Outside of the sports, one of the legacies of the 1964 Tokyo Olympics was the number of technological firsts. In addition to being the first Olympics that were broadcasted live on TV around the world, one of Japan's hallmark achievements was the rollout of a number of technological feats of strength such as the bullet train outside of the games, while photo finishes for sprints and the touchpad for swimming at the games become the new technological benchmark in sports accuracy and measurement. In addition to being celebrated for Japan's reemergence on the international scene, the 1964 Olympics were a coming out party that played into the image of Japan as a technological juggernaut.
With the high spirits still lingering weeks after Tokyo was rewarded the Olympics in 2020 and a mood of optimism sweeping the nation, it will be interesting to see if Japan can do something to reestablish their lead in time for the games. After all, as the world has shifted to a more global, less production oriented version of technology, Japan and Japan's businesses have lost their luster. The causes are myriad but a big part of that reason stems from the fact that Japan's technological advances were made only for Japan, and partly because the world is now demanding things that the country doesn't have an established edge in delivering. Things though at a certain level do seem to be changing - and because the soon to be world's fastest mag-lev train won't be ready in time for service for the Olympics, it appears Japan will have to find a few new ways to show off for guests and the world in 2020. As a marketer, here are a few items to stake your bets on:
NFC and a new mobile experience
Japan has staked out a very strong lead in NFC (near field communication) that appears to be getting ever more granular. This technology should be on full display for the Tokyo Olympics in 2020 - projects like "Shibuya Clickable" that uses NFC to display real time information for visitors on area shops and events, is just the tip of the iceberg for how it can be used. Things like the "one card" end to end JAL NFC experience are one thing, but it just may be that by 2020 almost everything you touch will have some kind of connection to the digital web that contributes to a product experience. At the very least with heavy smartphone adoption rates and wearable tech just around the corner, the ability for marketers to deliver contextual chunks of information via mobile will become a vital skillet.
The Driverless Car and a new on-board experience
Nissan has already vowed to make driverless cars a reality in the streets of Japan by the time the Olympics has rolled around. To me, the driverless car is almost now a foregone conclusion and far less exciting as a marketer than the parallel development of a dramatically revamped on-board experience for this kind of car. And with Japan's auto and automobile equipment industry kicking into full gear to help shape this vision, it will be interesting to see the services and apps that will become standard fare offered by both industry and independent programmers when it comes to the car's operating system. Facebook for your car? Might not be so far fetched.
And a better Tokyo experience overall
One of the things Japan seems to be using the Olympics as a springboard for is getting a better perspective on experience and customer centric usage. Though this doesn't have anything to do directly with technology, the sense of what is changing most is the digital and mobile context of the customer in Japan and how more marketers are beginning to pay attention to it.
The most dramatic and completely analog example of this appears to be happening in train signage. For years, Japan printed subway and train station signs in Romaji - the romanized version of the Japanese language - but in most cases as these words conveyed meaning through use of kanji, very few foreign visitors knew the significance or meaning of the names. As an example, Tochomae, when read, really means nothing at all to someone who doesn't know Japanese. It actually means "Tokyo City Government Offices". As a pure example of customer design thinking, Japan making these changes would be a huge step in the right direction in improving, well, the usability of their subway and train system.
And as much as the technological possibilities seem tantalizing, the common thread in all of these conversations is an advancing understanding of user experience. After years of dealing with communications as process of pushing messages out instead of filtering them with the conversation surrounding the needs of a customer what really seems most exciting is this relatively quick uptick in the importance of understanding the emerging context around the customer. While this may not be as exciting as whisking along at 500+KM/H on an elevated magnetic train, it provides something more tangible for Japan as they set to host the world in 2020 - a context and a deeper understanding of user experience that enables the development of usable, useful mobile and digital technology that will go a long way in helping Japan reestablish some technological swagger leading up to 2020.
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Jeff is the Digital Strategy Director for Havas Worldwide Digital Tokyo. His professional experience spans integrated communication planning, social media, branding, web strategy/online business development, and e-marketing in Japan and North America. A bicultural Canadian who is fluent in English and Japanese, he is a frequent speaker and blogger on the challenges of cross cultural communications and advertising Japan, where he consults local and global clients alike on the finer nuances of the market.
March 19, 2014