Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Sayonara, So Long, Goodbye!

A short take on how one company killed America's love affair and its decades-long quest to be the best car brand - in just a few short months. Business is business is business. Except that the way companies do business in every country can be vastly different. Yes, even in our "global" marketplace.

Cultural nuances and traditions have a direct impact on management and leadership styles, affecting workforce attitudes and performance, from the top down and bottom up. Toyota's spectacular fall from grace puts the spotlight on how a number of Japanese cultural traits -- things like gokuhi, uchi-soto, gaijin -- helped propel its PR nightmare. In English, these terms roughly translate to secrecy, suspicion of foreignness, pride and insecurity -- none of which are particularly PR friendly or conducive to reputation-building, nor endearing to a nation consumed by transparency and openness.

Our way is not always the right way
One of the first things a marketer is supposed to learn is to know thy customer. Barring its first American flop in 1958, Toyota seemed to know its customers very well. The company pioneered just-in-time manufacturing, became the darling of the auto industry, and was embraced by American consumers wholeheartedly. At the same time, Toyota's reserve and intense pride seemed to reinforce the image (correctly or not) of the Japanese -- always striving for perfection - which up until a few years ago served the carmaker very well.

But alas, that pride -- and arrogance I would add -- is what finally got in the way of Toyota understanding its customers. In an era where customers control so much of the conversation, Toyota forgot the golden rule of know thy customers.

Read the rest on Media Post.

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