Tim Munson Home  

Case Study: The US-Japan Council


The founding members of the newly formed US-Japan Council (USJC), which included CEOs, board chairmen, a U.S. senator, and other prominent leaders of the Japanese-American community, had been brought together by a shared vision. They saw "a vibrant Asia Pacific region through engaged and interconnected communities committed to the U.S.-Japan relationship," a bilateral relationship which has often been described as the single most important political-economic partnership in the world.

The founding board understood that, fundamentally, people-to-people connections had always been and would always be the foundation for a positive, robust U.S.-Japan relationship. And so it followed that the USJC's mission would be "to bring together, inspire and engage Japanese Americans of all generations to work with other Americans, Nikkei and Japanese to strengthen U.S.-Japan relations."

What the young organization required was a solid yet innovative communications strategy to deliver on this vision and mission, together with a powerful, up-to-date program of new media enabling these personal connections, while also amplifying and sustaining the organization's voice throughout the U.S. and in Japan.


Ethnographic and demographic research, together with a preliminary set of in-depth interviews, revealed both a complex set of opportunities and challenges for U.S.-Japan Council communications, as well as a compelling strategic direction and defined set of tactical communications initiatives.

The research showed that the Japanese American community is something of a paradox. On one hand, Japanese Americans consistently set themselves apart from the broader U.S. population in their educational and professional careers.  Data revealed that Japanese Americans earn college, graduate and professional degrees in significantly greater numbers than the population at large. These achievements then tend to translate to successful careers in business, law, media and education, and incomes 25 and 36 percent higher for individuals and households respectively than the U.S. population as a whole. We were seeking to engage an educated and affluent audience.

On the other hand, among all Asian American groups, Japanese Americans were by far most likely to ‘intermarry’ and (according to many analyses of recent Census data) least likely to self-identify as a single given ethnicity, i.e., as Japanese Americans. We therefore wanted to be particularly cognizant of this unique dynamic both in terms of our strategic approach and our ongoing messaging. Overemphasizing that the USJC is “ethnically exclusive” or “ethnically selective” as some put it during interviews, may well have become a liability or “limiting factor” both for the USJC’s immediate acceptance and longer term growth.

With this in mind, I recommended a strategic approach leveraging the USJC’s fresh entry into the established ecosystem of Japanese American local, national and international organizations, and which positioned the organization as follows:

The U.S.-Japan Council is a 21st Century network of networks which seeks to strengthen a bond between Japanese Americans and Japan that is as protean as it is enduring. The USJC seeks to infuse a fresh and vital human dynamic into the U.S.-Japan relationship through its diverse people-to-people programs and events, as well as by leveraging advanced communications and social networking technologies. Through Japanese-American Councilors and Members, its programs, media, and base of financial support, the USJC seeks to establish a historic, human inflection point and opportunity to extend and intensify the U.S.-Japan relationship and bilateral political, economic, and cultural synergies.

This brand positioning, together with the supporting messaging framework, and specific tactical initiatives flowed directly from this overarching strategic approach. The subsequent communications program, which included a CMS-driven website, email newsletters, social media engagement, and only minimal investment in collateral media, sought to fully leverage available passive, push, and social media technologies, while minimizing immediate (and long term) staff time and cost requirements.




Ethnographic and demographic research together with in-depth interviews had revealed a complex set of opportunities and challenges for U.S.-Japan Council communications.

Experience includes ...

T-Mobile US
Microsoft | Windows Phone
Microsoft | Worldwide Marketing
Microsoft | Partner Network
The US-Japan Council
Seattle Arts & Lectures
Drexel University
George Mason University
American College of Cardiology
American Chamber of
Commerce in Japan
The Brookings Institution
Lipton Teas
De Beers
Jack Daniels
Howrey LLP