How Sophola is looking to raise Japan’s digital marketing expertise to the world level

James is editor in chief of TechForge Media, with a passion for how technologies influence business and several Mobile World Congress events under his belt. James has interviewed a variety of leading figures in his career, from former Mafia boss Michael Franzese, to Steve Wozniak, and Jean Michel Jarre. James can be found tweeting at @James_T_Bourne.

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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