Faced with an ageing and shrinking population, Japanese brands are having to look overseas for future growth – a development that will require a shift in the thinking of marketers.

The country’s population is already the world’s oldest, with a median age of 48.4 years, and the total of 127 million people is projected to decrease by over a quarter during the next 40 years .

Accordingly many Japanese brands are looking overseas for further growth, but observers say marketers will need to change their mindset if they are to achieve this. What worked in the past for auto brands and electronics firms – the promise of leading technology and high quality – won’t necessarily work in the future.

“To become truly global will require Japanese executives to get out of their comfort zone and think drastically differently about organisation, marketing, and strategy,” Anindya Ghose, Heinz Riehl Chair Professor of Business at New York University’s Stern School of Business, told Campaign Asia.

One aspect of this is the development of distinct strategies for each market, something evident in how fashion brand Uniqlo is approaching India, which it believes has the potential to become its top market.

The retailer opened its first store in India last October (a third is due to open later this month), teaming up with Delhi-based designer Rina Singh to produce a special collection based on the kurta, a collarless tunic-shirt, as well as dresses and other items.

“India is diverse, and each day we are learning more and more about the customer here,” Yukihiro Katsuta, the retailer’s head of R&D, told Vogue Business.

The title reported how customer segmentation, experiences and community-building will be central to building customer loyalty at Uniqlo.

At the same time, however, brands must not lose sight of their essential Japanese-ness. “I do not think Japanese understand their unique positioning in the global market because they have not seen themselves from outside of (their) own little island(s),” said Ray Fuji, Tokyo director for management consultancy LEK. 

Sourced from Campaign Asia, Vogue Business IMF; additional content by WARC staff