To compete globally, companies need to rethink the ways they communicate, design products/services, and conduct business with the outside world. The introduction of a new “chief globalization officer” role in the C-suite is an innovative approach for Japanese and U.S. companies alike to grow on an international scale.

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 16+ 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 products/services, 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 be more internationally focused. 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 globalize.

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.

Tokyo Olympics in 1964

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 networked product platforms, 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? For starters, I’m talking about the company's 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.

Rakuten's poorly localized global site

Even more important than the website, is considering how the digital products and software are designed to suit each culture's needs and behavior. It isn't good enough to say a piece of software that works well in Japan (or the U.S. for that matter) will be adopted and used effectively by overseas users. Given the fact that people in different countries have any number of differences including language, education, workflows, organizational structures, collaboration styles, and economic situations; the company and its CGO wishing to succeed internationally need to get to know and have empathy for existing and potential customers in those regions. A CGO needs to take a human-centered design approach for each country. LINE is an example of a leading mobile app in Japan and Korea that has had mixed success in other countries largely due to the design only being localized with only superficial design culturalization.


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/her own social media channels, in engaging, useful and thoughtful ways to reach different regions. He would also understand that brands need to do more than one-way communication but respond to global people’s comments as a form of branding and customer service.

The last area I believe all aspiring CGOs should 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 solution-seeking customers are concerned. The web is full of expert opinions, educational content, 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 and how highly ranked they are 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 are their goals and aspirations, what does each buyer persona read/do/buy online, and what would they want to share on social media. Obviously, knowing your overseas customers isn’t as easy as knowing your local ones (for Japan, the U.S. or anywhere else), but it 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? Do you think a Chief Globalization Officer is needed at your company?

To be clear, these questions aren't only for Japanese companies alone. Companies in the U.S., Europe, and Asia suffer from the same failure to globalize through strategy, design, brand, and marketing. The CGO role is only meant to be symbolic but it should be the responsibility of employees at all levels to think and act beyond the needs of customers within their national borders. How else can any company, anywhere hope to grow?



Lance Shields

Lance leads design and strategy at iiD and has made a career of helping Japanese companies globalize. Prior to iiD, he worked in Japan for 10 years on the agency and client side. He has launched global websites and marketing campaigns for Japanese brands including Hitachi, JAL Airlines, and Yokogawa Electric; while also helping non-Japanese companies effectively launch in the Japan market including Redbull, Adidas, and Modere.