2019.5.13 Column

『JAPAN RECOMMEND』 The challenge of exhibiting at a Thai cosmetic exhibition.

[Bigbeat CEO Column] 

Bigbeat and UBM signed a contract to collaborate on the ASEAN Beauty exhibition. 

UBM is a media group headquartered in London. They host trend shows and exhibitions all over the world. Within that media group, UBM Thailand hosts ASEAN Beauty, which an exhibition targeted towards the beauty and cosmetic industries. 

Held for 3 days at the beginning of every May at BITEC in Bangkok, Thailand, around 10,000 thousand professionals from the beauty and cosmetic industries gather in what is the largest B2B exhibition in the world. These exhibitors are of course not only from Thailand, but from all-over East Asia. 
Despite being one of the best exhibitions for the beauty and cosmetic industries, there are only a small number of Japanese companies that participate. In 2018, only 2 Japanese companies came as exhibitors. UBM Thailand came to us for advice. 

The most effective way to take advantage of a booth, is to exhibit right before and after a big change in your industry. For example, in the IT and technology industries, people get excited about new revolutionary changes several years before and after their development. Currently, this excitement is around AI and IoT.

In countries all over East Asia, the economy is developing along with new industries in the region. It is not hard to imagine this as a big change. 
When I learned that there were so few Japanese companies participating, I immediately thought to myself “Japanese companies must’ve already made inroads into these markets and there is no need for them to participate in the exhibition.”
I was wrong.
The share of Japanese cosmetics in the Thai market is less than 2%. 
Korean cosmetics account for an astounding 20%, and there were over 30 Korean companies who participated in the exhibition. 

When hearing this from UBM, I was a little shocked. I always thought that the “MADE IN JAPAN” mark was strong in Thailand. 

When I first visited Bangkok in the late 1980s. Bangkok was the city in Asia where young backpackers who were looking to go to Nepal and India would gather.  When I write backpackers, it seems very cool. But, mostly, it was poor travelers.  There was always a mysterious atmosphere in the lodgings where I stayed.  

Since my first visit over 30 years ago, I fell in love with Thailand and have gone back several times over the years. As you most likely know, Bangkok has developed as the representative city in Southeast Asia. That development has deep connections to Japanese manufacturing corporations who entered into the Thai market earlier on. Advertising from Japanese companies lined up on both sides of the highway from Don Muang Airport, and it was full of cars, electronics products and food, as well as many "MADE IN JAPAN" products.

But in the past few years, this has changed.
For example, the hotel that I stayed in had nothing that was made in Japan. There were very few advertisements for Japanese products in the city. And it’s not only Thailand. I experienced the same thing when I went to Hong Kong and China. I think a big reason for this decline is because Japanese companies have weak marketing. At Bigbeat’s event “Bigbeat LIVE,” Symphony Marketing’s CEO Mr. Niwayama and famous American influencer Neil Schaeffer both claimed, “Marketing in Japanese companies is 10 years behind American marketing.” 

I don’t know if Japan is 10 years behind or not. But I have been working with American owned companies for over 20 years and I undertand just how much more American companies are willing to invest in marketing compared to Japanese companies. Compared to when many Japanese companies in the 70s and 80s advanced overseas, the scale of information available on global companies is very different. It is much easier to get information now. It should be easier to participate in overseas tradeshows because the hurdle to get information out is becoming lower. But there are still very few Japanese companies who do not participate in oversea exhibitions let alone ASEAN Beauty. 

It’s an effect of the Japanese management style of “produce high quality products at a low cost and succeed with a strong sales structure.” This is the most common management strategy in Japan. Japanese companies don’t invest much into marketing at home let alone abroad. They can market overseas by themselves. Many companies make contracts with a local distributer and leave the sales and marketing up to them. Companies that emphasize marketing first start with the question “What can I sell to who in this country?” They then create a story. The companies with the best marketing are the ones who hold the philosophy of “marketing first.” One reason the share of Korean cosmetic companies in the Thai market is over 10 times larger than that of Japanese companies is because the Japanese companies B2B marketing strategy is too weak.  

Through this kind of thinking of “marketing first,” Japanese cosmetic and beauty companies could expand into Thailand and Southeast Asia through taking advantage of exhibitions like ASEAN Beauty. Wanting to create this strategy, we signed a contract with UBM to cooperate with their efforts to get more Japanese exhibitors. 

The mission of advertising agencies is to create a marketing strategy with their clients, implement a communications plan, and accelerate the client’s sales. Exhibitions are a big communications tool to help with this mission. 
We are not looking to be an exhibition host’s vendor for selling booth spaces. We want to help Japanese companies break into the Southeast Asia markets using the Thai market as a start and the exhibition to do that.
Although it is obvious that just participating in an exhibition will allow you to break into a new market. As I said before “It is not easy to participate in an overseas exhibition.” But we came up with a plan that involved pre and post-event as well as day of actions. We came up with our own original plan. 

That plan was “JAPAN RECOMMEND.”

The exhibitors would not just display and advertisement their own brands separately in the same booth area. Instead they would also advertise together at the same time under the brand of “JAPAN RECOMMEND.” This was not only on the day of the exhibition but also beforehand. We worked with famous Thai influencer Kirarista to act as an ambassador and post information about “JAPAN RECOMMEND” on social media. And we drew a story centering around our clients participating in the exhibition.

We presented this plan half a year before the event in Hotel New Otani in Tokyo to Kirarista, the head of the UBM Thailand, and several consultants in the cosmetic industry. 

ASEAN Beauty was open from May 2-4.
Coincidently, both countries are also in the middle of era changes and the royal family of Thailand and Japan will now have a new relationship. Thailand’s new king was coronated on the last day and Japan entered the new Reiwa era on May 1st.

We will go into more details about the construction and design of the booth and of “JAPAN RECOMMEND” in the near future on our blog.