TOKYO: Japan, long regarded as a particularly distinctive market by Western brands, is changing in a number of ways that international marketers need to be aware of and that could make their jobs simpler, observers have suggested.

"Japanese consumers increasingly resemble their Western peers," according to Greg Paull, principal at marketing consultancy R3.

"For companies that have long regarded selling in Japan as different and difficult, this may be welcome news," he told Campaign Japan.

"I believe the days when Japan justified a unique product range are coming to an end. [Today's] Japanese consumer is also more open to foreign-made products, especially Chinese," he added.

But this development does not excuse international brands from doing their homework on gaining an understanding of the consumers they are trying to reach.

It's still possible to see very dated advertising, according to Ross Rowbury, president and CEO of Edelman Japan, who cited the example of an FMCG brand ad featuring a 30-something housewife waiting for her husband to return from work. "That lady doesn't exist any more," he stated.

Brands need to ditch their preconceptions, he advised, and devise new ways of approaching key groups such as the 20m children of the baby boomer generation who possess significant wealth but are not aspirational in the way their parents were.

And the baby boomers themselves offer plentiful opportunities for brands in sectors ranging from travel to healthcare.

Paull sees foreign brands paying more attention to the "silver segment" with "more customised and targeted products and services".

In general terms, Japan's consumers may be more tuned into global trends than before and showing a greater appreciation of overseas brands – for example, Amazon sits 22 places above local rival Rakuten in Campaign's Asia's Top 1000 Brands report – but, like consumers anywhere, they tend to prefer local marketing strategies.

International brands can tap into local agencies to build their understanding and insights but they shouldn't expect rapid results.

"Quick success never happens" regardless of the amount invested, noted Yasu Katagi, chairman of McCann Worldgroup Japan.

"It takes time and energy, but [if you commit], you will enjoy stable, sustainable growth."

Data sourced from Campaign Asia-Pacific; additional content by Warc staff