The 6 Do’s and Don’ts of Marketing Your App in Japan

By Ruoji Tang | December 15, 2022

While Japanese users were relatively slow to adopt smartphones when they first emerged on the market, the last four years have seen a steady growth in adoption rates across the country. The current market penetration rate stands at 85%, which is expected to continue climbing in the coming years. 

App marketers have always been interested in growing their business in Japan. But scaling an app in the Japanese market can be tricky, and reaching local users requires different strategies. Japanese users have high expectations and unique preferences when it comes to mobile apps.

To keep users engaged and increase in-app spending, marketers need to adapt to regional requirements and embrace local best practices. For apps growing their presence in Japan, Liftoff collaborated with Adjust to compile the Japan Mobile App Trends Report 2022 with expertise from successful marketers. Here are six key takeaways from the report. 

1. Do look for unique promotional opportunities

Promoting an app in Japan means adapting to new cultural expectations and navigating the latest regulatory requirements. But often, cultural and regulatory differences may be opportunities in disguise. For example, using “J-Factors”—iconic imagery specific to Japan, such as cherry blossoms and Mount Fuji—may seem obvious, but they make a difference. Sisi Ji, Marketing Manager at ME2ZEN, a global gaming company, noted that after employing more emojis and J-Factors in marketing materials, they saw a notable increase in engagement from Japanese users.  

In another example, Japanese financial regulations mandate that fintech apps send postcards to customers’ registered mailing addresses to verify their place of residence. Andrew Wong, then Head of Japan Marketing and Customer Success at Quine, shared with us how the financial services company used this to promote engagement. By including branded materials and information about the product on the postcards, users could be directed to the app straight from the verification postcard. 

2. Always localize marketing copy

Invest in native Japanese copy—do not rely on translation tools. Sisi observes that Japanese users pay “a lot more attention to copy” in ads than U.S. users do. While it’s common to see English words in Japanese media, localizing your ad copy is essential. Paying attention to the nuances of the language will help convey your app’s unique value proposition. 

Akira Morishita, Head of Mobile at Bushiroad, noted that only about 2% of the internet’s information is in Japanese. Presenting your product in Japanese will also give you an edge over

3. Get to know your user—and adapt your product

Understanding your user is an essential step to scaling in any market, and Japan is no exception. For example, Pokekara, an online karaoke streaming app with deeply integrated community features, owes its massive success to attentive founders who spotted a gap in the market. As they got to know their users, the creators of the live-streaming app DokiDoki Live realized that no app would allow karaoke lovers in Japan to perform and cast online.  

You can gain insights about your users from A/B testing, but consulting your users directly on how they use your product can yield surprising results. For instance, TimeTree Product Manager Yasutoshi Yoshimoto found substantial differences in how different regions used their schedule-sharing features. In Japan, it was primarily used for coordinating schedules between family members. In Taiwan, the app was a useful tool for coordinating between romantic partners. This kind of direct inquiry opens up new strategies for advertising that may otherwise  go unnoticed.

iOS and Android also have comparable average Day 7 ROAS rates (7.43% and 7.19%, respectively). But if we look at longer-term returns, Android slightly outperforms iOS by 2%.  Day 30 ROAS is around 18% on iOS and 20% for Android.

4. Do build your brand

As an overseas company attempting to make inroads into the Japanese market, you’ll likely be a few steps behind domestic competitors. To attract customers, you will need to build trust and earn their time and attention.

Andrew pointed out that brand appeal and recognition is essential for making an impact in Japan—this is especially the case for fintech apps that require users to trust them with confidential personal information. Don’t skimp on brand-building and social campaigns and large-scale events. Japanese users need to know your bona fides as a company. It’s not enough just to advertise the kind of product you offer.

5. Don’t be intimidated by Japan’s gaming heritage

Japan didn’t invent video games, but it has reinvented them several times over. Global giant giants like Sony and Nintendo cast large shadows over the gaming culture in Japan, but that doesn’t mean you need a massive budget to gain a foothold in the market.

Kayac Producer and General Manager Masaya Murakami recounts how his company found gaming success in a number of small-team, hyper-casual experiments. If you’re not sure where to start, he observes games with a 2D aesthetic—as well as escape room and life sim games—are reliable winners with Japanese audiences.

6. Do partner with local agencies

Finally, ME2ZEN’s Sisi and M&E Time Entertainment’s Jackie Yu agreed that partnering with a local agency is an excellent addition to any foreign app publisher’s Japanese strategy. An agency that knows the ins and outs of doing business in Japan can leverage its relationships to connect your company with Japanese publishers, DSPs, and more. Beyond filling in knowledge gaps, it will help embed Japanese partners and their capabilities into your marketing strategy.

For more insights to help you build successful campaigns in Japan, start with our free Japan Mobile App Trends Report 2022, compiled in collaboration with Adjust. 

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