2018.10.11 Report

Two Brilliant Community Marketing Examples from Japan

At the recent #BigbeatLIVE B2B marketing event in Japan, I heard a term from a few speakers that I was not used to hearing: the concept of “community marketing.” I thought that it was a term native to Japan, until I did a little research and found that there was already a Wikipedia page attached to the term. That being said, when compared to a mainstream marketing topic like influencer marketing, Google Trends suggests that the term really hasn’t caught on.


After reading these two brilliant examples of community marketing that came from #BigbeatLIVE speakers, you’ll wonder why more companies aren’t employing the strategy.

Let’s first define exactly what community marketing means. While there is a Wikipedia page for the term (, community marketing is being described as being a combination of word-of-mouth marketing and corporate social responsibility. This means there are both organic forms (word-of-mouth) and sponsored forms of activities that comprise the definition.
The definition that was presented at #BigbeatLIVE seemed to me to be a better representation of the concept and the potential that community marketing has today. In fact, it was presented by Hideki Ojima, a B2B marketing veteran with more than 25 years of experience and Amazon Web Service's (AWS) first Japanese employee. Hideki speaks not only from his experience at launching AWS' user community in Japan called JAWS-UG but also from his current capacity of helping several companies with their marketing. Hideki is often interviewed by the media in Japan for his views on community marketing, so it was a treat to learn the concept from the true expert in the field.
Hideki began with his definition of marketing, comparing it to falling in love. You need a companion in order to fall in love, and this “Who” becomes the most important part of Hideki’s simplified representation of marketing:
  • Who is the customer
  • What benefit can you provide them
  • How to explain the benefits of your offering to them
Since all marketing usually starts with Who, this is where the importance of community marketing comes in. Hideki mentioned that the term has been around for two years, and a quick Google search will confirm this. After listening to Hideki’s speech, it seemed clear that his new definition of community marketing revolves around a combination of advocacy marketing together with the type of word-of-mouth marketing that is more easily achievable because of the popularity and virality of social media.
The image below in Japanese is taken from Hideki’s presentation, which you can see in its entirety on Slideshare here:
The left represents the typical marketing funnel which shows the average very low conversion rate based on marketing activities and then the struggle to maintain year-on-year growth.
The community marketing funnel, on the other hand, is represented on the right by leveraging your customers and facilitating their acquiring customers on your behalf. As the English indicates, it is scalable and a much more efficient use of marketing resources than the traditional funnel. 

Hideki then went on to describe how to jumpstart community marketing. It really starts with one customer, and then one fan of that customer, until a true customer movement is slowly created. In fact, he compared the beginning of a community marketing program with the famous 3-mimnute TED talk by Derek Sievers on how to start a movement which you can watch here:
As you can see from the video, that 1st dancer is your first customer and then that 1st customer follower becomes your first acquired customer from community marketing. You need to nurture your first customer as well as the first follower of customer to help them create this type of viral movement.
In terms of how effective community marketing can be, Hideki then explained that it’s like bowling. Traditional marketing funnels look a little like the below image on the left, where a ton of bowling balls are needed to get a strike because there are so many missed throws. On the other hand, community marketing doesn’t even require one bowling ball because one customer can knock the pins down for you with their own ball.

If you think about it, satisfied customers should become your biggest brand advocates, especially in this day of ubiquitous social media, by helping to market your product for you through reviews, testimonials, and word-of-mouth. This concept is at the core of community marketing.
There’s economic data that supports this concept as well. According to one report, the cost of acquiring a new customer can be six or seven times more expensive than retaining an existing one. By focusing first on meeting the needs of their current customers, corporations can avoid spending money on advertising to attract new customers. (source:
Now that you’re sold on the potential for community marketing, let’s look at the two brilliant examples that were brought up during #BigbeatLIVE.


As introduced above, Hideki Ojima was Amazon Web Services, also known as AWS, Japan’s first employee. This is an example of a community that was started organically by AWS customers in Japan back in 2010. There are currently 50 sub-users groups nationwide in Japan that together comprise the JAWS-UG community (Japan Amazon Web Services-Users Group). These 50 groups combined put on 260 study events per year which are organized and taught by user group members, not AWS employees. These events attract a combined 9,300 people which culminate in the annual user’s conference, JAWS DAYS 2018, which attracted 2,000 users.
I should have mentioned that Hideki is a trained B2B marketer. He explained that many B2B marketers say that community marketing can’t work for B2B brands, but he obviously proves with AWS that it can work. He explains why community marketing works equally well for B2B brands as follows:
  • ●B2B buyers are also emotional
  • ●It’s impossible for B2B buyers to survey and test all products
  • ●B2B buyers need to hear the voice of the customer, not the vendor
You can see how the Japan Amazon Web Services Japan-Users Group can play such an extensive role in B2B community marketing.
Now let’s look at second example of community marketing which was brought up from the agricultural industry, an example which has universal applications.



Sora Yamakawa from NK Agri was actually the first guest speaker at #BigbeatLIVE, and while she didn’t say the term community marketing per se as part of her speech, it was clear that she was explaining how her company employed community marketing to a resounding success.
NK Agri, as the company name suggests, is in the business of agricultural products. Specifically, NK Agri is the brand of “koikurenai” carrots that are packed full of nutrients that the average carrot grown lack.  While their carrots are grown throughout Japan six months of the year and are available throughout the country, NK Agri is only a 15-person company!
There are many companies in industries that rely on an ecosystem or supply chain in order to be successful. NK Agri is no different as they do not own any of their own farms, distributors, or retail outlets, and thus rely solely on supply chain partners in order to be successful. As a small company, NK Agri realized that they could be most successful if every supply chain partner were marketing their product as much as their employees were.
NK Agri implements community marketing in two ways, both online and offline. Either way the idea is that everyone in the supply chain creates one team - everyone shares their feelings and the company supports it as important part of their marketing infrastructure. Another important aspect of their community marketing was their proactive “sponsoring” of influencers in their industry: Vegetable sommeliers. By providing 30 or so of these sommeliers free samples, they realized that through them they could promote their products much better than their internal salespeople. Including these influencers, who have downright become brand advocates, into their community has helped invigorate it.
NK Agri’s online community marketing consists of a Facebook Group which currently has 300 members. By tapping into the joint objective of their supply chain community – to improve the Japanese agricultural industry as well as the health of those that consume their products – they have been able to foster a thriving community where members are posting daily and include a combination of vegetable sommeliers sharing their favorite “koikurenai” receips, vegetable tasting events, and farmers showing pictures from the carrot fields, such as in the sample photo of some posts below.

While you might think the group was comprised of only of these vegetable sommeliers as well as the farmers themselves, the group is also comprised of the retailers who sale the carrots, distributors who sell to the retailers, and even those involved in the research and development of creating a healthier vegetable. While these people don’t always post to the community, anecdotal evidence suggests that they are often looking at the group and contribute through occasional likes and comments.
The offline component of NK Agri’s community marketing is equally important. Vegetable sommeliers as well as everyone in the supply chain are invited to a monthly study group, These groups often end with dinners and alcohol and become a mix of people from production, sales, R&D, distribution, and even city and national government officials who come to network, teach, and learn. The below photo should give you an idea of the bond between community members that has formed through these events. 
NK Agri’s community marketing has been so successful that their program was designated a winner of the Good Design Award in 2017, 1 of only 30 recipients out of an application pool of 4,000 businesses. As could be expected from their community, many supply chain partners also shared to their own communities the receiving of the Good Design Award, because they knew they were a part of it even though they were not employees of NK Agri.
Sora ended her presentation with a perfect ending for this blog post: If a company’s mission is dependent on its reception in the community, why not make the community part of your product? In such a way, everyone both inside and outside of your company can become a marketer for your product.
The promise of community marketing is a compelling one with many benefits for companies who understand its potential and strive to truly make their community part of their product.