This article originally appeared on Forbes.
The Olympics aura envelops you in Japanese boardrooms, bars, the newspaper — anywhere and everywhere you look. The public and private sectors are expected to spend more than $90 billion on Tokyo 2020. For many Japanese companies, this global spectacle is believed to be the moment to reintroduce their brands to the world. Did I say reintroduce? Yes, I did.
Many Japanese brands have retreated from the global stage over the past 20 years or so in a subtle but consistent fashion. Consider that in 2000, 107 Japanese brands made the Fortune Global 500 list, a number that has decreased considerably. You may have heard Sony’s story about missed opportunities. (Full disclosure: We’ve worked with some of Sony’s business units in the past.) There are dozens of other Japanese brands that once held dominant world leadership positions but relinquished them to U.S., European and, increasingly, Chinese and Korean brands.
What’s more, there are huge companies in Japan that you’ve probably never heard of — brands that are well-known locally or that make critical components for the cars and consumer electronics we love. Unlike some of the bigger brands I referenced, they’ve never had a presence on the world stage. But just like the bigger brands, they share the same problem: Japan currently has a fragile economy. And it’s expected that the rapid population decline will continue, which means a smaller domestic market for brands to fight for. If you’re a Japanese company seeking growth, you simply have to look abroad.
Seeing an upcoming Olympic opportunity, many Japanese companies are preparing to introduce, or even reintroduce, themselves to the world to seek that growth. Of the various companies I’ve spoken to and worked within Japan, the vast majority looking to seize the Olympic moment aren’t ready to do it well. There are several areas of focus for Japanese brands seeking success on a global stage — including leadership commitment, bringing global perspectives to the table and taking a broader view of the brand. However, I believe that one window in time — the Olympics — may not be enough.
The Olympics are an amazing global showcase. But they’re often more relevant to the host city than they are the rest of the world. It isn’t until the week before that the majority of the world begins to take much notice. So how effective can a company really be by using that platform to suddenly reverse years of brand awareness erosion? After the closing ceremony, then what? I believe that more thought must be given about what happens before and after the games to prepare to deliver on the objective. An advertising campaign and a new slogan are probably not enough to create an impact.
Whether the games become a faded moment or enduring movement is no small matter. The 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal cost billions more than the $124 million estimate, and it took the city more than three decades to pay off the debt. Yet Barcelona, the 1992 host, is held up as a tourism success story. With the right approach, Tokyo 2020 could become such a movement — signaling a new era and momentum for the city, Japan and the country’s economy.
Assuming a Japanese company is serious about becoming a global brand, here are five areas of focus that can lead to benefits in 2020 and beyond:
1. Broaden the aperture of ‘brand.’
Often, when I ask Japanese executives or employees about their brand, the answer is static: “This is our logo.” “Here is our tagline.” “These are our guidelines.” Global brands understand that a brand is a living, changing and hard-working business asset that can differentiate, motivate and drive revenue.
2. Get leadership buy-in.
Change usually comes with commitment and direction from the top — not just ceremonial decrees, but communications, behaviors, policies and incentives that prove that the company is committed to becoming a strong and diversified global brand, and to aligning the company around the long-term objective so that employees feel empowered in making decisions in a more globally sensitive manner.
3. Bring global perspectives to the table.
The population of Japan is more than 90% Japanese – a remarkable statistic that reinforces why it’s such an amazing and unique marketplace. It also can be a hurdle for Japanese companies looking to take their brands abroad. To be clear, ensuring perspective doesn’t mean simply hiring more foreign executives, although some Japanese companies have taken this route with success. But for leaders, it does mean prioritizing global perspectives in decision making. That could mean subtle changes to a process, such as delegation to a special work group that reports directly to a brave leader, which can help brands avoid the “domesticated” home-office bureaucracy and conservative instinct. Some Japanese brands already do this successfully by delegating parts of their storytelling and brand management to agencies who can speak and act on their behalf, and who will advise if the brand inadvertently missteps outside of the home market.
4. Enlist global agencies to your cause.
Going global isn’t a project; it’s a way of doing business, one in which opening perspectives often becomes necessary. That’s apparent when you see some Japanese brands do it right. Toyota (a former client of ours), Uniqlo and Shiseido come to mind. These companies are proof that it can be done, but it can require a change in decision making. Add global agencies, especially those with success in the markets that are important to you, to your search lists. Playing for real on the global stage may mean aligning yourself with partners who’ve already helped brands through the evolution you want to make.
5. Define your brand for the markets where growth will occur.
Accept that customers abroad may well come to know your brand in different terms than people at home do. Initially, this may seem awkward, but many other global brands have done this with terrific results in markets that aren’t their home markets: Cadillac in China and Audi in the U.S. are two that come to mind.
In the end, great global brands drive consistent experiences that are as powerful to a person in Japan as in Silicon Valley, London, Kuala Lumpur or Dubai. Let the Olympics be a stepping stone in achieving that vision.