Pokemon Go Is the Hottest Thing on U.S. Mobile, So Who’s Marketing in Japan?

Foreign companies are using social media and mobile to dominate the American market, but are we marketing them back?

About one week after launch, the number of Pokemon Go users topped that of Facebook. Roaring mobile media success on that magnitude begs a question: Foreign companies are using social media and mobile to dominate the American market, but are we marketing them back?

Predictably, Facebook, WhatsApp (owned by Facebook) and Facebook Messenger top the list of social networks by users, but the next three biggest platforms might surprise you:

  1. Tencent QQ is a messaging application that offers online social games, news feeds, directory search, music, shopping, microblogging, movies and group and voice chat. It’s the most popular social network in China, with an astonishing 853 million active users, a virtually—no pun intended—untapped channel for American marketers.
  2. Tencent also owns the next social media juggernaut on the list, a messaging service with many features similar to QQ and 762 million active users. It’s called WeChat, and it’s a marketer’s dream. With an officially recognized account, marketers can pinpoint target messaging using free customer-relationship-management and marketing-automation tools—that’s right, completely free. According to one report, more than 200 million consumers in China have linked their debit cards to WeChat. It should also be noted that marketers should be aware of the local market—China has hundreds of regional dialects. Tweak your wording and offers to attract local business, but don’t change your product too much. Western products are popular with Chinese consumers.
  3. Rounding out Tencent’s domination of the Chinese social media landscape is QZone. Described as a “virtual world and social networking application for self-expression and content sharing, it enables its users to write blogs, keep diaries, send photos, listen to music, and watch videos,” QZone boasts 640 million active users.

Foreign, but familiar

According to Ken Charles, founder of the tech industry team at Apex in Tokyo, Twitter is even more popular in Japan than in the U.S., with Facebook running a close third.

Alex Charfen, co-founder and CEO of CHARFEN, used a targeted social media strategy to reach foreign customers on Facebook and Twitter when he released his latest book, and he said:

For our book, we knew that the ability for books and content to break international barriers can be prohibitive and costly. So we broke with convention and took a different approach. We gave away our book—in a very limited release—with a goal of sparking a conversation.

Similar to what Pokemon Go achieved in bringing people together, we gave our book to people committed to driving that conversation and sharing it on social media. As the desire for the books grew, we saw them traveling across Australia, Belgium, Canada, China, Germany, Kenya, Mexico, Singapore and the U.K.

Then, when we released the ebook version, the momentum of our online conversations around the book increased that desire for the book internationally and led to greater and greater conversations.

Asian marketing realities

How lucrative is the market? The biggest brands are already on board with foreign marketing. Disney partnered with Line in 2014 to produce mobile game Tsum Tsum. By March 2015, the game’s revenue had hit $300 million, even as Disney had begun backing out of the games industry.

Marketing to Asian markets is not as foreign as it may seem. While choice of language is critical and may be difficult to master, consumers the world over make buying decisions in the same way. Asian consumers search the web, ask their friends, read reviews and engage with the company, just like we do. Winning marketing strategies rely on stellar content, social engagement and positive reviews.

There are a number of legal issues involved in doing business overseas that you need to be aware of, and some of them are pretty crazy. Be careful to avoid running afoul of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, for example. Doesn’t it seem strange that our laws make it easier for foreign companies to market to us than for us to market to them?

In reality, your product is unlikely to hit the level of success of Pokemon Go, and there’s good reason. It had history, nostalgia and household-name status before the launch. Characters and storylines had already been a national fascination for decades, complete with merchandising, cartoons, movies, collectibles and earlier video games.

That shouldn’t deter you. It’s a massive market out there, filled with social-media-obsessed consumers friendly to American products and eagerly waiting to hear what you have to say.

Sherry Gray is a freelance content writer from Key West, Fla., currently suffering in the suburbs of Orlando. She is a science geek, a social media junkie and an unapologetic fan of all things bacon. Follow her on Twitter: @SheriSaid.