Global marketing strategy in the digital age: an analysis of Japanese mobile phone manufacturers

Takanori Osaki, Meijo University, Japan*

In the 1980s, the global market share of Japanese mobile phone companies was almost half; it is now less than 10%. It is often said that Japanese manufacturers are particularly good at making and selling small electronic goods; why, then, have Japanese mobile phone manufacturers become so weak in the global market? To analyse the causes of the weaknesses of the Japanese mobile phone companies in the global market, the study of factors is done at two levels. One level concerned macro factors, such as mobile communication standards, the influences of carriers and consumer needs in a global market, and the influence of modularity. Another level was at the micro level, concerning organisational structures, development and production abilities, and marketing strategies for mobile phones. This paper also discusses global marketing strategy in the digital age, based on an analysis of mobile phones in this respect. Keywords Mobile phones, Japanese electronics manufacturers, Japanese carriers, Global marketing strategy, Modularity, Digital age

Introduction In 1985, the global market share of Japanese mobile phones was almost half (Steinbock 2001, p.102). With ten manufacturers in Japan, they dominated the Japanese market in 2005 (The Nikkei 25th April 2006). However, their share of the global market was less than 10% in 2005 (Seed planning 2006, p.61). Although Japanese electronics manufacturers had a large market share in the world market with many products in the 1980s, their share and companies’ profits have rapidly declined (Nobeoka, Ito and Morita 2006). Findings from this mobile phone research could be applied to a wide range of electronic goods and could contribute to the development of global marketing strategies on the part of electronics manufacturers. Outlines of my research are as follows. The first is a critical review of previous academic works on the causes of weakness of Japanese mobile phone companies. The second is interviews with executives from 4 mobile phone manufacturers and one mobile communication carrier. An analysis of field works regarding the mobile phone markets in Japan, the United
*Correspondence details and a biography for the author are located at the end of the article. The Marketing Review, 2008, Vol. 8, No. 4, pp. 329-341 doi: 10.1362/146934708X378613

ISSN1469-347X print / ISSN 1472-1384 online ©Westburn Publishers Ltd.

Business Week (13th December 2004). almost all European manufacturers have increased their market shares. Japanese manufacturers had to concentrate on the domestic market.424-426). my research paper gives an outline for causes for the weakness of the Japanese mobile phone manufacturers in the global market. it had also been adopted by 214 countries and areas. p. essentially become the de facto global standard. While CDMA (code division multiple access).1). Because Japan adopted a unique standard. such as NTT DoCoMo. expanded their global share because of GSM. Critical analysis of previous works on causes of the weaknesses of Japanese mobile phone companies There are two main themes in previous academic works on the causes of the weaknesses of Japanese mobile phone companies.423). Vol. GSM was adopted by 101 countries and areas by 1996 (Funk 1998. the GSM (global system for mobile communications) system. largely ignoring GSM and CDMA. In 2G. pp. p.51). the PDC (personal digital cellular) system. The global weakness of Japanese mobile phone companies has often been explained by this standard issue. Differences in mobile communication standards In the 1980s. and semiconductor industries in Europe. For the analog mobile communication system. From this. was adopted only by Japan. called “2G” (second generation) came to the market. While American manufacturers have lost market share because of the global adoption of GSM. and another is the unique structure of the Japanese mobile phone industry and market. led by the US. the United States. GSM had more than 2 billion users. In the 1990s. On the other hand. home electronics. China. and Korea. p. . also assists my research. the global standardisation of GSM has prevented American and Japanese manufacturers from controlling the European market. known as “1G” (first generation).330 The Marketing Review. 2008. 4 Kingdom. and suggests global marketing strategies for electronics manufacturers in the digital age. One concerns differences in mobile communication standards. The global share of the mobile phone market tends to be decided by which mobile communication standard is adopted by carriers in each country and area. Japanese manufacturers got off to a late start in the global business by being tied to the Japanese standard required by Japanese carriers. was adopted by 3 countries. Although there are relatively few competitive manufacturers in IT. 8. and its global share was 82% (GSM Association 2006. The change in global standards has had a great impact on global market shares. each country had a different standard. led by Japan. lead by Europe. By 2005. there was no global standard in mobile communication. a digital mobile communication system. While European manufacturers. based on this analysis of mobile phones. No. like Nokia. Mitarai (2003. Funk (1998.

p. Natsuno 2006. As a result. With regard to sophisticated features. because our engineers cannot acquire the relevant knowledge rapidly enough. carriers purchase all mobile phones from manufacturers as OEM products. Japanese manufacturers must produce GSM-compatible mobile phones in addition to PDC phones to compete in overseas markets. royalty payments. represented by NTT DoCoMo. and LG are strong in the global market. and time to break into the markets. for example. p. However. production costs have been too high for overseas markets (Mobile Society Research Institute 2006. because of the sophisticated features commonly available in Japanese mobile phones.35-39). pp. even if we buy GSM licenses. are often said to be the main cause of the Japanese industry’s unique situation. Yamada (1999. Siemens and Philips have sold their mobile phone businesses (BENQ 2006. They have not been involved in the development of such standards. (Fujita and Kawahara 1998.132) also insisted that the difference in mobile communication standards was significant. pp.23-25). pp. Japanese manufacturers were obligated to pay royalties to them and this delayed development of mobile phones compatible with GSM. and develop new products to release to the market. Thus. Samsung.132). pp. It is impossible that we can begin production quickly. pp. Then. the difference between the domestic and global standards has had a great impact on the weakness of Japanese mobile phone companies. Motorola. Additionally. p. In Japan. but CDMA. among European manufacturers. such as Nokia and Ericsson.213). GSM was primarily developed by major European manufacturers.35-39. The Nikkei 14th February 2007).201-203) and Mobile Society Research Institute (2006. Japanese mobile carriers. the manufacturers are not exposed to ordinary market risks. In the business world. It is therefore preferable to move slowly for a couple of years. On the other hand.135-136) insisted that the lack of economies of scale and the royalty payments were the main problems which arose from the difference between domestic and global standards. the Japanese ratio of users’ data transmissions to voice communications was the highest in the 331 . Japanese manufacturers have been at a severe competitive disadvantage in terms of development and production efficiency. they have not aggressively entered overseas markets (Yano Research Institute 2006. Thus.Osaki Global marketing strategy in the digital age Yano Research Institute (2006. despite the fact that the US and Korea are not originally adopting GSM. As a result. Abe 2005. Nobuyuki Idei. Tsukamoto (2004. since GSM has become the de facto global standard. CEO of Sony has stated. the carriers sell mobile phones to consumers at large discounts. The unique structure of the Japanese mobile phone industry and market The unique structure of the Japanese mobile phone industry and market has also been discussed. The difference between the domestic and global standards alone does not explain the situation of the Japanese phone companies.

and Korea. Vol. 2007. One level concerned macro factors. it is Samsung’s and LG’s domestic market. and did try to expand sales globally. at their headquarters in Tokyo on December 1 and 4. Subjects of reviewed field works regarding the mobile phone markets within the research are: Japan. 8. the UK. was also conducted at their headquarters in Tokyo on January 30. While the Korean market is not as large as those three. 2008. and the influence of modularity. the study of factors is done at two levels. The interview was held with three Japanese phone manufacturers. and marketing strategies for mobile phones. Europe. 2007. and Sony Ericsson. such as mobile communication standards. mobile phones in Korea are also relatively sophisticated. between May 2006 and April 2007.332 The Marketing Review. 2006 and January 29. and the US are the “big three” mobile phone markets in the world. Results The causes of the Japanese mobile phone companies’ weakness in the global market can be categorised by macro and micro factors. vice president-level executives for three hours per each manufacturer. However. That Korea constitutes a sophisticated mobile phone market. Softbank Mobile. like Japan. Japanese manufacturers did aggressively produce GSM and CDMA in addition to PDC phones. China. as described below. the influences of carriers and consumer needs in a global market. development and production abilities. Korean manufacturers use their domestic market as a place for test marketing. 4 world in 2005 (Diamond Weekly 2006). Another level was at the micro level. is the reason why it is a part of my study. they have the same functions as the advanced Japanese mobile phones. Japanese mobile phone companies had to develop and manufacture GSMcompatible mobile phones to increase global shares except PDC-compatible mobile phones for Japanese market. Approaches and methods To analyse the causes of the weaknesses of the Japanese mobile phone companies in the global market. It was very difficult for Japanese mobile phone companies to develop and manufacture GSM-compatible mobile . Additionally. No. China. the US. Macro causes Differences in mobile communication standards The influence of the de facto global standard of GSM that is often indicated in current research is very serious matter to Japanese mobile phone companies. and have become more influential in the global market by making use of technology accumulated by developments for a sophisticated domestic market. Selected interviewees for the research are executives from four mobile phone manufacturers and one mobile communication carrier. Three hours of an interview with a vice president of a Japanese mobile communication carrier. concerning organisational structures.

mobile phones are primarily sold by manufacturers. These resulted in a Korean mobile phone companies’ great success in EU. carriers control the distribution of mobile phones. Japanese carriers’ incentives are much higher. In Korea. overseas consumers usually did not request these sophisticated phones except Korea. because they devote considerable degree of resources to Japanese market. In the development of GSM and CDMA.Osaki Global marketing strategy in the digital age phones. This caused them a significant delay in putting GSM -compatible mobile phones out on the market as compared to western companies. the manufacturers played a leading role in this. However. Distribution control by carriers In Japan. NTT DoCoMo played a leading role in the development of PDC. Though mobile phones are also sophisticated in Korea. 333 . it is very important in overseas. Except in Japan. the style for sales is similar to that in Japan. mobile phones and consumer needs In Japan. NTT DoCoMo developed and provided sophisticated mobile communication services to raise the average revenue per user (ARPU). As a result. Japanese carriers’ technical capabilities NTT DoCoMo had a 56% market share in 2005 and was the biggest carrier in Japan (Telecommunications Carriers Association). They sell mobile phones to consumers at large discounts to promote new mobile communication services. Japanese mobile phone companies did not have any opportunities to bring out these phones and capabilities to the overseas market. In China. NTT DoCoMo is a unique carrier with high technical capabilities. In the UK. Though marketing by the mobile phone companies is not significant in Japan where carriers control the distribution of mobile phones. since they were not part of the Western companies’ consortium which aims at developments of the specification for GSM. so every carrier provided sophisticated mobile communication services. this manner of sales is prohibited by law. it is difficult for Japanese mobile phone companies to implement finely-tuned marketing in overseas. Thus. Though Korea did not adopt GSM either as Japan. However. the mobile phones they developed were also sophisticated. thus profited greatly and acquired high global consumer awareness. mobile phones typically sold for $100 in the US are almost free in Japan. In addition to this. manufacturers played this role instead. However. consumers accustomed themselves to and required sophisticated mobile telecommunication services and phones in Japan. carriers’ incentives are not so high. CDMA that was adopted by Korea was much more beneficial than PDC. Sophisticated mobile communication services. Thus. Japanese mobile phone companies had to pay royalties to western companies that developed the specification for GSM. other carriers followed NTT DoCoMo. therefore. carriers typically provided only mobile telecommunication services. Based on these capabilities. Korean mobile phone companies had a great success in the large US market that mainly adopted CDMA. In the US.

manufacturers expend a large number of resources. In China. those manufacturers would need good developments and production abilities to satisfy demands of sophisticated . No leadership by the government In the UK. Though there are varieties in power relationships between carriers and manufactures among markets. manufacturers usually provide mobile phones to carriers with a low degree of customisation. the relationships between manufacturers and carriers involve ‘soft’ connections in the overseas market. Thus. Although it has often been said that Japanese manufacturers were reluctant to invest in overseas businesses. though carriers actively enhance their influences on the phone distribution and development. manufacturers cannot help but be subordinate to carriers in this situation. on the whole. Thus. Vol. it is possible that they could not afford to devote sufficient resources to that enterprise. other manufacturers can also produce phones. compared with the main overseas market. Carriers require manufacturers to develop exclusive models. carriers “interfere” in phone development by manufacturers. it is relatively easy to produce mobile phones. No. they cannot control Korean manufacturers who have influences on not only in Korea but also overseas. carriers are influential to some extent in the phone distribution. In Japan. 8. In China. In overseas markets. the adoption of number portability was delayed. This said. the government prevents a single carrier from being exclusive at their market and promotes competitions among carriers. modularity has progressed in the mobile phone industry. is assembled from commodity parts and manufactured by a Taiwanese OEM company (The Nikkei 24th January 2007). sold by Apple. This Japanese mobile telecommunication policy has allowed NTT DoCoMo to extend their influence. In Korea. Thus. it was only implemented in 2006. overseas manufacturers tended to have advantages of economies of scale. Carriers’ influence on manufacturers There are differences in power relationships between carriers and manufactures among markets. In the UK. manufacturers mainly take control of the phone distribution. manufacturers produce mobile phones and carriers provide mobile communication services in overseas. 2008. or none at all. On the other hand. 4 Carriers’ interference in phone development Japanese carriers have technical capabilities and control over mobile phone distribution. Even if Japanese manufacturers have good developments and production abilities in place. carriers aggressively implement store developments and enhance carriers’ influences in the phone distribution. Modularity These days. The iPhone. In the US. Thus.334 The Marketing Review. which results in manufacturers’ superiority over carriers. To satisfy these requests. in Japan. In this situation. In Korea. For instance. incentives by carriers are prohibited by law. the government does not interfere in the mobile telecommunication business. a protectionist policy for domestic manufacturers has been implemented. Qualcomm provides transmission chips for them. For instance. carriers control the distribution and interfere extensively with the development.

Table 1 Cross-national analysis on mobile phone’s market Japan Strong manufacturers Low Not so sophisticated Small Manufactures’ common model Not so strong Small High Middle Many Horizontal division of work High Carriers < Manufacturers Collaborative Strong Very high Carriers < Manufacturers Weak Strong Horizontal division of work Very many Low Very high Low Low Not so many Horizontal division of work High Carriers = Manufacturers Collaborative Weak Zero Not so large Very weak Strong Manufactures’ common model Manufactures’ common model Very small Small Not sophisticated Not sophisticated Low Low Not so high Very sophisticated (led by manufacturers) Small Manufactures’ common model Not so strong Zero (by law) Very high High Many Horizontal division of work High Carriers < Manufacturers Collaborative Very strong Strong manufacturers Strong manufacturers Strong domestic manufacturers UK China US Korea Manufacturers Very high Weak domestic manufacturers Carriers’ technology Carrier’s services. phone. consumer needs Very large Very sophisticated (led by carriers) Carrier’s interference in phone development Mobile phone Very strong Very large Very low High Not so many Exclusive model for each carrier Carrier’s distribution control Incentives (Discounts) to phones Price Volume zone’s spec The number of phone in market Carrier’s business model Low Vertical integration The necessity of marketing by manufacturers Power Subordinate Weak Carriers > Manufacturers Relationship Osaki Global marketing strategy in the digital age Involvement from government 335 .

Their total proportions of mobile phone sales to total sales are 60%. Marketing Major overseas mobile manufacturers invested huge sums of money in a development of distribution systems. 8. because they do not have large shares in overseas markets. their proportions of mobile phone sales to total sales are 30%. They also think that maintenance of cost-benefit performance is difficult in doing this. However. therefore weight of the mobile phone businesses are much greater for them than that for Japanese companies. thus they cannot devote huge resources for marketing. Korean government strongly supported mobile phone business in the national policy. the market shares of Japanese manufacturers are small in overseas. overseas consumers typically do not demand such sophisticated features. Cost In addition to high operational costs. they also invested heavily in advertising to establish strong brands. Relationships with overseas carriers In China. However. Though Korean mobile phone companies are home electronics manufacturers as well as Japanese. the relationship with carriers is not significant in sales of mobile phones compared to the US and EU where carriers have some influences to the phone distribution. In addition to this. As a result. they delayed in expanding their mobile phone divisions. 4 phones by Japanese consumers. the consumers typically do not require such sophisticated features in the major overseas markets. 2008.336 The Marketing Review. However. and Motorola is the communication equipment manufacture. Technology The typical Japanese mobile phone has highly sophisticated features. Vol. They show the advanced technological abilities of the Japanese mobile manufacturers. the relationship with carriers is important for manufactures to expand sales mobile phone sales in the US and EU. Therefore. In Japanese companies. However. therefore Korean companies adopted a solid stance on the mobile phone business at an early stage. Micro causes Organisational structure Japanese mobile phones companies are typically home electronics or information technology manufacturers. However. a progress in modularity has negated this advantage. the mobile phone businesses were not as influential as in overseas companies. Nokia is the mobile communication equipment manufacture. Japanese manufacturers do not benefit from economies of scale. Japanese phone companies do not build strong relationships with these overseas carriers. Additionally. No. also they are required to produce exclusive models for the domestic . Japanese companies did not anticipate the rapid expansion of global market.

both styles can coexist. in addition to sales of assembled products. it is easy for many companies to procure chip sets that are required for high technical capabilities in development. because they can each provide advantages at different times. Digitalisation of products requires software developments which demands huge resources. the transition of technology and the diffusion of modularity. 3G adaptable mobile phones’ software has about four hundred million programming steps that are almost equal to how much it takes to run old-time large-scale computers (Tachikawa 2006. However. Thus. Moreover Japanese phone companies must pay royalties to GSM. On the other 337 . Global marketing strategy in the digital age Business model Although Japanese electronics manufacturers had strong competitive advantages in the 1980s. Ito and Morita 2006). Though the relationship of progress in technology and modularity appears to be proportionate. When technology changes dramatically. there are in fact two time periods. Though digitalised products require high technical capabilities in development. As a result.or CDMA-compatible mobile phones. benefits accrue from using vertical integration policies. many products lost these advantages in the 1990s and since then (Mitarai 2003. Kokuryo 1999. Nobeoka. the opportunity exists for large profits. Nobeoka. manufacturers need wider markets. assembling of digitalised products are much easier than analog products.Osaki Global marketing strategy in the digital age market. Concluding discussions What is the digital age? Many electronics products including mobile phones are rapidly digitalised at the present time. increased competitions in global markets. This encourages the progress of modularity. companies that have neither high technical capabilities nor enough resources can easily assemble and sell products in the digital age. The mobile phone is a typical product representing the present state of Japanese electronics manufacturers. While Japanese manufacturers have tended to implement vertical integration policies. thus. Regarding the development of mobile phones. Ito and Morita 2006). The software development in 3G adaptable mobile phones needs one thousand million dollars. pp. which advances commoditisation. to recoup this huge investments. it takes time to become modular. a horizontal division of work is effective in an industry with a high degree of modularity (Fujimoto 2001.168-170) Many mobile phone companies have a tendency to focus on sales of chip sets. The number of winners will be small. Keiji Tachikawa a former CEO of NTT DoCoMo said. Consequently. Modularity has often been considered a cause of weakness in Japanese electronics companies. While this period may be short. Therefore. Sakakibara and Kouyama 2006. These are the key characteristics of the digital age.

in his study of the standardisation of marketing decision-making in multinational companies. which implemented international marketing strategy based on the strict division into countries. a horizontal division of work can be profitable after the diffusion of modularity. 2008. To do that. which had a tendency to delegate great powers to local management branches. Buzzell (1968) referred to American companies. Thus. and profits may not be so high. Enatsu (1996) insisted that the time when making a judgment by standardisation or adaptation was over. The scale of the company will be much more important. 8. standardisation. On the other hand. because business circumstances had not been circulative. On the other hand. many researchers compared effectiveness of the following strategies. slower and predicable since the late 1980s. At this point. large investments are required in both styles of business. marketing. At the threshold of this Levitt’s study. 4 Figure 1 Business model as to progress of technology and modularity Progress of technology Superiority of a horizontal division of work Superiority of vertical integration policies Progress of modularity hand. Vertical integration policies require major resources to develop new technology. however. adaptation strategy means that marketing strategy in home country is adapted to each market with large costs. Aylmer (1970) referred to Multinational companies. is required. many companies had a tendency to focus on adaptation strategy. Results of my research. These traditional frameworks of analysis such as standardisation or adaptation have been often recognised as ineffective in making the concept of marketing strategy since 1990s. No. and a combination of standardisation and adaptation in 1980s. Levitt (1983) insisted that the superiority of the global corporation sold the same products in the same way everywhere. a horizontal division of work needs a big global share in order to reduce costs and survive intense competitions. suggest that companies should focus . in his study of the possibilities and limits of standardisation of international marketing in multinational companies. adaptation. because the world’s needs and desires had been irrevocably homogenised. Global marketing Though effectiveness of both extension strategy and adaptation strategy was actively discussed in 1960’s. Extension strategy means that marketing strategy in home country is extended to other market. there will be many competitors in the market. including the arrangement of distribution facilities and advertising.338 The Marketing Review. Vol.

companies must obtain a profit in a short-term before modularity diffuses. This extra time leads to the delay in a product rollout. Takeuchi and Porter (1986) insisted the importance of the simultaneous implementation of both standardisation and adaptation.Osaki Global marketing strategy in the digital age on the maximisation of standardisation in the digital age. the simultaneous implementation of both standardisation and adaptation naturally needs time and cost more than the implementation of standardisation alone. Press Release – “BENQ-Siemens: New global mobile handset brand unveiled: First dual branded phones launched”. 25-30. In the vertical integration policies. Therefore. so must miss some market opportunities (Oishi 1993). even among mobile phones. BENQ (2006). 34. in the digital age when modularity and commoditisation dramatically progress. Journal of Marketing. in a horizontal division of work. Vol. consumer-needs for mobile phones tend to be diverse. The design is particularly important in mobile phones compared with other electronics products. Therefore. there are many differences among markets. the necessity of adaptation strategy cannot be denied completely. “Who makes marketing decisions in the multinational firm?”. These losses are often much greater than the extra return from adaptation. cost competitive power is essentially important. Aylmer. companies must achieve economies of scale by selling same models in the wider market. It is true that ICT advanced the method of mass customisation. M. However.). References Abe. Companies also should recognise that they can avoid the market where excessive commoditisation is strongly required such as Japanese mobile phone market. M. 17th January 2006. Tokyo: Institute of Developing Economies. vertical integration policies or a horizontal division of work. In: Imai. my research concludes standardised marketing strategy to be superior in the present digital age. The Development Process of East Asian ICT Industry. R. Therefore. This implies the advance of the integration of the markets. Regional Research Available at: http://benq. Therefore. K. companies should implement the minimum adaptation according to the diffusion of commoditisation. There is no extra time to adapt products to each market. so this could cause a serious loss of opportunities. In fact. No. Standardisation strategy cannot fully treat these differences. cost and speed in the development and circulation of products are much more important than ever. (eds. needless to say. “The Growth and Evolution of Korean Mobile Phone Industry” (in Japanese). 75-104.cfm?id=1258&cat=0&year=2006 [Accessed 4th September 2006]. These are essential conditions in whichever business model. because people carry mobile phones which are constantly exposed to people’s gazes. and Kawakami. Considering this situation. 4. (1970). homogeneousness of consumer-needs across borders has much more advanced in many electronics products. 339 . It is true that implementation of adaptation strategy can avoid missing market opportunities. there are particular products that have enormously succeeded in the world such as Motorola RAZR and LG CHOCOLATE. On the other hand. pp. J. However. pp. Yet. As a result. (2005).

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(1999). Tempaku-ku. The Nikkei (Japanese economics newspaper). “Sale on mobile phone business” (in Japanese). 341 About the author and correspondence Takanori Osaki graduated from Kyushu University (Japan) with a Ph. 468-8502 Japan. Tsukamoto. (2006). Tokyo: Yano Research Faculty of Business Management. (2004). Tokyo: Kobunsha Publishing.Osaki Global marketing strategy in the digital age (in Japanese). Yano Research Institute. 1501. His research interests include empirical research into global marketing strategy in the digital age and relationship marketing using IT in BtoC. 14th February 2007. The Nikkei (Japanese economics newspaper). Global Market of Mobile Phone (in Japanese). “New digital wars” (in Japanese).jp . Nagoya. After working at Toyota Motor Corporation and Nagasaki Institute of Applied Science he joined Meijo University (Japan) as an Associate Professor. Shiogamaguchi. Meijo University. DoCoMo and AU (in Japanese). De Facto Standard Strategy: How Make Profits in Standard Competitions? (in Japanese). Yamada.D. The Nikkei (Japanese economics newspaper). T +81 52 832 1151 F +81 52 833 4767 E osaki@ccmfs. H. K. Tokyo: Chuokoronshinsha Publishing. Dr Takanori Osaki. 25th April 2006. The Nikkei (2007). in economics.meijo-u. 24th January 2007. The Nikkei (2007).

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