The dig­i­tal mar­ket­ing land­scape in Asia right now is a fas­ci­nat­ing one. While there may still be a degree of nascen­cy com­pared to West­ern mar­kets, trends and strate­gies are devel­op­ing quick­ly. Accord­ing to a study from eCon­sul­tan­cy in April – ‘The Omnichan­nel Imper­a­tive’ – enter­pris­es in South­east Asia saw real-time mar­ket­ing as their high­est pri­or­i­ty, along­side omnichan­nel deliv­ery and engage­ment.

For cer­tain Asian coun­tries, such as India and Chi­na, the dis­persed pop­u­la­tion and dis­par­i­ty in wealth across urban and rur­al areas has caused a prob­lem. Hence why the two nations poll poor­ly in reports assess­ing APAC’s cloud-readi­ness.

In Japan, mean­while, there are three con­cerns: local depop­u­la­tion, age­ing crafts­man­ship, and spread­ing Japan’s appeal on the world stage. This is accord­ing to Sopho­la, a dig­i­tal mar­ket­ing con­sul­tant based out of Nagano.

The company’s man­i­festo is sim­ple, but stark. “In dig­i­tal mar­ket­ing indus­tries, we will raise the lev­el of dig­i­tal mar­ket­ing tech­nol­o­gy in Japan to world lev­el, not only in big cities but also in local areas, through sup­port of the glob­al cut­ting edge tech­nol­o­gy com­pa­nies with strong inten­tion to expand their busi­ness­es in Japan,” the com­pa­ny says. “In glob­al B2B eCom­merce, we are cre­at­ing demand and keep­ing the light on tra­di­tion by sell­ing over­seas tra­di­tion­al crafts of local areas, espe­cial­ly where depop­u­la­tion is pro­gress­ing.”

Mar­ket­ingTech spoke with Masa­ki Iino (left), founder and CEO of Sopho­la, to dis­cuss indus­try and nation­al trends. (Editor’s note: The con­ver­sa­tion has been light­ly edit­ed for clar­i­ty):

Mar­ket­ingTech: Hi Masa­ki. Tell me about your career to date and why you want­ed to found Sopho­la?

Masa­ki Iino: In 2011, at the age of 28, I start­ed my career as a part-time data ana­lyst at Locon­do, a shoe-shop­ping eCom­merce start­up. After that, I worked as a data-ori­ent­ed dig­i­tal mar­ket­ing plan­ner at dig­i­tal mar­ket­ing agen­cies until I became Head of New Busi­ness Devel­op­ment at Rakuten Mar­ket­ing Japan. 

I found­ed SOPHOLA, Inc to realise my orig­i­nal dream — to appeal Japan’s beau­ty and excel­lence to the rest of the world, which I had grown inside of me since the begin­ning of my career.

MT: What lessons did you learn from your pre­vi­ous job roles in found­ing Sopho­la?

MI: I’d learned many things from every­one I’d met at my pre­vi­ous work. Yet the most impact­ful lessons are:

  • Strate­gise your own career;
  • Make the list of dai­ly tasks with pri­or­i­ties and dues every morn­ing;
  • Make the mid-term busi­ness plan and man­age the plan with the strict KPI man­age­ment to hit the tar­get fig­ures.

Fol­low­ing these lessons led me to start my own busi­ness on sched­ule and beat the tar­get revenue/profit every year.

MT: Did you have a men­tor (either aca­d­e­m­ic or in busi­ness) and if so what lessons did you learn from them for your career?

MI: Every­one is my men­tor because every­one has some­thing spe­cial I can learn from him/her. Per­haps, I guess it was my moth­er who gave me the most long-last­ing les­son. “Life is just one-time, so live your life by try­ing hard with­out any regrets.”

MT: What do your cus­tomers want and what have they been say­ing, par­tic­u­lar­ly in the field of con­sult­ing?

MI: For glob­al brands that want to enter into Japan’s mar­ket, many of them are look­ing for infor­ma­tion about how to expand the sales chan­nels in this mar­ket. Since our ser­vices are quite stream­lined so that they can max­imise the sales reach, they often find our ser­vices very help­ful. For tech com­pa­nies and ad agen­cies, as our proof-of-con­cept exe­cu­tion is deliv­ered at an unprece­dent­ed speed, they usu­al­ly appre­ci­ate the speed as well as the fact that we are mak­ing the state-of-art glob­al tech avail­able in Japan and APAC.

MT: What advan­tages does Japan have for glob­al tech play­ers in terms of launch­ing their AI/marketing tech projects?

MI: The glob­al tech play­ers we have intro­duced to Japan’s mar­ket do pos­sess some pro­pri­etary and dif­fer­en­ti­at­ing tech that had not exist­ed in this mar­ket. Thus, as long as the tech is unique and pow­er­ful, the tech com­pa­ny has a huge busi­ness pos­si­bil­i­ty here.

MT: What can we expect from Sophola’s roadmap for the rest of 2020 and beyond (dis­rup­tion from Covid-19 aside)?

MI: Our new rev­enue pil­lars such as JME(Japan Mar­ket Entry sup­port for glob­al brands)  and the glob­al mar­ket expan­sion of our tech part­ners’ solu­tions still need some work in terms of its lead gen­er­a­tion and oper­a­tional frame­work. This is what we will focus on for the rest of 2020.

For beyond, unless Covid-19 delays every­thing I plan, we are plan­ning to shift our focus from consulting/outsourcing busi­ness to B2B eCom­merce busi­ness for glob­al busi­ness­es by build­ing a plat­form mock­up, test­ing it in this mar­ket.

Pho­to by Masaa­ki Komori on Unsplash

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