How to choose the right creative agency in Japan?

May 24, 2022

Choosing the right creative agency in Japan is critical to developing winning creative assets that will resonate with your target audience, yet global firms entering Japan often struggle to find the right partner. Even firms that have been operating in Japan for a period of time may struggle to work with their creative agency to deliver the desired result. In our view, there are three key considerations to choosing the right creative agency and improving your creative partnership: (1) achieving both creative excellence and English proficiency is rare, (2) choose a creative director, not a creative agency, and (3) strategy is critical, especially when developing your first creative assets. Let’s consider each of these in turn. 

1. Achieving both creative excellence and English proficiency is rare. 

It’s always challenging for global and regional marketing teams to bridge the language and culture gap between Japan and overseas, and even more so when working on highly nuanced strategy and communications. Firms will often look to partner with an agency with the highest level of proficiency in English, yet this may not be the right approach. In Japan, top creative talent often has less experience operating in English but will be able to develop the best creative for your marketing campaign that will delight your target audience. Consequently, the challenge is how to bridge the communications gap with local creative talent. To tackle this problem, firms should consider working with qualified marketing specialists either in-house or via partners that have experience bridging the creative strategy between the global and local market. 

2. Choose a creative director, not a creative agency.

Creative agencies have a wide range of talent, both junior and senior, and with different industry experience. When discussing potential opportunities with creative agencies in Japan, it is important to align on precisely which creative director you will be working with on your project. In doing so, you can be sure that you are aligned on the approach and that your creative partner has the right background and experience to support your business needs. Local partners in Japan can help overseas startups and enterprises discover and reach out to the right creative director to support their market expansion.

3. Strategy is critical, especially when developing your first creative assets. 

While choosing the right creative partner will help you deliver winning marketing assets for Japan, it is incredibly difficult to develop successful creative if the customer strategy behind the creative execution isn’t fundamentally sound. As such, firms may spend a significant proportion of their budget on expensive creative agencies, only to discover that the result is failing to win customers. It’s essential for global startups and enterprises to develop a deep understanding of customers, a winning value proposition and go-to-market strategy, before partnering with an expensive creative agency to deliver execution for your project. Once you have an effective approach for the Japanese market, you can partner with a top tier creative agency to truly bring your strategy to life. Once you have aligned on your customer strategy and creative needs, we’ve put together some additional considerations below. 

Which criteria are helpful for evaluating and selecting creative agencies in Japan? We recommend the following points:

  • Budget
  • Creative Talent
  • Track record (creative assets, examples, results)
  • Experience working with global companies
  • Language capability 
  • Understanding of your target audience
  • Knowledge of the market or vertical your business operates in
  • Agility (speed and ability to execute / iterate)
  • Willingness to work with new business partners
  • Interest in your market, product or service
  • Who will you be working with in the creative agency? (particularly for large firms, which team or creative director?)

Be sure to align on and understand your key needs and focus for the creative campaign

  • Is this MVP creative development for Japan or a brand / creative refresh?
  • Is this your first “large-scale” marketing initiative to drive growth in Japan?
  • Is the goal to develop creative that is more relevant to your target market?

Strike a balance between global and local.

  • Think about your customer audience in terms of commonalities and differences between your global and local market. Leveraging key customer insights, crystalize your global brand strategy and carefully define brand assets with clear hard points and soft points for creative execution.
  • Remember that the creative agency understands the local market and will have a strong point of view on the best way to reach the target audience, assuming you are working with a firm that has experience in your industry. 
  • It’s important to strike a balance between giving the agency creative freedom to design a unique, locally relevant creative, and ensuring that the key priorities, messages and insights are communicated through the creative.



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