I often point to Apple when people ask me for examples of companies that do great marketing. But I just learned that Apple's launch of the 3G iPhone into Japan violated my most important rule -- Apple planned the launch without grokking the buyers in that market.
The results are compelling. While demand for the iPhone exceeds supply in many parts of the world, in Japan, where 50 million cell phones are sold each year, inventory is stacked on shelves and only 200,000 have been sold.
Apple was smart to skip Japan when it launched its first generation iPhone -- it didn't operate on the 3G wireless networks that had long been the standard there. One wonders, therefore, why Apple expected their target buyers to respond to a campaign that highlighted this capability.
Apparently no one stopped to think that the cell phone buyer persona in Japan is different than in the U.S. It would have been pretty easy to find out that Japanese buyers frequently use their phones to watch digital TV programs. With a minimum of research, Apple could have anticipated the difficulty of competing in a market where many phones include chips for debit card transactions and train passes. After all, this is a place where trains are a part of daily life, credit cards are rarely accepted, and debit cards are the primary currency.
To compound the difficulty, the iPhone is more expensive than its competitors in Japan. Maybe Apple thought that the online software store would be valuable enough to justify the higher price. If only they had known that their target buyers are reluctant to shop online.
Analysts expect Apple to end this year with less than half of their projected volume for the iPhone in Japan, and I'm looking for a better answer to the question about which companies are great marketers.