Toyota Marketing Smartly Shifting
If you ask the average person what words come to mind when they think “Toyota,” there’s a pretty good chance they’ll say “quality and reliability.” Since the 1970’s, Toyota has garnered a strong reputation for building quality, reliable vehicles. While some would argue that this reputation is undeserved, that’s not what we’re talking about here. What we’re talking about is popular perception.
The popular perception of Toyota is, in a word, excellent. Toyota has led all automakers in Consumer Report’s brand perception study for years (if you doubt that, see studies from 2007, 2008, 2009, and 2010).
Why Does America Think Toyota is So Great?
Again, setting recent events aside (who knows what impact they have had), it’s likely that Toyota’s great reputation is a result of two things:
- PR, brand management, etc.
- Word of mouth
Since every automaker has PR and brand management people, I don’t think that’s a big part of the puzzle. I think it’s because all of us – everyone in America – knows someone who has had a great experience with a Toyota. I’m not saying that all Toyotas are perfect of course, I’m merely pointing out that all of us (or almost all of us) know somebody who knows somebody who swears by their Toyota. I think that’s Toyota’s key advantage when it comes to perception.
Using A Good Reputation 2.0
For a long time, Toyota used this great common perception of their brand to justify higher prices. Like Honda, Toyota resisted offering discounts and incentives on their vehicles for years, reaping substantial profits in the process. As recently as September 2008, Toyota’s average incentive was less than half the industry average. Times, of course, have changed. Toyota’s average incentives in July, 2010 were as high as they’ve ever been.
Now it seems that Toyota might be trying to use this great reputation differently. Instead of “riding” on that reputation to generate profits, they’re actively building that reputation in a first-person, “web 2.0” sort of way that reinforces the beliefs that many of us already have.
First, we had a very compelling series of videos about a Tundra that lived on a cattle ranch.
This “Tundra deconstructed” series is a great example of authentic, first-person testimonials that are pretty hard to argue with. Even if you’re not a Tundra fan, it’s hard to think that the ranchers in this video aren’t the real deal.
Next, we had a funny series of videos featuring the “typical” American family buying a Sienna minvan, trying to reconcile the utility of the vehicle with the popular perception of vans.
Funny and personable, it’s a good way to poke a little fun at the product while still selling cars. The video above, for example, has been seen 5.4 million times (as of today).
Finally we have Toyota Stories, a new website that features first-person accounts from Toyota owners like the one below:
Great towing truck – Submitted By: Joseph W. – Hammonton, NJ
Hi, I have a 2008 Tundra and pull a fifth wheel 10,000 trailer. We just stayed in Fl in Nov. at Fort Wilderness. The Tundra pulled that trailer with no problem over 3000 miles on that trip. Keep building great trucks Toyota.
There are hundreds of stories like the one above on the Toyota stories website, and they help reinforce the popular perception of Toyota because they’re “social proof” – real stories from real people (typos and all) that all like Toyota.
It’s my opinion that all of these efforts point to a shift in Toyota’s marketing strategy. By using individual perceptions of quality, Toyota can get us to believe stories like the one told in the deconstructed video or on the website. By making fun of themselves in the Sienna ads, Toyota is showing us that even people who don’t really want to buy their product still buy their product, perceivably because of quality (it’s definitely not because the Sienna is cool).
Whether or not this will result in sales success and reduced incentives is hard to say – it doesn’t do much to “win over” people who don’t already like the brand – but it seems like a smart strategy to me.
What do you think – are these efforts a smart move or just business as usual?
Filed Under: Auto News