To compete globally, Japanese companies need to rethink the ways they communicate and do business with the outside world. The introduction of a new “chief globalization officer” role in the C-suite is an innovative approach for Japanese companies to go global.

As corporations embrace change, new roles such as “chief experience officer” and “chief innovation officer” have been created in recent years. Now, the proposed strategy to create a new “chief globalization officer” (CGO) role is along the same lines and has actually been effectively introduced at Cisco in 2007 to help grow their business in Asia. What I’m now recommending, based on my 15+ years experience helping Japanese companies globalize, is that Japanese companies would benefit greatly by creating a CGO role within their organizations. It would make a statement to their partners and their customers that they are committed to doing business in a global manner to provide better products and services. And for their internal organization, it would send the message that they are serious about going global.

Why Do We Need a CGO Now?

With the approach of the next Tokyo Olympics in 2020, for Japan to go global it means opening up to the outside world — embracing global style branding, digital marketing, and open source technology — while leveraging their unique strengths to be a part of global technology trends around openness. According to James Higa, former Apple Japan CEO and advisor to UNIQLO and Lawson’s, for Japanese companies to grow they need to take more of an outside view of the world. He goes on to say quite strongly, “Japan cannot fuel their growth with just their own market anymore. It’s just too small, with a diminishing population. Japan must go global.”

I think Mr. Higa made his point clear. In order to compete with China and the U.S., Japanese companies simply must rethink the ways they communicate to the outside world, how they approach both prospects and current customers online, and how they listen and design their user experiences to meet the demands of the global market. This is what I imagine a Chief Globalization Officer is responsible for helping his or her company focus on. As James Higa said, Japan cannot fuel the growth and must go global. This post is about not only why your company needs a CGO or the equivalent of one but what would he or she do to help you go global.

A CGO Must Focus on Digital

Today, Japan is not the Japan of the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. Japan hosted the Olympics after they had recovered from World War II and were on the way to becoming the global powerhouse of legend. From the 1960s into the 1980s, Japan had the world’s 3rd largest GNP but since the 1990’s business considerably slowed down. To add to this, Japan’s aging population and the rise of China as a major competitor are challenges Japan cannot easily overcome.

Yet the world is not the same either. Today we have the internet, an amazing opportunity for people of all countries to brand themselves, sell their products, engage customers with content and be thought leaders in their particular fields. In the Japanese companies I’ve worked with, my proposed CGO role would rely heavily on how to make the company’s digital channels connect better with the outside world. What channels am I talking about? In short, I’m talking about the global website. Obviously, the global website needs to be carefully planned, structured, designed, written, developed and SEO-optimized at a level global customers expect before they will consider doing business with the Japanese company. A CGO would have the global experience and insights to understand how overseas customers see brands online to help focus the efforts to improve the brand, content and overall user experience on the site to be relevant on a global as well as regional scale.

Social media is another area the CGO would leverage to actively listen to conversations overseas customers are having about products or competitors. A smart CGO would pay attention to blogs, Facebook pages and Twitter accounts. The CGO would also understand the need to actively communicate through his own social media channels, in engaging, useful and thoughtful ways. He would also understand that brands need to do more than one-way communication but respond to people’s comments as a form of branding and customer service.

The last area I believe all aspiring CGOs would pay close attention to is the online content their Japanese company publishes to the world. It may be obvious, but simply localizing your company’s product information into English, Chinese and other languages isn’t sufficient as far as curious yet distracted customers are concerned. The web is full of expert opinions, tips, viral videos and product reviews, which potential customers read to help them make “informed” decisions about who to buy from. All of these are found through search at the click of a button and how high they appear in search results is affected by how relevant the content is.

According to marketing and PR guru David Meerman Scott in his book The New Rules of Marketing & PR, identifying your company’s buyer personas to target is “the first and probably the single most important thing that you will do in creating your marketing and PR plan.” The CGO needs to learn about his global persona buyers – what does your product/service solve for them, what their goals and aspirations are, what does each buyer persona read or do online, and what would they want to share on social media. Knowing your overseas customers isn’t as easy as knowing your local ones, but is vital for your global marketing strategy. As Scott wisely says, “What works is a focus on your buyers and their problems. What fails is an egocentric display of your products and services.” How well does your Japanese company focus on your global buyers and their needs?

My Personal Commitment

As a way to show my own commitment to this idea of a Chief Globalization Officer in Japanese companies wanting to succeed overseas, I feel my digital agency iiD (who specialize in helping Japanese companies go global) should embrace this recommendation in a similar way. For that reason, I’m changing my own job title to Chief Globalization Officer.

Do you think a CGO is needed in your Japanese company?


Lance Shields
Co-founder and newly dubbed chief globalization officer of iiD, he leads brand and user experience strategy to help Japanese companies globalize. Lance worked in Japan for 10 years as a creative director and digital brand strategist, launching global sites and digital marketing platforms for Hitachi, ANA Airlines, Mitsubishi Corporation, NTT DoCoMo, and Yokogawa Electric, to name a few. He is currently assisting TEPCO and Nippon PMAC.