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Tag: Cultural sensitivity

7 Facts You Should Know Before Marketing An App in Japan

7 Facts You Should Know Before Getting Into Japanese App Market

Did you know that Japan has the world’s most lucrative app markets? This isn’t exactly a surprise, since Japan is constantly one step ahead in the world of technology. Recent reports from App Annie and Distimo has shown that Japan has led the world both in app spending and in profit margins on mobile games since 2013. Naturally, many app developers are keeping an eye on the Japanese market, but Japan is not an easy place for foreign players to establish a new product.

Fortunately, we can help. Here are seven key facts you need to know if you’re wondering on how to market an app in the Japanese app market.

1. Japan tops App Spending Charts since 2013

The first lesson of bringing an app to Japan is that it can be very, very lucrative to do, especially since 2013, when smartphones in the country increased drastically from 28% to 42%. Plus, Japanese mobile users are accustomed to paying for digital content, so it was no surprise when total spending on smartphone apps skyrocketed.

Check out this chart (below) from App Annie, which shows how Japan produced almost $350 million of combined monthly app revenue across iOS and Google Play, surpassing revenue in the United States and pushing Japan to the top of the world app market.

2.  True Success = Highest Profit Margin

It’s not enough just to look at the revenue generated by a particular market. After all, for a business; what really matters is the profit margin. And in terms of profit, too, Japan seems to be topping the charts—at least according to a recent report from Distimo. With the world’s highest revenue per download and the world’s third-lowest cost per download, each app in the Japanese market will obtain on average, a profit margin of $4.48.

For foreign developers, those kinds of numbers are tempting. They’re also hard to achieve. In order to compete in the Japanese market, the main key is to analyze how domestic developers are managing costs and boosting demand for paid apps.

3. Five Key Domestic Players Sharing The Revenue Pie

With high revenue and high profit margins, Japan may seem like a developer’s dream. Still, it can be a difficult market to enter because just five major domestic players share a full two-thirds of the country’s app revenue. Equipped with strong local knowledge, extensive connections and a deep foothold in the app market, these major players make for some tough competitors. In order to thrive in Japan, it’s essential for app developers to consult with people, who know the country well. Japanese app developers, marketers, and localization experts can help you tailor your app to succeed in a competitive market.

4. Android or iOS? Neck-and-Neck Competition!

Good news for Android app developers: while iOS app revenue is still ahead of Google Play, the gap between the two platforms has closed quite a bit in Japan. However, with the largest mobile operator in Japan, DoCoMo, now offering iPhones, Apple’s smartphone market share reached 76% last year. Apple sales figures tripled Samsung in October 2013. For now, at least, iOS seems likely to have an edge on Google Play, but it’s a tough competition and maybe more so than any other markets.

5. Gaming as the Favorite App Genre

Are you trying to figure out what kind of app will be a hit in the Japanese market? One word: games. Puzzle & Dragons, a huge gaming hit in Japan, helped GungHo Online become the most profitable publisher of 2013 in Japan. Last year alone, the company reportedly earned $691 million through the iOS App Store and $820 million through the Google Play Store—altogether, more than $1 billion in revenue. GungHo’s success makes sense, because the company focuses on building games. And looking at the top 50 paid apps in Japan for both Google Play & iOS, over half of them belong to the gaming genre.

6. Japanese Language as the First Step in Localization

If you want to compete with the major domestic players in Japan, localization is essential. In particular, to develop a successful app for Japan, translation into Japanese is a must. Of the top 50 paid apps in Japan, 80% have developed a Japanese version to suit users better. Plague Inc. and Infinity Blade III are two examples of gaming apps that originated in the West and eventually came to top the charts—but only after finding localization experts to help translate and customize their app for the Japanese market.

7. Visual Items as another Key Concern

For western developers, localizing an app for East Asia involves far more than overcoming the language barrier. After all, the cultural gap isn’t just about words. Visual items in particular can work well in one market but fall flat, or even cause offense, somewhere else. David Ng, Chief Executive of the Singapore-based gaming company Gumi Asia Pte Ltd, shared his experiences in an interview with Global Post:

“In Puzzle Trooper, a game originally intended for western players, a character resembling the wrestler Hulk Hogan got some manga makeovers. When we started doing testing in Asia, we realized that they don’t really like the western art that much, then we tested with some more Japanese-looking art and the response was really good.”

Before settling on the details of your localization effort, it’s helpful to conduct focus-group research with Japanese app users, or to partner with a local design house. That way, you can figure out what parts of your app may or may not appeal to customers in this lucrative—and growing—market.

Learn More

Learn more about which app genres worldwide are localizing—and how your competitors are localizing—in our free data report:


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Why Did Facebook Change Its Thumb Icon?

Facebook 'like' image

Facebook’s thumb has disappeared on websites

As you may have noticed, the iconic Facebook thumb icon has made an exit. Facebook’s Like and Share buttons, seen more than 22 billion times every day and embedded on 7.5 million websites are now getting their first ever redesign.

The new Like button features the Facebook “f” logo instead of a thumb. It is white on blue, rather than blue on white. The same is true for the new share button, which replaces Facebook’s Send button.

The reason for the redesign, according to Facebook developers, is to optimize the new design for high-resolution screens. But that’s probably not the full story.


Another Reason to Replace the Thumb: Cross-Cultural Confusion

Apart from Facebook’s stated motives for the redesign, there are also some compelling reasons for a redesign from a localization perspective. As a general rule, a single gesture may have very different connotations in different cultures. And while the thumbs-up signal is common in the United States and many other countries, it may be seen as inappropriate in some places. Facebook’s users come from more than 70 countries, so it’s important for Facebook to ensure the cross-cultural appropriateness of its content.


A “thumbs-up” can have multiple meanings

While a thumbs-up sign is a positive signal in North America, it can be used to insult someone in West Africa, South America, Iran, and the Italian island of Sardinia. In Iran, it is traditionally an obscene gesture, equivalent to the use of the middle finger in the Western world.

A survey conducted by Desmond Morris, Peter Collett, Peter Marsh and Marie O’Shaughnessy reveals how the meanings of “thumbs-up” are interpreted based on 1,200 informants from 40 different locations from all over the world. The results are as follows:

Thumbs-up meanings


O. K.


The Number One


Sexual Insult








Not Used



A raised thumb can also have numerical meanings. For example, the thumbs-up sign is used to represent the number one in Germany and Hungary; in Japan, it represents the number five.


Other examples: the okay gesture

The meanings of many other gestures can vary across cultures—something that developers of global apps have to keep in mind. Take the okay sign, made by forming a circle with the thumb and index finger. In Brazil, Germany, Russia, and many other countries around the world, that gesture is sexually offensive. The sign may mean “okay” in the United States, but in Japan it means “money,” and it is commonly used to signify “zero” in France. Clearly it is not okay to use in many parts of the world.


Localization is Crucial for Global User Experience

Drawing on the Facebook thumb example, it should be clear that understanding cross-cultural meanings is crucial to building a cross-cultural product.  Culturally inappropriate material in some regions can hurt your business, often in ways that the developers would never imagine. For instance, Pepsi lost its dominant market share to Coke in Southeast Asia when it changed the color of its vending machines and coolers from deep blue to light blue, a color that’s associated in that region with death and mourning.

Deliberate research about local cultures and customs is crucial to localization success. Fortunately, there are some valuable resources that can help you learn more about local cultures. Kwintessential, for instance, provide comprehensive country profiles that cover cultures around the world. You can learn about the core values of the target culture and pick up some useful examples of local business etiquette.

You can also make use of crowd power by posting questions on popular Q&A sites. On websites such as Quora, there are always knowledgeable members who are eager to answer any question, on topics that range from astronomy to grocery stores. Put up a question about local customs, and you can have some insider perspective just a few days later.

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How Evernote Reached 4 Million Users in China Within 1 Year



It’s a million-dollar question: how can tech start-ups gain access to China’s huge market? That’s not an easy question to answer. China is culturally unique, and its Great Firewall, along with the rapid proliferation of cloned products, can trip up even the smartest companies. Google and Groupon are two notable examples of companies that have failed to establish a foothold in the Chinese market.

Still, there are success stories. Take Evernote. After just one year in China, the popular note-taking app now has four million Chinese users. In this Localization Insight post, we’ll dig into the story of Evernote’s localization efforts in China, and draw out some key lessons for bringing apps to the world’s largest country.

(Photo: source)


An Easy-to-Recall Chinese Name

Evernote launched its localized service in China in May 2012. In a blog post announcing the launch, Evernote unveiled its Chinese brand name, Yinxiang Biji (印象笔记), which means Memory Note or Impression Notes.

Instead of translating its name based on pronunciation—as Google did (Gu Ge 谷歌)—Evernote chose to base its Chinese name on the app’s actual function. This makes it easier to relate the product to its uses. As a bonus, Evernote built a memorable pun into its Chinese brand. The second character of the brand name, 象, means “elephant”—which just happens to be the logo of Evernote, making the brand name easier to remember.

In another savvy move, Evernote chose a name that’s easy for Chinese users to pronounce. In general, “L” and “R” sounds are difficult for native Mandarin speakers to say (which means that “Flipboard” needs to take more efforts on its Chinese brand name). Yinxiang Biji, however, is easy for Mandarin speakers to say, and easy for them to remember.Chinese characters

(Image: source)


An Overseas Data Center in China

Phil Libin, the CEO of Evernote, has noted that the most common request from users in China is for faster, more stable, and more compatible customer service. But because of the Great Firewall of China, Chinese users who want access to overseas networks have to deal with slow connection speeds. So, because data centers are often located outside of China, synchronization can be slow and frustrating.

As part of its effort to win customers in China, Evernote established its first overseas data center there. Apparently, the best solution to the terrible connection speed between China and the U.S. is to host the service inside the Great Firewall.


Security and Privacy for User Data

A common concern among Chinese technology users today is limited security and privacy online. When Yinxiang Biji was launched, its China team wrote an open letter to potential users, highlighting that they would adhere to the three laws of data protection developed by Evernote CEO Libin: user data would be personal, protected, and portable. The company has emphasized its dedication to securing the privacy of user data since the very beginning. Furthermore, users can still freely choose between Yinxiang Biji and Evernote International if they feel uncertain about Yinxiang Biji’s security.


Original Features in the Localized Version Can Be Accessed Quickly

After the launch of Evernote China (Yinxiang Biji), users complained that many features supported in Evernote’s international version were absent, such as Share (shown in the image below), the IFTTT Feature, and Toolbox. In response, after just a month Yinxiang Biji started providing applications like Evernote Food, Evernote Hello, Evernote Clipper, and Evernote Peak. Now, Yinxiang Biji supports almost all of Evernote’s integration.A screenshot of China's Evernote

(Yinxiang Biji supports Skitch, Penultimate, Web Clipper, Evernote Hello, Evernote Food, etc.)


Tailor-made Features and Integration in China

Besides including features that Evernote already has in its international version, Yinxiang Biji has localized its product with features and integration that are tailor-made for China. Since access to the 3G network is still expensive in China, Internet users prefer accessing mobile applications through WiFi. Accordingly, Yinxiang Biji includes a “sync only with WiFi” feature for users in China.

Just a few months after launching, Yinxiang Biji released its API for integration with local apps. The Yinxiang Biji app store, launched in December 2013, doesn’t just target international apps such as Pocket and IFTTT. It also integrates with local apps such as Weibo, Duoguo (a restaurant guide website), and UC browsers.

China's Evernote version

(Yinxiang Biji’s Trunk: link)

Yinxiang Biji has also integrated with Weibo and WeChat in an innovative way. Yinxiang Biji users can save their clipped content through their Weibo and WeChat accounts by simply creating an integral account. Outside of China, Evernote had offered this feature for Twitter users, but the tool was unpopular, and Evernote phased it out. Since it’s very popular to use messaging apps in China, though, Yinxiang Biji’s developers made sure to include this feature.

Screenshots of Evernote clipped in phone message app

(Images of storing article in Yinxiang Biji via WeChat: source)

Although Yinxiang Biji’s integration with local social media isn’t perfect—for instance, it does not yet support the sharing feature for social media—developers have been proactive in creating apps for local use.


Localized Marketing Strategies

Yinxiang Biji also has marketing strategies tailored to the Chinese market, with an official blog and Weibo, and with content that is specifically targeted to users in China. For instance, Yinxiang Biji has invited users to write about how they use Evernote to make traveling easier. That content is sure to be popular in China, where traveling is all the rage.a screenshot of customer's review of Evernote

(Travellers Using Evernote Campaign: link)


Localized Customer Service

Evernote also takes pride in its customer service. As mentioned, people in China are heavy users of messaging apps. To better serve its Chinese users, Yinxiang Biji supports real-time customer support on local social media. While international users won’t always get a response from Evernote’s official Facebook page or Twitter account, users in China will consistently get a response when they communicate with Evernote’s official Weibo and WeChat accounts. That kind of localized approach to social media and customer service ensures that Evernote will be more attentive to the needs of its customers in China.

China Evernote screenshot

(Yinxiang Biji’s official Weibo account: link)


How to Run an App in China

Edith Yeung, VP of Business Development for Dolphin Browser, recently told TheNextWeb that culturalization is the key to success in new markets. Entering new markets is not just about translating a language—it’s about having relevant content and relevant services that are attuned to the culture of a particular country. That approach certainly characterizes Evernote’s strategies in China. What they have done goes far beyond a simple English-to-Mandarin translation.

From watching Evernote closely, we’ve come up with four major lessons for anyone trying to enter the Chinese market.


1. Think Global from Day 1

According to Libin, Evernote’s leaders have wanted to reach out to China since their early start-up days. Thinking globally for your app from day one is important, both in terms of product design and business development. Bringing your product to the world shouldn’t just be an afterthought.


2. Localize, Don’t Just Translate

Translating your app is just the first step in reaching out to new markets like China. You have research the new market, understand the environment, and develop integration strategies that are suited to a given culture.


3. Know that Chinese Users Are Chat App Addicts

In China, there are many issues you have to cope with: censorship, new user habits, competitors, lax copyright enforcement, and so on. But, as Evernote demonstrates, a few clever strategies, based on a careful observation of customer preferences in China, can help you reach new users. In particular, remember that messaging apps are very, very popular in China—much more so than in the United States. Integrating your app with local social media is a good start in bringing your product closer to Chinese users.


4. Get the Perfect Chinese Translation for Your Brand Name

Brand name translation is not about getting something exotic to put on your logo. Your brand should already have value even before people hear the translated name. And the name shouldn’t just be a direct phonetic translation—it should be something that will be memorable, appealing, and easy to pronounce for Chinese customers. To use a Chinese idiom, having a good brand translation is like getting the dragon a pair of eyes.


Your turn!

Is your product available in China now, or are you planning to bring it here? Do you have anything to share? Feel free leave your comments below!

More Resources

[Analysis] What to learn from @Evernote “China Strategy” & Execution – Another extensive analysis of Evernote’s strategies in China by Chenyu Z. Provides some excellent detail on WeChat-Evernote integration.


Localization Insight is a blog post series written by OneSky that offers cutting-edge insights into localization in the mobile and web application industries. Please stay tuned by subscribing to our blog!


Reference: Geekpark (in Chinese), Techweb

Featured photo credit: Connie Ma

The Secret of Monetizing Messaging Apps by Localizing Emoji

Craving for emoji globally

Did you not use any emoji in your online conversation today?

Emoji have spread around the world while it began as a Japanese phenomenon (Thanks to Apple’s introduction). Asian chat apps like Line and WeChat prove that selling emoji stickers can be a highly profitable business. Western rivals such as Facebook are also joining the craze in the past few year. Although selling

Although selling emoji stickers seems promising, there are other localization challenges that we have to avoid, especially if an app is going global. Read this blog post to learn more.

The little things that make huge money

Emoji are not just for fun. It is a killer feature that can make millions of dollar.

In 1990s, the creator of emoji and Japan’s largest mobile phone operator NTT DoCoMo produced a series of best-selling pagers after they introduced a heart symbol in their messaging function. Nevertheless, its core customers were gone soon after NTT DoCoMo removed this feature in newer models.

Heart emoji – the first emoji in history

The Japanese messaging app Line monetises sticker as one of its major revenue channels. In Line, some of the stickers are for free, but others may cost around 170 yen (about $1.75) for a pack of 40. The total delivery of these sticker messages is tremendous. Line says now its users send more than one billion stickers per day. The sales of sticker alone have contributed around $10 million in revenue to Line. Line has become one of the fastest-growing messaging apps in the world with more than 230 million users internationally.

Line achieves so much success with emoji stickers

The making of sticker also creates a lot of business opportunities in collaboration with artists and businesses, including Sanrio and The Walt Disney Company Ltd, and attracts more users and fans.

The emoji craze is due to the attractiveness of image-led communication. Performics shows that photos is the most engaging type of media on social media. Tessa Mansfield, senior vice president at research firm Stylus, suggests that communicating via emoji has created a kind of “digital slang” and “personalized conversation” for young teens.

Localization errors in emoji that even Line and Apple made

Confusing content to particular cultures

However, if an emoji is not well localized, the content may lack user’s sensibility, and lead to low usage.

Some emoji, like heart icon and smiley, are universal. But for many of them, their content is still biased towards Japanese culture. It tends to confuse many non-Asian users.

For example, a popular sticker pack in Line which is called salaryman, consists of pictures about the daily routine life of a typical white-collar businessman in Japan. This set of emoji works well in Asian contexts, where crazy working hours and commuting are not rare, it lacks sympathy in North American or European contexts.

Line stickers are popular in Asia, but look confusing to some westerners.

Low respects for ethnic diversity

Cultural sensitivity and respect for ethnic diversity are important in a globalized world. We all understand that.

But even Apple made mistakes on it. In the collection of 800 emoji in iOS, there are only two emoji portraying non-Caucasians. One is a turban and another looks vaguely Asian. None of them are black people.

Apple’s emoji set lacks Black people

There’s a petition on Do Something asking Apple to introduce a more diverse roster of emoji for the iOS7 emoji keyboard update. It calls for at least four characters with darker skin tones in the next update.

How to localize emoji right

Localization is not just about translation. It is also about adapting into local culture to meet local need.

That’s why cultural sensitivity in localization is important. Cultural sensitivity refers to the comprehensibility and cultural appropriateness of a product. There are four ways to improve cultural sensitivity.

Be diverse

Emoji are human-like images or icons. We should deal with emoji’s cultural issues as how we do for human photography or filmography.

Discrimination against gender, ethnicity, sexuality and even impairment should be eradicated when designing emoji. Check the number of emoji and stickers about different social groups and make them more balanced.

Study communication cultures

Understanding of local norms is the key to localization success.

Facebook discovered that the way Asians use emoji is not simply to express emotion. The context where the emoji is placed is also important. For example, a face on a beach with the sun glaring means they are happy, but not that they are attending to beach.

In US, however, only the emotion of the face on the emoji matters, not surroundings. So more explicit tone of emoji is needed in Western context.

Collaborate with local brands or artists

Collaborating with local businesses and artists is a short cut of localization success. Line, for example, is proactive in this aspect. To consolidate its 15 million user base in Spain, recently Line scored a

To consolidate its 15 million user base in Spain, Line scored a partnership with Spanish football clubs FC Barcelona and Real Madrid. After installing Line and connecting with specfiic accounts, you will receive stickers featuring the two football clubs for users for free.

Sticker of Messi on Line

Allow customizing emoji

If a chat app has open culture in code, it may also allow users to customize emoji. Remember what MS Live Messenger did for emoticons in the old days. Let local creation meets local demands.

Corporate messaging app Slack is doing it right. It allows users to customize emoji that is unique to their user group. It helps add humor and localness among work communication.

There are apps that let users create emoji. MyEmoji Creator allows users turn photos into emoji in messages as well as share them via social media.

But again, customization can be a two-sided blade. Remember to do the best practices in preserving cultural sensitivity when allowing customization.

Build a killer chat app by doing localization right

Nowadays, 80% of Line’s users are from overseas markets, including 18 millions in Thailand and 17 million in Taiwan. Mr. Morikawa, chief strategy and marketing officer of Line, attributes its global success to its localization efforts. As mentioned above, collaboration with local firms is important to Line’s development of emoji and stickers.

After all, native content is king. The more local emoji is, the more successful the messaging app is in the local market.

What’s your take on localizing emoji? Any funny example that you came across? Please feel free to let us know below!

Feature Photo Credit: Gizmodo