Terrie's Take 971 (Tourism Edition) - Pointless Inbound Marketing Campaigns

Terrie's Take terrie at mailman.japaninc.com
Mon Nov 26 09:47:53 JST 2018

* * * * * * * * TERRIE'S (TOURISM) TAKE - BY TERRIE LLOYD * * * * * *
A bi-weekly focused look at the tourism sector in Japan, by Terrie Lloyd, a
long-term technology and media entrepreneur living in Japan. (

Tourism Sector Edition Sunday, Nov 26, 2018, Issue No. 971

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+++ Pointless Inbound Marketing Campaigns

About two years ago I happened to be visiting a couple of clients in
Yurakucho and in between the two meetings had an hour to kill. I spied a
marketing technology trade show over in the Tokyo International Forum, and
decided to check out the latest methods for pushing your stuff. To my
surprise there was a small section on Inbound travel marketing, and I
visited a number of booths selling everything from analytical software to
touch displays - all in the hope that some ambitious but clueless local
government would buy for squintillions of yen. Nothing interesting, and in
this age of smart phones, it always amazes me that NEC, Fujitsu, and
others, seem to think there is an unlimited market out there for public
touch panels. It's not even hygienic.

Then I stumbled across a booth called SamuraiJapan, or something like that,
which was a travel site. Turns out it was being promoted as an internal
project by a group of young employees in a big Japanese electronics
company. While I tip my hat to their energy and willingness to try
something new in the stultifying conformity of a big company, I have to say
that the implementation was pretty terrible. They were proud of its
5-language capability, the few over-designed articles and videos, and a
trade directory of sponsors - none of whom were known or even of interest
to foreign tourists (over-priced and the same tired old products each year).

Nonetheless, I couldn't help engaging the booth manager in a conversation
about what they were trying to do, and suggested that if they were serious
about reaching foreigners, maybe they should align themselves with a
company that already knew the ropes. Instead of, "OK, let's have a meeting
and hear more," I got a blank look like I was suggesting we go out to an
S&M joint for a quick session. I guess I'm always the optimist - hoping
that within all the spending and public effort, there is also a purpose and
a desire to succeed in a given commercial space. But the fact is that often
Japanese corporate logic isn't about growth and success, it's about defense
from outsiders and a desire not to connect with another supplier if the
company thinks it can be done internally. Make-busy work is preferred to
share-it-around work.

By chance some weeks later I happened to connect with one of the senior
management of that same electronics company. I mentioned the site and the
team and asked why they wouldn't be interested in building something more
potent with my firm, Japan Travel. He said he'd check, and did, and came
back saying that the group was being given leeway to do something creative
so as to "encourage them". In reality no one was expecting the project to
come to anything. The executive agreed that it was wasteful, but he had
more important things to take care of than worrying about stepping on some
junior manager's toes about how to motivate staff.

[Continued below...]

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[...Article continues]

So, when I saw this last week a PRnewswire announcement that NTT DoCoMo has
launched a new inbound tourism site called "Wow! Japan" I just rolled my
eyes and wondered how many tens of millions of yen DoCoMo was blowing on
yet another "not-invented-here" boondoogle. No doubt Dentsu is involved in
this project, because the kick-off was suitably spectacular (expensive) and
will probably have the life time of an adult June firefly (about 3-4 weeks,
in case you are wondering). The "event" being a series of Ninja images on
the Shibuya big screens, coupled with an Ninja actor giving tourists a
fright out in front of Shibuya Crossing. Very cheesy.

According to the press release from DoCoMo's PR team, the purpose of the
site is to provide inbound tourists with "information about Japanese
culture, sightseeing, and travel experiences" - in other words, exactly the
same as one thousand other sites - most of which do a better job of it.
Instead, the real purpose of the site of course is to showcase the very few
services that DoCoMo provides which are applicable to foreign tourists. In
fact, I'm sure that whomever came up with the campaign must have struggled
with the concept once they discovered that DoCoMo, like so many other big
Japanese consumer companies, actually doesn't trust foreign tourists and
makes it difficult for them to access most of their domestic services. For
example, yes, you can buy an overpriced 7-day SIM, but you certainly are
not allowed to get a local phone or an unlimited low-cost local data

In other words, the Wow! Japan campaign is either about a big corporation
flying the flag in response to a hot new trend, or someone at DoCoMo
really, really doesn't understand the market.

DoCoMo is not the only Japanese corporation that has decided it needs to do
"something" with Inbound tourists, even if the company in question can't
actually bring itself to do normal business with them. JCB, the Japanese
credit card company certainly comes to mind. JCB is continually running
promotions for tourists to come spend money with their merchants. Of course
you'd assume that JCB would want those tourists to be using JCB cards, but
not so. In fact, if you are not a resident and a bonafide salary-person in
Japan, you can pretty much forget about even applying for a genuine
Japanese JCB card.

Several years ago, in yet another fit of optimism, I managed to get a
meeting with a senior JCB manager, and suggested that we tie up ("Japan
Travel x JCB" sounded pretty good to me) to provide international credit
cards to tourists. I was quickly shut down when told that JCB's overseas
network isn't in fact JCB (other than the brand) and instead intending
customers were being sent to correspondent local banks in those countries,
for a license fee. For this reason, there is no linkage between JCB cards
in Japan and those overseas, and loyal JCB cardholders abroad generally
can't access member privileges here in Japan.

But things do change, and even lumbering dinosaurs eventually start to
understand the connection between manure and fresh grass. In JCB's case,
they have just launched a campaign in Osaka whereby Thai card members can
get gift cards, discounts, and even cash-back offers, when shopping at any
one of the 60 stores that JCB has recruited for the project. This is kind
of a breakthrough for JCB, and suggests that maybe they are thinking
long-term about their own international consumer network after all. I guess
we'll see in 10 or 20 years time.

For now, the Thai campaign is limited, and clearly it has little impact on
the business methods or commitments of the company. Likely it was probably
outsourced to an advertising company (Dentsu?), much the same as the DoCoMo
campaign. This makes you wonder what the point is. If the campaign is
temporary, if it only benefits a few thousand tourists, all of whom had to
already have de-linked JCB cards in order to take advantage of the offers,
then why do it? Corporate pride is pretty much the only answer we can think

And corporate pride is not something to lightly discount here in Japan.
It's the first layer of the nationalism onion and as we frequently see in
the news, corporations will go to extraordinary lengths to protect their
pride and their name. Olympus, Mitsubishi, Nissan, and many others. But it
does surprise me that corporate pride doesn't factor in the actual
decisions being made about what to market to consumers. My guess is that
marketing to foreign tourists is still such a minor activity, it's little
more than a miscellaneous check box on a marketing team member's KPI list,
and not worthy of oversight. That's surprising, considering more than 30m
foreigners are freely spending all day every day while traveling here in

...The information janitors/


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Written by: Terrie Lloyd (terrie.lloyd at japaninc.com)

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