

Internal
Interviews

Developing personas for your Western buyers is critical. If possible, conduct real interviews with buyers to inform your personas. Common personas in the electronics industry include: design engineers; software engineers; purchasing agents; influencers (e.g., journalists); and professors and students. Creating personas for each target type helps build a shared understanding across JEM Japanese and western digital teams. Decision making improves because it’s informed by real actionable information, not opinions.

Competitive
Analysis

Japan businesses are notorious for benchmarking against their competitors. However, JEMs often benchmark only against their Japanese competitors, not their Western counterparts. This limitation reinforces the JEM digital bias and results in websites tailored to the Japan audience. Conducting robust competitive analysis of JEM Western sites against their Western competitors, if done correctly, would create a roadmap and action plan for properly localizing a Western site.

Buyer’s Journey
Documentation

Knowing the Western buyer’s journey when researching electrical components is critical to creating a properly localized website. Most Western electrical component manufacturers (ECMs) are digitizing their buyer’s journey so that buyers can quickly and easily move through the steps: awareness, engagement, research, conceptual design, prototyping, justification, and purchase. A well-executed buyer’s journey program is the best way to align JEM Japan and western digital teams and is the touchstone in discussing decisions with internal stakeholders.

Putting together these foundational components is a game changer, and often the tipping point for JEMs to localize at the appropriate levels. It creates the alignment, shared understanding across teams, business units and regions, and informs strategic and tactical website decisions.

The Maturity Process for JEMs Moving from Good to Great Localization

JEM digital teams must answer this tough question for their digital properties: Adopt a Japan-centric model, a Western-centric model, or a blended model?

This isn’t a Japan vs. the West adversarial relationship. Japanese-based and Western-based JEM digital teams both have unique perspectives and capabilities, and the best companies leverage the strengths of their digital teams regionally and globally. But selecting the right model has wide-ranging implications.

The Maturity Process for JEMs Moving from Good to Great Localization

This is the historical model for JEMs. The final decision makers, budget decisions, and oversight are done out of Japan. Regional teams operate underneath these JEM digital teams and execute the Japan strategy.

Strengths

Less complexity, people, process, technology
considerations to manage.

Weaknesses

Japan-centric perspective dominates, leading to an inability to meet the needs of Western buyers. Regional teams are reactive, mainly functioning as order-takers from Japan. Buyer’s journey and demand funnel maturity is generally poor. Contemporary digital goals are rarely met, with Western buyers and internal stakeholders less than satisfied. Western buyers are cautious to consider JEM products due to poor digital experiences.

Blended Model

Japanese and regional teams work together to deliver regional experiences tailored to each region. Digital teams may be organized with Japan and regional digital team members reporting into different digital leaders and areas.

Strengths

Better alignment across Japan and regional digital teams to deliver the right experiences to the right regions. With Japan and regional teams comprising a truly “global digital team,” there is a better understanding around strategy, people, process, and analytics.

Weaknesses

There is no default model, and the experience and underlying systems can be variable across regions. This variability is usually the widest between Western and far eastern regions. Separate systems and processes frequently add complexity and cost.

Western Model

A truly global team of digital members from around the world work together to deliver a unified experience, process, technology, and analytics to customers and internal stakeholders. This leverages the contemporary strengths of a western digital organization.

Strengths

JEMs can compete at a higher level against Western competitors and drive more digital business into the buyer’s journey and demand funnel around the world. The user experience is consistent, and the leveraging of people, process, technology, and analytics is unified, resulting in better economies of scale, return on investment and effort. Overall, there is a heightened strategic ability to deliver competitive digital offerings to customers.

Weaknesses

The major weakness is how much the Far East regions are impacted by Western model adoption. There is always a concern that Japan’s internal stakeholders (engineering, marketing, marcom) will not tolerate being able to design the Japan website as they see fit. There can also be issues with major Japanese customers expecting their requests to be quickly represented on the Japanese website. If those requests are not quickly met, it can be difficult to explain to customers who have had that level of influence in the past.

Selecting the right model has wide-ranging implications.

There might be a fourth model in which the Japan site is freer to do the things they need to do, while the rest of the world uses the Western model as the default.

In my experience, Japan, China, and Korea have web-design models that differ the most from those of the rest of the world. Even countries in Asia like India,Thailand and Singapore lean more to the West with their web preferences than they do to the Far East. Forward-thinking JEMs are moving toward a Western default model for their digital properties with Western personas, buyer’s journeys, and demand funnels informing their global strategy. This orientation is rooted in the realization that Western buyers have had the highest digital expectations, and have been driving the most change on electronic manufacturers’ websites worldwide.

Why Japanese Electronics Companies Struggle with Localization

Japanese Electronics Companies Struggle with Localization

Conclusion

There has never been a better time for Japanese component manufacturers to improve their ability to localize their digital presence to Western audiences. Innovations in technology around content management, ecommerce, and product management have never been more robust. And the expectations of designers around the world, including the Far East, are normalizing as the digital expectations of younger generations around the world are increasingly similar.

JEMs that take the time to localize their digital presence and accompany buyer’s journeys to a Western orientation will see deeper digital penetration into Western markets, deeper movement of users down the digital buyer’s journey, and higher levels of satisfaction among customer, partner, and internal stakeholders.

7 Deadly Localization Sins of Japanese Component Companies and Western Websites

A truly global team of digital members from around the world work together to deliver a unified experience, process, technology, and analytics to customers and internal stakeholders. This leverages the contemporary strengths of a western digital organization.

Look-and-feel

Less complexity, people, process, technology considerations to manage.

Content and
data density

JEM websites in Japan are often unnecessarily content- and data-dense, and this almost always migrates to JEMs’ Western sites. JEM digital teams need to hyper-focus on making available only the content and data that would move the buyer down the journey. Second-tier content and data can be managed through UI/UX considerations.

Poor English usage

An instant turn-off to a Western buyer is poor English usage (e.g., janglish) on a JEM Western website. JEM website, content and documentation owners must attain a higher standard of English-language usage on their sites.

Poor English usage

Different parts of JEM sites are often owned by different engineering teams, with different digital priorities. This often results in a disjointed level of content, data, and features between product areas.

Big Zeta Localization Services

Big Zeta works with Japanese ECMs and other industrial companies to localize their websites for Western audiences. Our holistic approach leverages digital tools to help Japanese companies compete in Western markets. We have worked with some of the largest electronics manufacturers and industrial companies in Japan and North America to deliver great experiences to their customers with products and services, including:

  1. Website Design
  2. Content Management & Product Information System Integration
    eCommerce Solutions
  3. Keyword Site Search Tools
  4. Guided Product Finding Tools (ex: Parametric Search, Part Builders, Configurators)
  5. Enhanced Data Products
  6. Customer Intelligence Services (ex: Competitive Intelligence, Buyer Journey & Persona Programs)

If you would like to see how Big Zeta can help your company reach its business goals through digital channels, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us. We will work with you to better understand your goals, get a sense of your current capabilities, and discuss how we can localize your digital presence in the areas that work best for your business.

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