Affiliate Marketing in Japan – What You Need to Know

Posted By Jim Kersey

In a country where performance-based digital marketing is gradually outpacing traditional marketing activities, affiliate marketing in Japan has been taking off in recent years.

Both Western brands looking to gain traction in competitive markets and affiliate partners are now embracing the opportunities offered an approach to advertising that has initially been slow to take off here.

In this blog, we explore how affiliate marketing in Japan — where publishers sign up to affiliate programs created by brands to promote and sell their products on a commission-based payment model — is developing quickly and how merchants can make the most of it by turning local partners into their best advocates.

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Driving Factors of Affiliate Marketing Growth in Japan

A few key drivers contributing the growth of affiliate marketing in Japan are:

  • Japanese consumers utilise many sources to inform their purchasing decisions. And with higher levels of brand scepticism, uncertainty avoidance, and the desire to know what other people think about certain products before they purchase, affiliate marketing can be a vital stage in the buying journey in Japan.
  • The body of individuals operating as affiliates or influencers in Japan is growing. There are people that now serve both niche pockets and broad segments of society, influencing consumer decisions and shaping the way brands and products are perceived by the Japanese market.
  • Affiliate marketing offers a low risk investment where ROI is high and the potential for good results is also high, assuming robust affiliate programs can be created with strong relationships between brands and affiliate partners.
  • The need for results-driven digital marketing performance is incredibly high in Japan and brands are more comfortable paying for results that are guaranteed and quantifiable than brand awareness campaigns that are harder to measure in terms of performance.
  • Retailers, especially those new to Japan, value product and industry expertise and appreciate additional marketing support from those who can be seen to help drive highly targeted traffic leads and sales.

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Benefits of Affiliate Marketing in Japan

Product reviewers using affiliate marketing in Japan

As well as offering foreign brands another channel for reaching their audience and growing their brand’s presence in a completely new market, the affiliate market offers several benefits.

Build Trust with Japanese Customers more Easily

The trust barrier is one of the biggest challenges any new brand entering Japan will face. As well as having incredibly high standards for product design and functionality, the Japanese consumer is highly averted to risk and distrustful of organisations, according to indicators like the Edelman Trust Barometer.

Consumers like to buy from retailers they are familiar with and often these are Japanese brands that can absolutely guarantee quality.

Working with affiliates to promote your products can help to instill customer confidence much faster than other techniques that don’t leverage the credibility of influencers who already hold weight in the Japanese circles you’re trying to reach.

Pay Only for What You Get

Distributing your budget in Japan can be a daunting task. Many brands will shy away from strategies that focus too heavily on unquantifiable brand awareness campaigns and instead focus on results-based social media PPC marketing or Google Ads.

This is a good move when you’re just starting out and you’re trying to make immediate sales while testing Japanese waters with your messaging and overall branding.

Affiliate marketing is beneficial for very similar reasons, with your money only being spent when you generate sales. If affiliates are not able to drive traffic to your site, you don’t need to pay them.

Expand Your Local Marketing Team

Example of website owner and affiliate marketer in Japan

For foreign brands with minimal Japanese language support or employees on the ground, it can be hard to deliver marketing content that effectively speaks to the desires and preferences of your audience and portrays your brand in the right way.

Building affiliate marketing programs can help you by, in a sense, expanding your marketing team without hiring any new people. Chosen individuals become a point of contact with your customer base and you can draw on their knowledge and experience of the market.

HB Pro Tip: Some kind of local presence is still recommended so your campaigns and content are completely localized for the Japanese market. Whether it’s Japanese customer support or marketing creatives, having people on the ground can be a huge determining factor in whether your strategy will take off.

Generate Targeted Traffic

As most affiliates service a very distinct group of people, or build their own brands around a certain industry or sector, traffic generated through their channels can be highly refined and targeted — offering you greater chances of picking up customers with high lifetime value.

Many Japanese shoppers are also incredibly loyal to products and companies once they know they can get quality from them. By working with affiliates in Japan, you can kick-off long term relationships with new audiences who can become an important part of your customer base.

It Will Help Your SEO

Affiliate marketing in Japan is great for your SEO. In a competitive market where it’s sometimes hard to build a strong online presence for targeted search terms, numerous backlinks to your site via your affiliate blogs and websites can do wonders.

HB Pro Tip: SEO benefits from affiliate marketing and guest blogging are always more effective when you’re working with higher-ranked partners whose audiences are more likely to enjoy your products and content.

How to Use Affiliate Marketing in Japan

Brand employees reviewing content for affiliate marketing in Japan

To get affiliate marketing right in Japan, there are a few things you should do when building your program.

1. Find Affiliates in Japan

There are a lot of free ways to find affiliates, but there are also a few paid shortcuts to consider.

Free Methods Paid Methods
Search for influencers relevant to your business on certain channels like Instagram or TikTok. Sign-up to an affiliate network or directory. Some will charge you to list your product whereas others simply take a commission on each sale.
Identify popular blogs or news hubs for your industry and contact the owners. Work with an affiliate marketing agency who can help to connect you with individuals in their network and even manage your affiliate program for you.
Find popular groups or forums such as Facebook groups that are relevant to your business and contact the owners.
Search for affiliate marketers on freelancer forums or marketplaces like Fiverr.
Consider turning existing customers into affiliates. These individuals will already be acquainted with your brand and how your products work.
Create an affiliate program and share the news with your existing network asking for potential partners to join you (LinkedIn, Email lists).

2. Review Your Affiliates

When working with affiliates and influencers, you’ll need to find a way to review whether their audience is the right fit for your brand. Individuals who manage popular blogs that are closely related to your type of product or service are the best drivers or suitable traffic.

You might also want to consider audience size. Smaller more engaged niche audiences are likely to be more receptive to promotional content from an affiliate, whereas messages about your brand might get lost when working with larger publishers of content with a wide and diverse audience base.

3. Establish Costs Upfront and Incentivise

An affiliate marketing program should include some set rates for individuals who want to partner with you. For each product or service type you offer, set a commision rate which may or may not be scalable depending on how well an affiliate is performing

HB Pro Tip: Additional incentives can help to establish long term partnerships with good affiliates while motivating them to promote your brand more. It’s important to remember that successful affiliates often work for a wide range of clients and their focus will likely be shifted towards arrangements that benefit their time spent more.

Example of a Scalable Affiliate Program

Sales Generated Commission Rate
1-10 5%
11-20 6%
21-30 8%
31-50 10%
51-100 12%
101+ 15%

5. Create Great Content and Work with Your Affiliates

The best affiliate partnerships are those you actively manage and support. Creating high-quality content for individuals to adapt and use on their one channel saves publishers a huge amount of time and makes it more likely for your messages to have an impact on their audiences.

This can be as simple as providing all your affiliates with a database of high-resolution images, banners, or infographic content that they can feature in their posts and blogs, or even offering affiliates a free training course on how to use your products.

You could even go as far as drafting email templates that affiliates can use to send out to their lists, saving them time and making sure your key value propositions are included in their comms. The easier you make it to promote your product, the more likely affiliates will do so.

HB Pro Tip: While affiliate marketing does allow for a certain “hands off” approach, you do need to invest some time into setting things up right. Time spent building stronger relationships with your successful partners can go a long way.

6. Measure Performance

All good marketing initiates should be measured and tracked to some extent. Effective measurement of your affiliate marketing performance should help to give you a better sense of the markets that are more receptive to your messages, the types of affiliates who can drive high quality leads and sales, and how your affiliate marketing ROI compares with other aspects of your Japanese Marketing strategy.

Want to Discover 5 Important Digital Advertising Trends in Japan?

Affiliate Programs Need to be Localized Too!

Alt Text Example of woman shopping in Japan because of successful affiliate marketing in Japan

Assuming you are working with affiliates who Japanese, they will handle a lot of the localization process for you, in that they will be using their native tongue to connect with their audience on your behalf. However, there are still a few aspects of the process that should receive some localization attention.

  • Ensure that your website is already localized and optimized for the Japanese market so that when people land on your site, they’re not put off by foreign images, videos, or written content.
  • Convert all product descriptions, currencies and any technical data to be Japanese standard.
  • Adapt any promotional content to be more relevant to the local market. If you’re talking about data or surveys that are not Japan-based, you’re missing a chance to build confidence with potential customers.
  • Any seasonal marketing campaigns you want your affiliates to promote should be based on the kind of events and holidays that are popular in Japan, not your home country.

Consider Working with a Local Partner

Working with native Japanese speakers to help with various aspects of your marketing strategy can always help, especially in the early days of your market entry. There are some dedicated affiliate marketing agencies that could handle several aspects of the process for you, if you have decided that this will be a large focus on your entry strategy.

Alternatively, other types of agencies can be used to support your affiliate marketing program by either helping with the initial strategy or localizing your Japanese promotional content so it resonates with your future customers — leaving you to handle relationship management yourself.

Japan recently dropped to 55th place in global English proficiency, squarely in the “low proficiency” band, according to Education First. So whatever you decide, we would recommend having at least one Japanese member of your team (internal or external) who can act as a bridge between yourself and your affiliate partners.

This will help to avoid any confusion over rates, clarify expectations, and strengthen bonds so you can potentially develop a body of highly effective and loyal affiliates to keep spreading the word about your brand.

Need Help Building Your Japanese Marketing Strategy? Get in Touch!

Final World

When considering some of the major challenges of succeeding in the Japanese market, such as building credibility and awareness with audiences that know little about you, affiliate marketing can be incredibly effective.
As more Japanese consumers look to their peers and influential publishers of content who can offer personal guidance about what to buy, both affiliate marketing and influencer marketing will continue to grow, offering foreign brands a chance to create stronger connections with new audiences.

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