October 27, 2018 (Sat). What do you see in this picture that I snapped a few days ago during a subway ride in Tokyo? In the picture is a little feature found in most of the ads I have come across during our current visit of this beautiful city. This little feature actually paints a big picture about domains used in corporate Japan.
That little feature is a rectangular white box in the lower right corner of the picture. It's a search box pre-filled with the search term "American beef" to invite Japanese consumers to visit the digital address of the advertiser and learn more about American beef. The advertiser is the U.S. Meat Export Federation and their digital address in Japan is AmericanMeat.jp.
Let's pause and reflect. The focus of these ads is search not domain. It's even more surprising to see an American organization adapting to this consumer behavior. This indicates that domain awareness by consumers and companies in Japan is very low.
What's the problem with promoting search? Image that you were Jack Ma who just built a store at the digital address of Alibaba.com. Now, would you just go around and tell everyone to visit the address Alibaba.com directly? Or would you tell them to go to a public help desk and ask someone there to take you to the Alibaba store address?
Search services such as Google or Baidu are the help desks. Unfortunately, they are not volunteers. They are here to make money. If you don't pay them in the form of advertisement, they may decide to guide your visitors to the address of a competitor who has paid for an advertisement. Therefore, depending on the kindness of strangers is not a good way to bring customers to your store. You want them to remember your digital address so that they will come directly without any assistance.
Look at the experience of Japan's neighbor China. According to Baidu data, the number one choice there is direct visit to a digital address. Chinese brands understand the value and importance of promoting their own digital address. That's why you see many of them such as Alibaba and Weibo even incorporate their domain in their logo.
Jing Dong may be the best example to illustrate such attitude. In 2012, the 3rd largest internet firm in the world invested $5 million to acquire JD.com. Since then, Jing Dong has put this digital address in the center of all its marketing activities: company logo, product packages, store signs, delivery trucks, public walls, bus ads, and many more. Whenever you see the Jing Dong brand, you see the name JD.com which, as a result, has been hard wired into the brains of millions of Chinese consumers. As a result, the company reportedly saved $20 million a year in search engine advertisement after they acquired the brand-matching JD.com.
Will the ingrained search behavior in the Samurai land ever change? Will the sleeping warriors in corporate Japan wake up and make good use of their digital address? I think so. As China has changed over the years from focus on search to focus on direct visit using digital address, Japan will wake up and change when companies in Japan realize the problem with search and the value of promoting their own digital address.
What is the lesson we can learn from this story? When you start a new business, create a short and easy to remember brand, and simultaneously acquire the brand-matching .com for your global audience. Then, promote your digital address so that your customers can visit your store directly without any help from strangers.