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Rebecca Smith, director NZ Story Group, provides some top tips for New Zealand tech exporters considering the Japanese market.

To date, the Japanese people have limited experience of our technological success and have seen little evidence that we have the foundational characteristics to produce globally competitive technology. There is currently a credibility gap between how New Zealand is perceived and how a trusted technology supplier would need to be seen – that is, advanced, detail oriented and precise.  
Agriculture is the primary association Japan makes when asked about New Zealand business. This view stems largely from the imagery they have been exposed to in the past; in their eyes our country’s ‘personality’ is humble and highly connected to working the land.  
This provides us with an opportunity to build from the known (agriculture) to the unknown (technology) by showcasing agritech examples that merge the two sectors.

The good news is there are no significantly negative perceptions of New Zealand technology to combat – we have a blank canvas and need to start telling our technology story in this market to change perceptions.

Japanese perceptions of New Zealand
Our insights revealed three key Japanese perceptions of New Zealand that are particularly relevant to exporting technology: 

1. New Zealand is quiet and sheltered rather than globally competitive
Because New Zealand is not seen as globally experienced or competitive, we are not immediately considered able to assist Japan in achieving and performing on the world stage. Similarly, there is some doubt about our ability to scale and deliver, or to understand complex international business.

2.New Zealand is agricultural rather than technological
Agriculture is arguably the primary association Japan makes when asked about New Zealand business, and in contrast there are few links with technology in the Japanese mind. They don’t think we really have the expertise to provide innovative, quality technology.

3. New Zealand is casual and rugged rather than refined and precise
New Zealanders are seen as relaxed and laid back. While a relaxed image is a drawcard for holiday-makers, commerce requires a different approach. We need to keep in mind how highly prized attributes such as precision, perfection and hard work are to Japanese.

Key research insights
Are you a technology company considering exporting to Japan? Take a look at the key insights from our Japan Perception Research:

Exactness and perfection are highly prized
Japanese see themselves as producing very high-quality output as a nation, and this is particularly true when it comes to technology. There is a preference for domestically manufactured goods, so there must be clear reasons and advantages for selecting an imported product.
Thoroughly understand your domestic competitors in your field – can you outshine the incumbents and can you prove it?

Entry is resource-intensive 
It may take years to close your first significant deal. You need to ensure your company has sufficient time and resources to invest. Meeting requests for technical information itself will be time intensive; add to this the need for accurate Japanese translations, as well as the importance of spending face-to-face time building relationships. 
• Thoroughly understand relevant regulatory requirements – can you meet them and do you have the resources to explain how?
• Work out the level of resourcing you will require – can you afford to invest in this market?

‘Made for Japan’ will garner more interest
We often talk about a ‘from New Zealand’ story, but what really struck us in Japan, is that it’s more about being ‘made for Japan’.
A ‘Made for Japan’ story talks to the quality of the products we produce for them and gives Japanese people confidence that New Zealand products sold to them are made to a higher standard than what we sell to China.

Japanese cultural considerations
Our research also uncovered some useful cultural insights that will help New Zealand businesses understand the key aspects of Japan’s traditions and business culture:

Rituals and traditions co-exist with technological advancement 
The old adage that ‘people do business with those they like’ is especially relevant to the Japanese market. Following traditions and long-standing protocols are an important part of the trust process.

Business culture is characterised by efficiency and earnestness
New Zealand companies need to understand and adhere to Japanese business culture in terms of timeliness and accuracy. During the mutual learning and negotiation stages, technology companies should have many opportunities to prove their precision and efficiency when sharing technological specifications and explanations. Remember, in order to do this well, an excellent grasp of the Japanese language will be crucial.

Build relationships and communicate, communicate, communicate
Personal relationships are extremely important in Japanese business culture, and therefore ongoing communication is vital in the Japanese market. This is especially true when problems arise. Face-to-face time is very important here. Visit often, and allow more time than you think you’ll need.

Start crafting your tech story
When it comes to New Zealand technology, there is almost a clean slate to work from. Japan has very little experience of New Zealand’s technology prowess, but they are open to being persuaded with evidence. We need to provide credible proof of technological expertise, particularly if there is an element of world leadership.
• Leverage any known and trusted brands, as they provide endorsement on our behalf.
• Show ‘how’ we are unique and think about our reason ‘why’. For example solving problems for the world and linking that back to something they believe we might be famous for – think agritech, boat building, wine, or even sports.
• Rather than talking about innovation, talk about creativity. To state that New Zealand is innovative will fall on unbelieving ears. However, to say that we address problems creatively and seek to solve problems with new solutions collaboratively will be a better way in.
• Show an environmental story – but ensure it doesn’t compromise on attention to detail or being world-class.
• Lastly, bring the proof – this was a lot about making the headlines, and being seen as internationally renowned.

Seek out partnerships with Japanese businesses, as they can accelerate our ambitions through their ability to scale and their manufacturing expertise.
The challenge is to shift away from focusing on ‘what’ we supply, towards using credible evidence to show ‘how’ we excel, as well as telling stories about ‘why’ we strive to innovate and add value.
The communications journey needs to tell an expanded narrative that moves beyond agriculture and broadens what we are known for. We need to highlight New Zealand’s internationally recognised technological expertise, our ‘Made for Japan’ focus, our creativity, and our collaborative approach to doing business.
Success in this market is entirely possible with careful management.

This article first appeared on the NZ Story website.

Glenn Baker

Glenn is a professional writer/editor with 50-plus years’ experience across radio, television and magazine publishing.


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