The Making of Square Story in Japan

How we built a localized photo library from scratch.

When I joined Square Japan in 2017, there were no local photo assets specifically produced for Japan. Using stock photos or images from the U.S. can only take a strong brand so far in a different market, particularly a market as different and accustomed to locally produced content as Japan. Square aims to help small businesses with products that serve universal problems, but the most honest and engaging marketing also acknowledges the nuances present in different countries and cultures. Local images resonate more with the local audience.

Local images speak louder than words and can resonate more with the local audience.

In 2018, I initiated the Square Story Project, working with local photographers to create a library of visually focused articles. I collaborated with the U.S. photo lead and photo art director to develop the uniquely Japanese photo style and color tone guidelines, which both meet the needs of the market and also align with the U.S. photo guidelines.

The project had a finite budget, so I took a hands-on approach. I selected the sellers myself—mostly in Tokyo and near my own neighborhood of Shimokitazawa. It’s just a stone’s throw from Shibuya and Shinjuku, but the intensity of those parts of the city fall away when you pull into the Shimokitazawa station. It’s a more laid-back, bohemian district and home to vintage clothing stores, bookstores, music shops, and funky, distinctive cafés and bars.

When I found Square merchants there, I spoke to them directly to make an appointment. Sometimes I’d find unique merchants not yet using Square and ask them if they’d be interested in trying it out and interviewing with us.

A photographer and I would then visit the seller and spend 30 minutes interviewing them and an hour taking photos.
These are the questions I asked every seller:

1. What is the story of starting your business?
2. What is your business committed to?
3. What is the key to maintaining your business?
4. How did you hear about Square?
5. How is Square helping your business?
6. What are the challenges your business is facing?
7. Tell us about your unique customer.
8. What is your business goal for the near future?

We completed and published 26 of these interviews and photo pieces as part of the Square Story Project from 2018 until 2019. Now we use the Square Story photos in public web, paid marketing, brochures, direct-to-consumer promotional materials, social media, press event assets, and TV commercials in Japan. Although this particular project is now complete, I am excited to find more honest and authentic ways to market Square in Japan moving forward.