6 Best Digital Marketing Agencies in Japan

Comparison Table of the Top 6 Digital Marketing Agencies in Japan

EC MarketingZODIGITALDentsu DigitalWunderman ThompsonIrepLe Grand
ClientsEstée Lauder, Pioneer, CLINIQUE, Levi’s, Lands’ End, DisneyBerlitz, Hubspot, PaitfulMicrosoft, Toyota, SonyConfidentialAdidas, Audi, L’Oréal, Farfetch, AXA Direct, DellZurich Insurance, Triumph International
StrengthsBilingual staff with experience in Japanese and English markets; comprehensive services from research to UI/UX.Founded by Jeff, an expert since 2004; ideal for small to medium projects.Largest ad agency in Japan; best for large branding projects.Global marketing expertise; ideal for large-scale strategies.Representative of Japan’s digital agencies; handles global clients.Early pioneers in Japan’s search engine marketing; high bilingual staff.
WeaknessesSmall team; average knowledge of Rakuten Mall and Amazon.Small team may struggle with large projects.Smaller budgets may not secure top teams; focus on mass media.Not suited for small to medium digital projects; weaker in Japanese market.Large company may use less experienced staff for smaller projects; limited bilingual staff.Small team; availability needs confirmation.
BudgetStarting from tens of thousands of yen, average in hundreds of thousands of yen.Starting from tens of thousands of yen, average in hundreds of thousands of yen.Projects start from several million yen.Projects start from several million yen.Fees range from several hundred thousand to several million yen.Fees range from several hundred thousand to several million yen.

History and Features of Digital Marketing in Japan

The history of digital marketing in Japan is closely tied to the evolution of technology both domestically and internationally. In the late 1990s, commercial internet usage began in Japan, and by the 2000s, platforms like Yahoo! JAPAN and Rakuten became highly popular among Japanese consumers. Notably, Japan led the world in mobile internet services, with NTT DoCoMo’s i-mode service becoming a unique platform until the introduction of the iPhone in 2007 shifted the focus to US-led platforms. Early Japanese mobile phones, known as Galápagos phones, were distinct from the global standards set by the iPhone and Android.

Email marketing also saw early and extensive adoption in Japan, with a significant market for email advertisements. However, these services eventually declined as global platforms took over in the 2010s.

Social media in Japan followed a unique trajectory until the Japanese versions of Twitter (2006) and Facebook (2008) emerged. Before that, forums like 2ch and platforms like GREE facilitated advanced consumer-business interactions. Again, the 2010s marked a shift to US-led international platforms.

Japan’s digital marketing has evolved with a strong mobile-first approach, leading to unique developments like QR codes and mobile payments. When planning digital marketing strategies in Japan, it is crucial to consider these unique aspects.

Four Key Points for Implementing Digital Marketing in Japan

  1. Importance of Organic Search and Yahoo: Understand the significant presence of Yahoo in Japan’s search engine market.
  2. Value of Proprietary Domain Sites: Recognize the importance of maintaining unique domain websites.
  3. Influence of Comparison and Affiliate Sites: Utilize platforms like My Best and affiliate services like A8.net.
  4. Impactful Review Management: Prioritize managing reviews on platforms like Google My Business, Kakaku.com, and Tabelog.

Six Criteria for Selecting a Digital Marketing Agency in Japan

Selecting a digital marketing agency in Japan involves considering several key factors. Given the highly personalized nature of digital marketing services, it’s essential to assess the experience of the assigned project manager. Often, there is a discrepancy between sales proficiency and actual execution capability within agencies. Therefore, avoid being swayed by impressive presentations alone and evaluate the project manager’s experience and track record.

Criteria:

  1. Business Model: Determine if the agency primarily focuses on tool sales with consulting as a secondary service, or if consulting is their main offering.
  2. Materials Used for Deliverables: Assess the ratio of templates to custom content in their deliverables; larger companies often rely heavily on templates.
  3. Quality and Quantity of Deliverables: Check if the deliverables include detailed action plans and the volume of the provided material.
  4. Project Manager’s Track Record: Verify the experience and expertise of the main project manager assigned to your project.
  5. Manager’s Understanding of Your Industry: Ensure the project manager has a deep understanding of your industry and products.
  6. Customer Perspective: Confirm if the project manager can balance both user perspectives and corporate needs.

Recommended Digital Marketing Agencies in Japan

EC Marketing

  • Clients: Estée Lauder, Pioneer, CLINIQUE, Levi’s, Lands’ End, Disney
  • Strengths: Bilingual staff with extensive experience in both Japanese and English markets. Offers comprehensive services from market research to UI/UX improvements.
  • Weaknesses: Limited capacity due to a small team; average knowledge of Rakuten Mall and Amazon.
  • Budget: Starting from tens of thousands of yen, with average project fees in the hundreds of thousands of yen.

ZODIGITAL

  • Clients: Berlitz, Hubspot, Paitful
  • Strengths: Founded by Jeff, an expert with experience since 2004. Ideal for small to medium-sized projects or initial testing phases.
  • Weaknesses: Small team may struggle with large-scale projects.
  • Budget: Estimated starting from tens of thousands of yen, with average project fees in the hundreds of thousands of yen.

Dentsu Digital

  • Clients: Microsoft, Toyota, Sony
  • Strengths: Largest advertising agency in Japan, best for large-scale branding projects.
  • Weaknesses: Smaller budgets may not secure the best teams; focuses more on mass media promotions.
  • Budget: Projects start from several million yen.

Wunderman Thompson

  • Clients: Confidential
  • Strengths: Long history with global marketing expertise; ideal for large-scale, integrated global marketing strategies.
  • Weaknesses: Not suited for small to medium-sized digital marketing projects; relatively weaker knowledge of the Japanese market.
  • Budget: Projects start from several million yen.

Irep

  • Clients: Adidas, Audi, L’Oréal, Farfetch, AXA Direct, Dell
  • Strengths: Representative of Japan’s digital marketing agencies; notable for handling global clients.
  • Weaknesses: Large company size may result in less experienced staff for smaller projects; limited bilingual staff.
  • Budget: Project fees range from several hundred thousand to several million yen.

Le Grand

  • Clients: Zurich Insurance, Triumph International
  • Strengths: Founded by members involved in the early stages of Japan’s search engine marketing; high proportion of bilingual staff.
  • Weaknesses: Small team requires confirmation of availability.
  • Budget: Project fees range from several hundred thousand to several million yen.

Conclusion

It’s essential to recognize that digital marketing relies heavily on the experience of individual team members. This is especially true in Japan, where there is often a discrepancy between companies with strong sales skills and those with robust execution capabilities. Don’t be swayed by impressive presentations alone; it is crucial to evaluate whether the team has actual project experience. We hope this article helps you choose the best partner for your digital marketing efforts in the Japanese market.

Author Introduction

Chief Consultant of EC&Marketing Inc : Hajime Ito


Hajime Ito has 24 years of experience in digital marketing in Japan, with living and business experience in Malaysia and the United States. He has been involved in digital marketing since 2000, supporting web marketing for major companies. Before Google Analytics, he reported on server log analyses in 2002 and managed web ads before Google AdWords. Recognizing the importance of site usability in 2006, he implemented Jakob Nielsen’s insights to improve conversion rates. He organized the “Conversion Up Summit” in 2006 and has since contributed to 800 usability improvement projects.

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