COVID-19 Perspectives

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“Perspectives” is a new blog featuring different points of view of the same topic and how it relates to US/Japan business matters. This time, we discuss the COVID-19 impact as seen from 1) management, 2) digital marketing, 3) sales & marketing and 4) HR viewpoints. Please join in the discussion, and let us know if you have feedback on this new structure. 【日本語はこちらをご覧ください。

#1 Management

Pandemic = Rapid Change

Japanese company revenues in the Americas is about $700B, and almost 40% of that is in Manufacturing, one of the sectors hardest-hit by COVID-19. The Japanese approach to management works well and sometimes even excels when change is slow and steady. At the other extreme, when unexpected events occur, such as a global pandemic, aspects of this rigid, consensus-based management approach get very strained, particularly in competitive global markets.

Effective Leadership Responses to Rapid Change

Instead of leading your company with revenue and cost expectations consistent with an obsolete 3-year plan (that may not change at HQ in Japan), managers of Japanese subsidiaries in the US should:

• Complete a rapid assessment of go-forward scenarios, and compare them to the committed plan

• Devise strategies to adapt to changes in the markets

• Innovate relentlessly to benefit from the change

• Clearly communicate back to Japan about impacts, with proof points, so that there are no surprises

• Clearly communicate to your people about priorities, and ensure that you retain top talent

• Take action to match expenses to realistic sales scenarios

Slow change fits well with slow and steady improvement and rigid financial plans. When change happens fast, leadership needs to quickly assess, communicate, and adapt.

JMNC Solutions is helping leaders respond to the COVID-19 crisis in ways that are fit for the times, and for the markets you compete in. Visit our website for more information.  

#2: Digital Marketing

During this unprecedented time, A-Lex International Marketing believes that sharing information and working together is critical for companies more than ever. Although we cannot meet and talk face to face at this point, we still can “work together” taking advantage of the latest communication tool via phone or internet.

Since many people are working from home and spending a lot of time in front of their PC, digital marketing can be a more effective approach than ever. A-Lex has been working with companies in Japan and the US, in spite of time and geographical differences, and is a proud communicator between these countries both inside and outside of the cyberspace.  In this blog post, we’d like to focus on our cyberspace marketing, especially how we handle our e-mail marketing.

■ Short & Precise Subject Line

The subject line is the key factor for a better open rate. Get to the point and express the benefits readers can get so they click the e-mail they received. E-mails with a shorter subject also have a lower possibility to be sent to a junk mail folder.

■ 80/20 Rule

What your readers want to know ultimately is “what kind of advantages do I get by reading this DM?” Make at least 80% of your direct mail consist of advantageous info for your readers and keep your advertisement etc. to less than 20%.

■ 15 Pts or Bigger Font Size

Our research shows that more than 55% of e-mails are read on a mobile device. To be mobile-friendly, use fonts bigger than 15 pts.

■ Time to Click “Send”

Is the DM B2B or B2C? Consider what time of the day is the easiest time for the readers to open your e-mail. If B2B, make sure your readers receive it during their work hours. Skip early in the morning or late in the evening so your e-mail will not be buried in the stack of other e-mails and ignored. For B2C, on the other hand, your DM will have higher chances to get opened if sent after work hours or on weekends.


A-Lex International Marketing, LLC is a business consulting firm that helps Japanese companies expand into the US market. Since 2007, we have been supporting our clients’ new businesses and management in North America. A-Lex also helps a number of US companies who adopt Japanese technologies and craftsmanship (=Takumi) to their operations.

We are proud of our track record of bringing high-potential products and services to both Japan and US markets. For more information, please visit our website at

#3: Sales & Marketing

Our Strange New Reality: The COVID-19 Pandemic Effects on Traditional Sales & Marketing Practices

Vanishing Face to Face Meetings

In a period of just a few short weeks many aspects of how international sales and marketing activities were conducted have changed. Some of these changes will be temporary, others will become our new normal. For western sales and marketing professionals some of these changes have been gradually taking place over the past few years. For example, businesses utilizing less international travel in favor of video conferencing. For Japanese businesses, most of these changes are new and are causing significant disruptions to day to day business activities. These changes also have cultural ramifications for the Japanese.

The first and most obvious “casualty” of the COVID-19 pandemic is the face to face meeting. Many countries have either officially closed their borders to foreign nationals from many countries (this includes Japan) or have issued travels advisories to their citizens planning overseas travel. Although the United States has not officially closed the borders to Japanese travelers, the rampant spread of the virus in the United States has most if not all Japanese companies suspending employee travel for the foreseeable future.

I do not want to mitigate the affects of loosing the ability to meet face to face on western sales professionals, however I believe the affects will be more prevalent on Japanese businesses. We have all heard the terms; “Genchi” (actual place), “Genbutsu” (actual thing) and “Gemba” (the real place).  These terms are often translated “go and see / experience for yourself”. This practice is engrained early in the career of a Japanese businessperson. Whether it is creating a personal relationship with a business partner / customer or visiting that partner / customer’s place of business, the face to face meeting is the “glue” to these relationships. It is not unheard of for a Japanese salesperson to fly to the United States for only one day of meetings and then return to Japan. Culturally in Japan the “right way” to conduct business is, face to face.

Working from Home

Another new normal is working from home. Again, this is not a foreign concept to many western businesspeople. Western societies tend to be more individualistic where loyalty tends to lie with the person rather than the company. Even logistically, companies in the west have computer systems in place to support remote working by employees. From a cultural perspective most westerners, given the opportunity will gratefully work from home. This allows them to be closer to their families and gives them a sense of freedom.

In Japan however, many companies are not set up to support employees working from home. It may be that the company computer system is not configured for remote working or in some companies the only computer the employee uses is a desktop. From a cultural standpoint, the office is more than just a place to work. The company provides a sense of identity for many Japanese. The team spirit and togetherness fostered by the Japanese office setting leads to a strong sense of belonging for Japanese employees. Working from home mitigates these feelings often leading to high levels of anxiety and stress and a decrease in productivity.

Video Conferencing to The Rescue

For the time being the new norms will be no face to face meetings with business partners and customers and working partially from home and part time at the office. As a result, video conferencing is our new “go to” tool for conducting sales and marketing meetings. Thankfully in recent years several new video conferencing platforms have been developed and or updated. Some of the more popular applications include ZOOM, Microsoft Teams, Skype for Business, Cisco Webex, Google Hangouts and V-Cube.

For western businesses who have been utilizing video conferencing for several years and have had time to refine how to best use these applications, the learning curve is smaller. For Japanese companies however the curve is much steeper. This includes the introduction of new technologies and potentially whole systems for companies. Employees need to be trained how to use these technologies efficiently. In Japan where there is more of a premium put on information exchange, the challenge will be to not have excessive and wasteful meetings but rather focus on value-add meetings.

Another challenge for Japanese firms will be to develop presentation materials that show well on a video screen. Presentations shown during video conferences need to be very succinct, catchy, and memorable. It is easy to lose the attention of someone who is working from a home office with all the distractions at hand.

Eventually we WILL get back to some sense of normalcy. We WILL be able to meet our business partners, customers and potential customers face to face. We WILL be able to utilize an office space however different that space may look. In the meantime, we all need to have patience and understanding as we navigate this “strange new reality”.

I look forward to receiving your questions and or feedback on this post. Thank you!

#4: Bilingual Human Resources

US/Japan businesses will always need bilingual talent.

The COVID-19 pandemic has put hiring and expat assignments on hold, and many companies have to consider furloughs and layoffs. Amidst these changes, the need for bilingual/bicultural support continues. Virtual platforms (i.e. video conferences and email), as well as overseas business trips with in-person meetings, need someone to help facilitate and improve communication.

What US/Japanese companies can do to support projects with virtual communication needs:

  • Assign current employees with bilingual or bicultural skills. You may not even know that you have employees that understand Japanese language and/or business culture, so consider sending a company-wide email to find out. They already understand your company culture and products/services, and may be a great way to bridge any gaps, even if they aren’t “fluent.”
  • Hire interpreters/translators. If you have a low budget and some patience, consider searching for a beginning freelancer willing to work for experience.
  • Consider local hires for bilingual entry-level positions or internships. My niche network of 2,000+ followers just needs an opportunity and some training to use their Japanese language and/or cultural skills, and I can help you with both.

Bilingual/Bicultural Job-Seekers:

Job-seekers wanting to work in US/Japan businesses are struggling because hiring and travel are on hold. Students and graduates that had plans of summer internships or new overseas jobs are in a holding pattern, and even JET Program applicants accepted to teach English in Japan for the fall are keeping fingers crossed that their next few years are going to happen as planned. Experienced professionals are likewise stressed out from the job search.

Tips for job-seekers:

  • Brush up on skills. See what new skills you can learn, and add those certifications to your LinkedIn profile.
  • Participate in online training programs. Many companies/organizations are offering free or discounted programs, so do a quick search based around your desired topic.

Please join in the discussion; we would love to hear your thoughts on this topic!

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