Facebook Advertising in Japan – A Crash Course in Converting Users

Posted By Jim Kersey

A few things make the Japanese market different to the rest of the world. Sometimes, these are simply cultural quirks. At others, these differences can have a real impact on your business and commercial success.

For instance, the differences in Japan’s SNS landscape, while seemingly subtle at first glance, can seriously impact the way you reach potential customers. Aspects ranging from key platform characteristics; demographic trends; user behavior, and overall popularity, are all things you need to study up on before defaulting to your standard PPC tricks.

With this in mind, we offer you a crash course on how Facebook advertising in Japan (one of the world’s primary go-to advertising platforms), should be approached as part of your digital marketing activities here.

Facebook’s Place in the Japanese SNS Landscape

It’s true that Japanese consumers spend a great deal of time on globally popular SNS platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, but there are also other more local varieties that garner huge user numbers too, such as LINE. And even with respect to the social media platforms you already know, the hierarchy of popularity in Japan is quite different to many other places. Here’s what the landscape looks like in terms of user numbers:

*Tap or Hover on the graph below to see details.

Sources: Insta Lab

If we remove the names that aren’t strictly social media platforms in the traditional sense (i.e. LINE and Youtube), Facebook is actually in 3rd position, which might not seem too unusual. But when you consider how Twitter has almost twice the monthly active users, while LINE has basically triple, you start to get a sense of the pecking order in Japan.

Japanese Users Prefer Anonymity

There are a few theories as to why Facebook has never truly taken off in Japan like it has in other nations. One of these is that Japanese social media users are less inclined to build profiles that feature personal information about themselves, preferring platforms where they can be anonymous.

Interestingly, the Japanese Ministry of Internal Affairs of Communications published a whitepaper in 2018 that found that many Japanese people distrust others on social media, and are concerned about being misrepresented or hurting someone’s feelings, due to their online activities. Other platforms like Twitter, more easily allow users to go online using different personas and engage with communities and content without being judged by their real life friends, family or work colleagues.

One of Facebook’s strengths is how it can help you to build connections with new people through digital communities, such as online shared interest groups. However, it has also been revealed that Japanese users are much less likely to use SNS platforms to make new friendships and connections with real people, instead preferring to use them for other purposes like entertainment or to stay up to date with current affairs.

Facebook Caters to an Older Audience

An older audience enjoy Facebook advertising in Japan

Facebook caters to an older population in Japan, with user demographics skewed towards those who are over 30. There is also heavy usage of the platform for business and work-related purposes, whether that’s connecting with colleagues or establishing an online base for a company or service. As such, many compare the role of Facebook in Japan to that of LinkedIn in the rest of the world.

More Male Users

There are traditionally more male users on Facebook in Japan than females. This is more noticeable in older age groups of users between age 40-60. This global trend is not isolated to Japan however, and reasons for it may be attributed to the platform’s style, functionality, and content as much as social reasons. So without delving too deeply into social analysis here, the major takeaway is that you could have a greater chance of reaching your demographic target if older males are your key buyer persona.

Read Our 2020 Breakdown of Japan’s Top Social Media Network

What’s Your Objective?

Before you create an ad, Facebook lets you choose a primary objective. This means it will do its best to deliver ads based on what you want people to do when they see your ads, whether that’s click through to other pages or links for your brand, download an app or consume your promotional video content.

If you’re new to Japan, you might enjoy a certain amount of reassurance from this kind of autopiloting. While there are multiple configurations you can play with on Facebook to further coax specific outcomes from social media users, you can choose the below objective options to help you easily gain traction in the core areas that matter.

Brand Awareness

Choosing brand awareness as your primary objective will help you to generate interest in your product or service by reaching as many people as possible within your target audience. As a way to get your name out there and start showcasing your product’s benefits and attributes, it can be a good way to start courting the local market.

Use this objective when you want to:

  • Increase people’s awareness of your business, service or brand
  • Show your ad to as many people as possible in your target audience

HB Pro Tip: When striving towards greater brand awareness through Facebook advertising in Japan, especially in a market that is so big, it’s easy to target too widely. We recommend grounding your efforts in key parameters so your voice doesn’t get lost. To do this, ask yourself what common interests, demographic characteristics or behavioral traits your audience should have in order to actually convert further down the road. We’ve found that by always anchoring brand awareness campaigns with key features like this, we can make sure we’re always building awareness among individuals who are likely to remember our messages, and contribute to our long-term goals.

Traffic and Consideration

Heavy traffic of potential shoppers from using Facebook advertising in Japan

The consideration objective is designed to get people to start thinking about your business and look for more information about it. You may already have a great landing page with informative content about your products, or perhaps your app store listing says it all, but to get people here in the first place, traffic focused ads can help to target users who are likely to be enticed into clicking through to these pages.

Use this objective when you want to:

  • Drive people from Facebook to your landing pages, blog posts or app store listing\
  • Gather engagement for your published content (blogs, posts, articles, pages, videos) and generate likes, comments and shares to amplify your reach
  • Send people to your ecommerce platform of choice where they can buy your products
  • Collect user information and leads for newsletters from people who are interested in your product
  • Connect with existing or potential customers and foster greater interest for your brand

HB Pro Tip: At Humble Bunny, we love SEO and all the amazing things it can offer, but even with the most effectively optimized landing pages and ecommerce websites, it still takes time to get people there in the first place through organic methods alone. That’s why we advocate the use of traffic campaigns as an excellent way to drive considerable volumes of potential customers to your website and landing pages. As long as your pages and sales funnel are well structured to support the user journey, your ad spend for traffic campaigns can go a very long way.

Finally, don’t miss out on the chance to implement retargeting ads to further connect with potential customers based on the different stages of the sales funnel they’re at, whether that’s browsing your product pages, reading your blog content or watching your videos. By initiating different messages and upsells to specific groups, you can better influence your users based on their specific needs.

Conversions

The conversion objective encourages people interested in your business to buy or use your product or service. For example, Facebook can help you to target Japanese users who are more likely to visit your online store and make a purchase, rather than those who will simply view your content and move on.
If you’re feeling the pressure to start generating some sales from your Japanese activities, this is probably the best foot forward. Facebook will use it’s knowledge of online users to focus your ads on people who have already shown interest in similar products and have converted. This could involve downloading an app, registering an account on a website, or visiting a physical store.

Use this objective when you want to:

  • Encourage people to take a specific action after viewing your add
  • Show ads to users from your product catalogue and entice people into making an immediate purchase
  • Get people to install your app and make in-app purchases

HB Pro Tip: Our not-so-secret key for achieving conversions in the Japanese market is: relentless testing. The true power of Facebook Ads is revealed through extensive target and message testing. If your ads are not converting in the Japanese market, it is because of one of two reasons: either the message is not compelling enough or it is being shown to the wrong audience (or both). In an expansive market like Japan, extensive testing is crucial.

For example, when testing messages for a luxury leather brand recently, results revealed that users responded overwhelmingly better to product-focused messages describing features in an accurate and practical way (not a huge surprise given the Japanese proclivity to information gathering) over more conceptual and aspirational messages.

Best Ad Types for Converting on Facebook Japan

Converting online users into loyal shoppers using Facebook advertising in Japan

Having access to a huge variety of advertising options is great, but sometimes this can feel overwhelming when first setting up your campaigns for Japan. While we use several ad types and combinations of formats as part of our process of improving the customer journey, some of our most favourite (and effective) ad types include the following.

Link Ads

Link ads and the clicks they produce are a great way to measure how much interest your ads are generating. They can help to promote your online blog content and send your customers to your landing pages, or other stages of your sales funnel.

In contrast to other ad types, Link ads are entirely clickable, including the image and a dedicated action button, which can be customized to deliver a specific message to your audience. For example, you can choose from button text such as, ‘Sign Up’, ‘Download’ or ‘Learn More’ to achieve a better click through rate.

Dynamic Ads

Facebook’s Dynamic Product Ads allow you to target users based on past actions they’ve taken. Whether it is through your website or application, you can deliver a perfectly appropriate Facebook ad to people based on their interests and behaviour.

For example, you can upload your product catalogue onto Facebook and it will automatically deliver the most relevant product ads to people based on what it knows about them and how they’ve interacted with your content. All you need to do is make sure your Facebook Pixel is installed correctly and the platform will handle the automation and retargeting for you.

These ads shouldn’t be mistaken with Dynamic Creative Ads (another effective ad type) which automatically generates optimized ad combinations of your different image and text variations, including titles, CTAs descriptions, images, and videos. Through an intelligent mix designed for optimal results, these ads are served to the most relevant placement location to increase your potential even further.

Go Beyond the ‘Single Image’ Ad

Merchant using video ads for Facebook advertising in Japan

To support your various objectives, you can choose from a number of ad formats on Facebook. There are several options you can choose from, such as the classic single image ad (the workhorse of many social media campaigns), but below are two effective ways to go beyond this when implementing your next campaign.

Video Ads

Video ads are a powerful way to connect with Japanese users who don’t know who you are (yet). To make a connection with people and draw them in with sound, emotion, and movement, you can deliver video ads in a number of locations within the Facebook platform. This includes stories, feeds, and in-stream.

Many great tests have been conducted to compare the performance of video ads to static image ads, such as the one by Biteable. Using the same target audience group, spend, and objective, results from their experiment showed that when compared to their image ads, video generated triple the amount of leads, 480% more clicks, and a 280% reduction in their cost per lead.

These video ads are also a crucial part of many successful retargeting campaigns. By retargeting ads at your ideal audience based on how long someone has watched your video, you can increase your relationship building potential following any brand awareness campaign that features video content.

Multi-Product Ads (Carousel Ads)

A favourite for ecommerce brands and fashion retailers, multi-product carousel ads are perfect for showcasing your top bestsellers, or offering users visual variation to deepen their understanding of your offerings.
This kind of ad displays up to three product images in the same ad unit with a separate title, description, and link destination for each image. It is particularly effective when combined with custom audiences from your website’s product pages to increase click through rates.

Facebook will automatically evaluate users and place the specific product image it thinks will perform the best in the first place of the carousel. This will make it more likely for people to see the ads they’ll like, and click through to your page.

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Best Practices for Using Facebook Advertising in Japan

Among many of the best practices and insider tips we’ve picked up over the years, below are some of the most important for brands using Facebook advertising in Japan for the first time.

Adjust Your Audience Targeting

Girl adjusting her audience targeting when using Facebook advertising in Japan

Always make sure you have an accurate customer persona and keep working to refine it as you go. There are so many features on Facebook to help you reach your ideal customers, but you’ll need to frame your activities with a clear idea about who you want to connect with. You can customise your audiences based on things like location, age, gender, interests, and connections.

Going beyond this, leverage Facebook’s robust targeting features to truly maximise your reach. You can use advanced targeting to exclude people who are connected with certain irrelevant pages, apps, or events, for instance. You can also implement a custom audience to give Facebook a more comprehensive understanding of who you want your ads to target.

These custom audiences can be created by uploading a list of current customers or leads, or installing Facebook’s tracking pixel onto your website to build an audience from the kinds of people that have already visited you and browsed your pages.

Create Detailed and Informative Ads

Many newcomers to Japan have remarked on how ‘busy’ Japanese ads can seem compared to those they are used to. This comes down to the fact that Japanese consumers are more likely to appreciate ads that offer them a great deal of information and detail upfront (and in one go). This can result in greater amounts of text featured on a small canvas.

While platforms like Facebook and Instagram have set rules about text usage and how written information should be balanced with imagery, an important takeaway is that Japanese users will naturally appreciate detailed information, accuracy, and clarity over purely aspirational or conceptual ads.

Focus On the Details

Taking note of the small things and focusing on details will show your audience that you’re invested in the Japanese market and that your products and services are high quality. Consumers are extremely sensitive to how you present yourself here, and making sure that you accurately portray yourself with sufficient detail through your videos, images, and ad copy will reduce the chance of users misinterpreting you. The last thing you want is to appear irrelevant, low quality, or even disrespectful to those you’re trying to impress the most.

Differentiate Between Instagram and Facebook

Differentiation example for businesses using Facebook advertising in Japan

As you can easily manage both of these platforms within your Facebook ads manager account, be careful not to simply apply one strategy to both uniformly. It’s crucial that you differentiate your ads strategy between Instagram and Facebook based on the unique characteristics of each platform.

While Facebook is better for direct response advertising and drawing attention through interesting links and information, such as blog posts, articles or news, Instagram focuses on the quality of aesthetics drawing brand awareness through more aspirational content. Long text descriptions or articles obviously don’t perform the best here, unless they’re accompanied by an attention-grabbing image that helps tell the story.

There is of course crossover between these platforms, but knowing the fundamental difference is important for suitably distributing your efforts, and budget, to achieve the best results across your overall marketing strategy for Japan.

Key Steps for Getting Started with Facebook Advertising in Japan?

Before you jump in and create any adverts, here’s a quick look at the basic steps needed to start using Facebook advertising in Japan.

1. Understand Your Market Position

Your ads will only be effective if you understand your place in the market and are delivering the right messages to position yourself appropriately. Whether you want to be the market authority or maximise your potential as a niche brand, this will impact the way you conduct yourself through your Facebook advertising efforts.

2. Set Suitable Goals

Think about why you’re advertising and what you’re aiming to achieve with your Facebook ads. To avoid spreading yourself too thinly, make sure your goals are clearly aligned with your intended commercial results. For instance, if you have a modest budget and need to generate sales quickly, a heavy focus on brand awareness won’t be as effective as highly conversion focused ads.

3. Define Your Audience and Budget

We recommend narrowing your reach to maximize the impact of your ads. Always be mindful of the intended purpose of delivering specific ads to certain people. And when you’ve implemented logical targeting, make sure your budget is balanced to reflect your priorities accordingly.

4. Create Compelling Facebook Ads

Adapting your existing ads or visuals assets so they can be used in Japan is fine, as long as they are completely localized and relevant. However, we have seen brands achieve the greatest success when ads are created from the outset to cater to Japanese users.

5. Choose the Most Effective Ad Placements

Facebook lets you leverage default placements for your objectives. It will decide for you based on your objective choice how it will deliver your ads to your audience, whether that’s desktop news feeds, Instagram stories, or the audience network.

However, if you think you can achieve better results and lower average costs with more tailored placements, don’t be afraid to stray from this safe zone ⁠— just make sure you test and analyse your process effectively. For example, our experience tells us that ads delivered on feeds typically perform better than other placements, so we often choose this configuration manually.

Do I Need to Work with a Local Digital Agency in Japan?

Western and Japanese colleagues eating and planning Facebook advertising in Japan

There are several pitfalls that Western brands often fall into without sufficient Japanese support. We’re not saying it’s compulsory for all companies entering Japan to work with a local agency, but it could help you grasp the various cultural nuances and contextual implications of the Japanese language and context, which can help you to reach more people.

One of the best ways to make sure you build Facebook campaigns that are 100% optimized for the local market and have the best chance of achieving the results you need is to work with a team of native speakers who are well versed in the world of Facebook advertising in Japan.

More than anything, this could give you the much needed edge to build a sense of trust and reliability with your potential customers. And considering the homogeneous nature of the nation and the natural skepticism for new brands, this can help you with your first encounter of the Japanese consumer landscape.

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Next Steps for Facebook Advertising in Japan

Once your ads are launched, make sure you pay very close attention to how they perform. A constant process of testing, analysis, and optimizations will allow you to gather the conclusive data you need to make important (and impactful) decisions for your brand.

Despite the need for heightened senses and an awareness of how Facebook advertising might differ in Japan compared to other nations, there’s huge potential here that you can unlock through a measured approach to using one of the world’s most popular SNS platforms.

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