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What contributes to success at Japanese trade fairs?

The trend towards B2B trade fairs is only slowly gaining ground in Japan. Despite this still poor trade fair culture, exhibitors can do something to win Japanese customers.

Heinz Kuhlmann
President ABC Enterprises Inc.

Visitor advertising
Depending on the size of the company, Japanese exhibitors invest a lot of money in advertising. These include print media, the Internet and advertising on public transport. They also make extensive use of their network of customers and contacts and send out many invitations. From the point of view of the organizer and the Japanese (less foreign) exhibitors, an important criterion for the success of a trade fair is the number of visitors - trade visitors and the general public. This number of visitors is not controlled neutrally. In order to arrange talks, foreign exhibitors should also offer options for making appointments on their website. In this context, free cards can be sent to customers and visitors.

Stand design
The stand should appear open and inviting and have as few closed rooms as possible for meetings. Sufficient brochures in Japanese must be available at the information desk. Some signs in Japanese such as “Importer / business partner wanted” or “Fair novelty” serve as eye-catchers and facilitate the first contact with Japanese visitors. In addition to German / foreign stand personnel (including, if possible, employees with a knowledge of Japanese), Japanese hostesses / interpreters should definitely be represented at the stand. They facilitate contact and communication with Japanese visitors and can also help with evaluating questionnaires and making appointments for visits to Japanese companies.

Japanese Machine Tool Show Jimtof (Photo: Big Sight)

Visitor interests
What the trade fair visitors want is very different depending on the person. Specialists look specifically for information and samples. End consumers are interested in new products. You would like to taste or test these goods and, if possible, take them home as gifts or at low prices. The Japanese, and increasingly foreigners too, love comics, manga and anime. Even if a trade fair has no direct reference to it, these topics go down well with most visitors and attract attention. Many visitors are also interested in other countries. Posters and typical products from the home of the exhibitor attract more visitors to the stand.

Decision-making processes
As before, mostly new or subordinate employees go to trade fairs to collect information and samples that they present to their superiors. These employees have little business and trade fair experience, can only conduct business discussions to a limited extent and are also not authorized to place orders. However, Japanese companies have learned that they need to make faster decisions. This is the only way to remain competitive in global markets against competition from Asian and other countries.

Tokyo International Aviation Industry Exhibition. (Photo: Big Sight)

It is advisable to avoid personal and business questions that the visitor is unlikely to be able or willing to answer spontaneously. You should also never press for clear answers! Conversely, questions from visitors should be answered satisfactorily. It is helpful to note that the exhibitor will be happy to respond to further questions later and send detailed information.

Trade fair follow-up
A good post-processing of trade fairs is very important, but often very tedious and tedious for foreign companies without representation in Japan. Individual mailings in Japanese are helpful. It would be even better if foreign exhibitors did not leave immediately after the fair. You should stay in Japan for a few more days in order to follow up on the initial contacts (business cards received). You could also arrange further appointments with some companies. This can usually be easily arranged with the help of interpreters, and most Japanese companies are happy to welcome foreign business visitors. Such conversations must be conducted with competent interpreters. The foreign visitors come into contact with the middle management level of the Japanese company. The more employees take part, the more interest there is!

Heinz Kuhlmann has known the Japanese trade fair market for four decades and also advises foreign trade fair organizers and exhibitors.

This article was published in TFI issue 2/2016

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