Editor: Judy Chen
Last year, the number of Taiwanese tourists in Japan reached four million, making Taiwan one of the top three countries from where tourists in Japan come from. Meanwhile, Japan has also risen to be one of the countries with the most foreign investment in Taiwan. The Japanese food and beverage, cosmeceutical, and fashion industries are proactively expanding their businesses to Taiwan.
That is to say, engaging with Taiwanese consumers has become an important business opporutnity. In the past five years, a Japanese marketer based in Taiwan has been assisting his Japanese clients to capture Taiwanese customers’ eyeballs. He is Akiyama Kousuke, founder and CEO of the digital marketing consulting company, CAKEHASHI Corporation. “CAKEHASHI means ‘bridge’ in Japanese. Starting from bridging Taiwan and Japan, I hope that my business will be able to bridge Japan with the whole world in the future,” said Akiyama.
Born to be an entrepreneur: I saw business opportunities in Taiwan.
Akiyama was raised in the countryside of Kyoto. Most of his family and relatives have always been entrepreneurs in different industries, from apparel, food, to architecture. “It became so natural for me to just start my own business.”
As a computer science major at college, Akiyama started to build websites for clients since he was a student. During this period, he also learned how to use his own website with online advertisements to attract new clients. In 2000, he created Media Wave, a website design house, in Osaka, which became a company five years later and still operates until today.
In 2008, he came to Taiwan for business with his client. “That was my second time in Taiwan, but the first time to observe Taiwan from a business perspective, and I saw many opportunities!” Akiyama explained, “In one way, that was when social media, especially Facebook, started to penetrate the Taiwan market, and I saw the potential of the new media in terms of marketing. In another way, I wanted to promote quality Japanese products and authentic Japanese culture in the overseas market, and a Japan-friendly country like Taiwan was a wonderful place to start with.”
In the next couple years, he would fly to Taiwan almost once every month to learn more about the island. He officially moved to Taiwan in 2011, and founded TJ Media Wave in the next year (later became CAKEHASHI Corporation in 2016). He worked with a Japanese-speaking consultant company to complete all the administrative procedures to start a company in Taiwan, and soon recruited a Japanese-speaking and trustworthy local employee. “It all went quite well,” recalled Akiyama.
“The real goal of marketing is to make the customers satisfied.”
If you search “台湾インバウンド広告 (Taiwan inbound advertising)” in Japan’s online search engine, you are likely to find CAKEHASHI be ranked top on the first page.
Traditional marketing, referred as “outbound marketing” in the trade, markets a company’s products and persona to consumers through advertisements. Inbound marketing, on the other hand, is designed to engage with specific customer segments, mostly through various paid or natural search engine marketing, and content marketing. In other words, inbound marketing attracts potential customers to find the product or service on their own.
As a consultant specializing in inbound marketing, Akiyama aims to help his clients to promote their products in a “correct” way. Take beer as an example: because drinking beer is not as prevalent in Taiwan as it is in Japan, Akiyama suggested his beer client that “before telling people how good your beer is, you should make the beer market in Taiwan bigger first.” In his early-stage marketing plan, he focused not on featuring the beer, but on creating content on social media – like what Taiwanese food goes with beer – to inadvertently influence consumers to enjoy beer as a part of their lifestyle.
Akiyama further pointed out that “understanding the cultural differences” is crucial for Japanese companies targeting overseas markets. For example, in Japan, customers don’t tend to give authentic reviews, especially negative ones, on social media after going to a restaurant. However, Taiwanese customers are likely to write comments or reviews, either positive or negative, on social media. When his Japanese culinary clients expand to Taiwan, Akiyama always suggests them that “if you turn the review function for your Facebook Page off, it would actually cause the decrease in consumers’ trust. If you really receive negative comments, just take them as the motivation and references for improvement.”
“I think our real job is not only about drawing customers’ attention, but making them satisfied,” said Akiyama. For a digital marketer, page views and follower numbers are not the final goal, but rather how they can be converted into action and sales. Akiyama explained, “even if I succeed to help my Japanese clients to attract many Taiwanese tourists to visit their stores in Japan via various marketing approaches, it would bring even more negative reviews if the products or services are unflattering.”
In the case of Akiyama’s kimono client, he helped them design the Chinese product brochure, shared with them about what Taiwanese visitors would be interested in, and how to provide services that cater to Taiwanese customers. “Advertisements might be able to increase visitors, but to truly help increase sales, even the frontline management should be considered as a part of our marketing strategy,” said Akiyama.
Campus Collection in Taiwan: Keep engaging with young people matters.
As a marketer, it is essential to understand young people. To engage with Taiwanese young people and encourage interactions between youngsters in Taiwan and Japan, Akiyama introduced “Campus Collection (CC)” to Taiwan in 2016. CC is one of the biggest cross-school college student fashion events in Japan. Planned and performed all by students, the annual event started in 2006 in Osaka. Integrating fashion, dance, and music, the event has been duplicated all over Japan, including Fukuoka, Nagoya, Tokyo, etc.
The first “Campus Collection in Taiwan”, also the first overseas version of CC, was organized by over 60 local students. More than 80 student models dressed up with Japanese fashion brands like GU, MK MICHEL KLEIN and walked on the runway in “Hana Stage” in Taipei. Between the runway shows, there were also dance competitions and singing performances. The event successfully gathered a crowd of over a thousand people. Akiyama believes that CC not only provides students a stage to shine, but a platform for brands to engage with their younger customers. They are already beginning to plan their second CC in Taiwan, in March 2018.
“Japan’s population keeps decreasing. It is inevitable for businesses to expand abroad,” said Akiyama. “Japan’s fashion and music are not as internationally influential as before. I hope that via our marketing services, we can help to promote our pop culture to the world in the future as well.” Although it doesn’t sound like an easy job, Akiyama shared his vision with an air of confidence, his eyes lighting up with enthusiasm.
About Akiyama Kousuke
Akiyama Kousuke was born and raised in Kyoto, Japan. As a computer science major at college, he founded the website design house, Media Wave in 2000. He moved to Taiwan in 2011 and started TJ Media Wave (later changed to CAKEHASHI) in the next year, specializing in inbound marketing services for Japanese clients. In 2016, he brought Campus Collection, a cross-school college student fashion event, from Japan to Taiwan.