“I think the key, now and in the future, will be whether we are able to accurately read what society wants and needs and respond by producing truly innovative technology and automobiles.”
I’d like to start off by asking about the two companies of which you are president: Toyota Motor Sales and Marketing Corporation (TMSM) and Toyota Marketing Japan Corporation (TMJ). Could you describe the context in which the Toyota Group established these companies and touch on their responsibility and mission?
The two marketing companies were launched in January 2010 to carry out and support our global and domestic marketing activities. In terms of context, there are two factors. First, faced with the global economic crisis that followed the Lehman Brothers collapse, we needed a marketing organization that was more flexible and open-minded to cope with the enormous changes sweeping society and to strengthen our business and brand. Second, we needed to improve our specialization and maneuverability in order to achieve more effective and efficient marketing activities.
One of the common challenges faced by many global corporations, both in Japan and overseas, is how to identify and then attain the right balance between globalization and localization in their marketing activities. Could you explain your thoughts on global standardization and local responsiveness, and how these are applied in practice in the global management of the Toyota brand?
Until now, our basic approach to global marketing has been to empower local distributors with the ability to tailor marketing characteristic to their market. The Corolla, for example, although considered a popular car in Japan, might be a luxury car in some countries, so the positioning varies. In terms of communication, too, an expression that works well in one country might be culturally taboo in another. Because marketing is difficult to develop in a way that is common around the world, until now it has been developed market by market.
But there is a huge change underway. With the recent growth of the Internet, and social networking in particular, all sorts of information now flies back and forth in an instant. The world is moving closer together. If you look at what the competition is doing—I’m thinking, for example, about Hyundai and the Ford Focus—they are clearly moving in the direction of global standardization, which I think has been strongly influenced by changes in the media environment.
In the midst of this trend, Toyota, through a Toyota Brand Forum made up of executives responsible for marketing and distribution in each countries, has begun discussing whether or not we should continue positioning our automobiles and conducting our communications activities by individual markets, and is taking another look at where to draw the line between what should be common globally and what should not. At the Forum, we invite outside lecturers to present research on the nature of global grand management and discuss ways we can provide support and options for narrowing down communication themes for each area.
Has your globalization effort included any attempt to redefine or share what makes a Toyota a Toyota?
We define our identity by a measure we have termed, “Toyotaness”. Our outstanding reputation has been shaped and defined by the accumulation, over the company’s long history, of the sense of quality, durability, and reliability that customers have perceived in the way our automobiles perform, and of factors conveyed individually by distributors. Currently, the Toyota Brand Forum is looking into the issue of communicating a marketing-driven global “Toyotaness”.
From 2009 into 2010 Toyota faced a large-scale recall problem, mainly in the United States. How did you manage, or recover from, this crisis situation? What did you learn from the experience?
Broadly speaking, from a crisis management perspective we responded in two ways. The first—the conventional approach—was to work to strengthen our systems to better utilize the energy and motivation of local, area-level actors to enable them to quickly make appropriate decisions and act on them. The second—the new approach—was to develop a common global platform for responding to crises such as recalls that arise in individual areas. The need to strengthen our ability to respond to crises was one of the reasons we established the Toyota Brand Forum I mentioned earlier.
The recent recall problem made us acutely aware of the new media environment we find ourselves in, one in which information is globalized as it is transmitted and conveyed at unprecedented speeds. Even as we remain committed to reaching customers one-on-one through our distributors as we always have, we also recognize the importance of creating a global website and developing new digital media initiatives, including some directed internally, and are moving forward with such plans.
Toyota was ranked number one on the recent list of Best Global Green Brands 2011, Interbrand’s newest brand ranking. Both the Prius’s hybrid technology and Toyota’s many CSR activities scored very highly. Where go you go from here and what role will the Toyota brand play in getting you there?
I think the key, now and in the future, will be whether we are able to accurately read what society wants and needs and respond by producing truly innovative technology and automobiles. In Japan, the recent earthquake has led to a real consciousness-raising about energy conservation. Discussion of smart grids is moving forward quickly and there has been a huge change in what people look for in an automobile. Conceivably, the future might bring automated driving systems, but whatever the case, it seems clear that from now on people and automobiles—and automobiles and automobiles—are going to become more connected through digital technology centered on the Internet.
Looking at trends in today’s hybrid (HV), plug-in hybrid (PHV), and electric vehicles (EV), in order to achieve competitive pricing I think we will need to look not only at improving battery performance and infrastructure but also at new kinds of automobiles that take into consideration the actual number of riders and distance driven. Offering such new benefits would also address a pressing issue commonly seen throughout the advanced countries: the decline in young people’s interest in automobiles.
Are there any brands that you’re paying particular attention to, and if so why?
I keep my eye on brands that are sensitive to changes in the world and quick to find ways to deal with them. Hyundai is one example. I think they’re a step ahead of Japan’s global corporations in terms of how quickly they make global-level decisions.
Economic conditions and values change with the times, sometimes dramatically and overnight. I hope that by applying our experience dealing with changing conditions, and keeping an eye on branding trends, we can lead the Toyota brand to even greater success going forward.
ABOUT HIROSHI TAKADA
Hiroshi Takada was appointed President and Chief Executive Officer of Toyota Motor Sales & Marketing Corporation in 2009, which has been fully owned by Toyota Motor Corporation in December 2009. From June 2005 to June 2009, he served as Senior Managing Director of Toyota Motor Corporation. From June 2001 to June 2005, he was named Director, the title that was changed to Managing Officer in June 2003. From March 1995 to June 2001, he served as General Manager of the Domestic Marketing/Advertising Division. He joined Toyota Motor Corporation in 1969.
His experiences have given him an extensive view to detect what is necessary to play a leading role in the present day. He stresses that one should not seek to find an easy method out of past examples but be a frontier. Our options are limitless. His philosophy includes: firstly one must adapt to changing conditions; secondly one must distinguish what has real value amid the flood of information.
In 1969, he graduated from Kobe University with a degree in economics. He was born on December 22, 1946.
His professional background includes:
• President and Chief Executive Officer, Toyota Marketing Japan Corporation (2009 - current)
• Chairman, Toyota Nagoya Education Center (2009 - current)
• Chairman, Toyota Administa Corporation (2009 - current)