Where Are All the Influencers?

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Confidence in efficacy, ROI and determining which influencers are the right ‘fit’ for brands in Japan still appears elusive…

Japan’s large and relatively wealthy consumer base may very well be an attractive prospect for brands looking to expand. And the proven efficacy of influencer marketing worldwide means using Japanese influencers to launch or spread awareness of a product or service seems the logical way to go.

But, influencer marketing in Japan is a different beast to what some might be used to, and brands often cannot engage Japanese influencers in the same way they might outside of Japan.

Who Is an Influencer?

As the global influencer pool becomes more saturated, brands are learning that it’s not necessarily the ones with the highest number of followers who will bring in the best results. This has led to micro-influencers (influencers with a smaller, but highly engaged, following) becoming hot property in recent times.

But try to identify Japanese micro-influencers and it might be a bit tough-going. This is because those who are considered influencers in Japan are normally famous already (or want to be famous) singers, models or actors. Or, they are people who already get a lot of publicity because of their work.

When someone is a star on social media in Japan, they are quite often a star in real life too. Prominent examples are model and TV personality Kiko Mizuhara, footballer Shinji Kagawa and singer Eir Aoi. On YouTube, they include Yuka Kinoshita, who runs an eating-focused channel.

Top 5 influencers on Instagram in Japan by followers:

Naomi Watanabe comedian (8.8m)

Rola talent (5.5m)

Kiko Mizuhara model (5.2m)

Yukina Kinoshita  (5.1m)

Nozomi Sasaki (3.7m)

The True Impact of Japanese Influencers

Japan’s influencer market is still in its infancy when compared with some other countries. Therefore, there are fewer influencers to choose from and for brands, this also means less variety as well as potentially higher fees.

However, the growth of the Japanese influencer market has been significant over the last couple of years and forecasts are very positive.

How Companies Are Using Influencers in Japan

A recent multiple-answer survey by CyberAgent of over 100 advertising, marketing and PR companies in Japan found that just 56% had undertaken influencer marketing activities. 64% of those were on Instagram, Youtube 45% and Facebook 41%. And micro-influencers, with 10,000 to 100,000 followers, were the most favored (42%).

When asked what was the main purpose of influencer marketing, 69% said to create buzz, 66% said to raise brand awareness and 52%, to push their clients’ products or services.

When asked about their issues with influencers marketing, the majority (42%) said finding appropriate influencers was the biggest problem. 38% suggested that they have no idea if influencer marketing actually works and 23% said they don’t really know how to measure the effectiveness.

So What’s the Difference?

A major difference from influencer marketing in say the U.S or UK is that it’s common for those in the entertainment business (influencers included) to sign with an agency fairly early on. This could mean less autonomy and freedom from a lower follower count for the influencer to truly express themselves, bringing up the question: how influential is this person, actually?

Another significant point that (beauty brands or those targeting mainly female audiences) should take into account is that on Instagram at least, Japan’s influencer market is predominantly female – but, this doesn’t always mean their followers are all female or that they have a significant impact on Japanese female consumers.

A survey by Recruit of Japanese women aged from teens to 70 years old found the vast majority (42%) are inspired by their own friends to maintain their beauty (leading to purchase of products). Interestingly, women in their teens and 20’s were mostly inspired by models and celebrities.

The Best Way Forward

The reality of Japanese influencer marketing right now means it’s going to be difficult to source appropriate and/or experienced influencers directly. Most are signed to agencies already and approaching individuals randomly – especially if the brand is unfamiliar and non-Japanese – can be unnerving for the influencers.

It can be a lot more work to engage Japanese influencers, so brands looking for a truly authentic voice would bode well to enlist an agency that has its own network of influencers (or strong connections with talent agencies/agents) and proven experience in managing influencer and campaigns.