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2020.2.10 Column

5 things to know when hosting a B2B Conference in Japan

Let’s say you have a global conference that you hold in America, the EU, ASEAN, etc. and you want to take it to Japan. It makes sense after all, Japan can be a very profitable market and conferences are both a way to show off your brand’s knowledge, expertise, reach, and more. But what things should you be careful about when you are planning your B2B conference here and what mistakes do some overseas companies often make? 

Here are 5 things to know when you are hosting a B2B conference in Japan.

1)    Almost all B2B conferences have free admissions

Hosting a conference anywhere in the world takes a lot of money and time, but the Japanese market is a particularly expensive one. So, it is only natural that you would want the attendees to cover some of the costs of the event. You are, after all, providing the attendees with a valuable opportunity to gain knowledge and information as well as meet face to face with your company and its sponsors.  

But in Japan most B2B conferences are free admission. In fact, if you were to charge money for an entrance pass to your event, attendance would be drawn way down. In Japan it is not the norm to charge money in Japan for these reasons: 

・While in many cases abroad, people are paying to gain access to the knowledge and info you are providing, in Japan companies are supposed to feel grateful that the audience came to hear their information.

・They aren’t as many specialists in Japan compared to America and Europe. And many of those attending events are not passionately looking to better themselves through learning more, but instead are more interested in simple information gathering

So when planning your conference, its better to plan on free admission to gather more of your target audience. 

2)    The very particular business culture and 'Ometenashi.' 

Many people already know that Japanese business is very different from the business culture in America and Europe. And many foreign companies make mistakes that are small and seem slightly strange to a Japanese audience. For example, writing someone’s name above their job title and company in name. (In Japan names are always written in this order: company name, job title, person’s name).
Other times they can make mistakes that come off as rude or improper, such as not preparing separate rooms for you speakers and the your partner companies who are sponsoring you conference and may have an exhibiton booth. 

‘But we aren’t a Japanese company and we don’t want to do everything the Japanese way.’

This is not always wrong and indeed there are many things that Japanese companies could learn from their overseas counterparts (especially when it comes to marketing).

But let’s take the example of not preparing a separate lunch for your partnering companies who may be exhibiting at and sponsoring your conference. In Japan there is the concept of 'omotenashi' which is often transalted as Japanese hospitality. As the host of the conference, your company is supposed to take certain steps to be a polite host to both the attendees and the companies who may be sponsoring. So, for example, if you have an exhibition area where your partners pay a sponoship fee to exhibit at, in order to be a polite host, it is normal to provide them with a certain number of lunches for their employees at the booth.

The main reason of holding these conferences in Japan is too expand your brands awareness and business, following the local business norms shows that you are serious about Japan. So, it is important to get advice from your local office and partners. 

3)    The location of the venue is incredibly important. 

Overseas, many companies will choose large exhibition halls with hotels and other accommodations around them for the attendees. But what about Japan? In Tokyo there are several exhibition halls on the outskirts or just outside of town, but they are mostly used for exhibitions and trade shows. When hosting a B2B business conference, it is important to choose somewhere that is centrally located and convenient for your target audience. 

As mentioned before many overseas conferences last for several days and the attendees with stay in hotels near the venue. In Japan, most conferences are hosted in Tokyo and it is not common for people to stay at hotels but commute back home at the end of the day (or back to their office after viewing the session they wanted to.) This means that people are more likely to come to a conference if it is conveniently located for them. And while exhibition halls are often blank canvases that you can use for effective branding, hotels in the city are often in a much better and convenient location. They are, therefore, usually the better location to host your event. 

In fact, the venue is so important that people will write complaints on surveys about the venue’s location.  

4)    Locally geared content in important 

Although this one seems obvious, many foreign owned companies make the mistake of bringing content that really works well in Europe or America but doesn’t actually resonate with the Japanese market. 

You need to make sure you include a good number of things closely related to the Japanese market. And make sure a good chunk of that content is rooted in the now or near future. 

Some foreign owned companies tend to focus too much on their activities abroad or things that are too far in the future. This tends to leave people in Japan thinking ‘Well what about here and now in Japan?’ 

It is important to strike a good and healthy balance of content related to your overseas activities and ones local to Japan. This is where many foreign owned companies can excel: not only do they have the content to talk about abroad, but also Japan, making them seem both relevant and successful to the Japanese audience.  

5)    Smaller events may be the better choice (save your large B2B conference for the future)

This is a really important consideration. While large B2B conferences in Japan can be very successful when planned and executed properly, they are very time and resource consuming. Some might want to consider holding a series of smaller and more intimate seminars

Even better if you can do this throughout several regions in Japan. Since most conferences are held in Tokyo for obvious reasons, many people from further away regions such as Kyushu or Tohoku are unable to attend. In our experience taking a smaller event outside of Tokyo often makes the attendees more appreciative of the info you have to offer them. This is really effective to build up your brand awareness and fans. 

Especially for those companies considering holding their first B2B conference in Japan, it may be better to wait 1 more year and use that budget to go around Japan and build more awareness. 

Conclusion

Conferences, when used effectively, are great marketing tools. And in Japan, where face to face meetings are very important to the B2B business, Conferences are incredibly valuable opportunities to meet with your current and potential customers. But you cannot gain the full benefits of B2B conferences unless you understand the business and cultural norms of Japan, who values fitting and conformity as a top priority. 

And while their ways to deviate and differentiate yourself from other B2B conferences and not everything has to be done the Japanese way, it is important to know where it is ok to deviate. Without being careful you are likely to come off as is you don’t understand Japan, or worse off-putting and rude. Furthermore, but understanding the norms of Japan, you show that you understand the Japanese market. 

Bigbeat Inc. has  25 years of experience in B2B marketing in Japan and has hosted a variety of events for many different types of companies who are based in both in Japan and overseas. If you are interested in hosted a B2B conference and are looking for someone to support you, you can contact us here!

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