How women became the Japanese app industry’s biggest growth segment

Dec 13, 2018

As the Japanese app market develops into one of the most lucrative for developers, mobile marketers from around the world have been scrambling to understand this unique marketplace.

As we’ve seen before, Japan is the third-largest market in terms of gross App Store consumer spend - but the dominance of local competitors and fears of perceived cultural differences can put off marketers who want to make the move into Japan.

With much to gain from expansion, researching the marketplace and keeping up with country-specific trends will be key to success.

Today, we’ll be looking at one major trend to come out of this year’s Japanese app market - women as the industry’s biggest growth segment - and see how marketers can adapt their offering to appeal accordingly.

Women as a growth segment in Japan

Adjust's collaborative report with Liftoff, which focused on mobile marketing in Japan, has the facts - and the proof is in the data.

In terms of acquisition costs, women in Japan outperform men by a wide margin:

  • Installing (women cost $4.82 to acquire, compared to $5.48 for men)
  • Registration (women cost $6.37 to acquire, compared to $8.86 for men)
  • In-app Purchase (women cost $140.29 to acquire, compared to $219.49 for men)
  • Subscription (women cost $74.55 to acquire, compared to $193.45 for men)

On top of that, women in Japan account for 66.9% of all app installs acquired programmatically - more than two times that of men.

But what are the reasons behind such growth, and how can marketers adapt their campaigns to tap into female audiences?

Gaming is no longer the preserve of male audiences

Gaming has traditionally - and stereotypically - been considered a male-dominated pastime, but several recent surveys are challenging that assumption.

A Google Play and NewZoo report from 2017 shows that women make up nearly half of all mobile gamers. Not only that, but they tend to play more frequently than their male gamer counterparts, too.

In another report by Liftoff, the team found that female gamers are far more engaged than men, with a 79% higher likelihood of making in-app purchases.

And nowhere is the stereotype of male-dominated gaming being challenged more than in Japan. A recent Dentsu study found that women of all ages play gaming apps far more frequently than men. Women in their thirties open a gaming app five times a day compared to men’s four; and women in their sixties open a gaming app an average five times a day - three times more than their male counterparts.

As a result, many publishers have started to target this market aggressively by developing mobile games with female gamers in mind. There has been an explosion of mobile games for women in Japan - much more so than in the United States. Many games targeted towards women are built around dating simulators, or the idea of being a talent scout (offering players the opportunity to scout out and train the next international superstar), or simple, easy games with high-quality design.

For game developers, it looks like the future’s particularly bright in Japan. A dynamic and receptive market means there’s plenty of space to grow and acquire users, as long as the concept resonates with your target audience.

A growing focus on "Otana Josei"

Women’s purchasing power was also a focus at this year’s Ad Tech Tokyo event, held earlier this Autumn. Among the discussions was a panel with speakers from Air Closet, Wondershake and Laxus - all lucrative companies that focus on female demographics, and particularly on “Otana Josei” (adult women in their 30s and 40s) with high purchasing power.

Air Closet, for example, provides bespoke wear-and-return clothing subscription boxes, while Laxus offers designer bag rentals, and Wondershake owns Locari - a curated fashion and beauty newsfeed for women.

No matter the exact function, these apps are part of a booming segment of businesses designed to make Japanese women’s lives easier - giving them back the time they may have previously spent shopping or looking after household duties. This forms part of a wider societal change in the country, with more and more Japanese women continuing to work after they have children. Combined with the demands of modern life, this leaves them with less time and inclination to shop in-store or do household duties themselves.

There’s also been a gradual shift in behavior, with many Japanese becoming less materialistic and instead valuing the experience of using and wearing well-designed products, even if these then need to be returned. This goes some way to explaining Air Closet and Laxus’ success.

Tapping into the demographic

For mobile marketers thinking of expanding to Japan, there are several tactics worth bearing in mind when targeting female demographics.

Tapping into female audiences will be easier for some apps than others. Those designed for women interested in beauty or fashion are already 90% of the way there - with a clearly defined audience, the job is pretty much done.

But for apps with a more general focus, it’s important to look at your app from a female perspective. Ideally, this should be done during the creative development process. No matter the vertical, consider the full range of your potential audiences and what they want from your app - including all genders and all ages.

From there, creating user acquisition campaigns targeted at women is key. Out of your app’s major elements, what is it that you want to promote? And what will appeal to female audiences? Experiment with different sentiments, wording and creative, and conduct A/B tests to see what sticks.

Another way to make your app more appealing is to introduce a social aspect to it. The same Dentsu study mentioned above shows the extent to which women interact on social apps - with women in their 20s opening a social media app 17 times a day, and a messaging app 13 times a day (compared to 10 and 9 times respectively for men).

An e-commerce app might want to consider adding functionality to share recent purchases or wishlists with others. Alternatively, a health and fitness app could create a message board functionality so users can interact with people beyond their immediate circle. With a little creativity, see what social elements are possible and feasible to integrate. While it’ll require some engineering, increasing the social aspect will encourage users to check back into your app more frequently and help build brand affinity.

Want to learn more about marketing in Japan? Check out the full Liftoff report here, alongside our blog post. Alternatively, catch up on the Japanese mobile gaming world with our benchmarks here.

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