Many years ago, the American car manufacturing industry ruled the world, but that was only until Toyota came along. Why was Toyota more successful than General Motors? They both had access to the exact same technology, their products are essentially identical (four wheels and an engine), and their customers are also basically the same. But GM currently has a market capitalisation of $60 billion whilst Toyota has a market capitalisation of $202 billion. Why the big difference?
Toyota had a simple (and better) working philosophy: continuous improvement and respect for people. It’s called The Toyota Way and is essentially an approach that involves the company’s front-line workers in improving their own work. It has much to do with the Japanese philosophy of Kaizen – “perfection in manufacture”.
Toyota’s idea of drawing improvements from the people on the front line is critical to the company’s success, and is something many New Zealand businesses would be wise to take note of, regardless of their industry. Companies that push work improvements from the top down usually generate weak front-line enthusiasm, and I think we all know why. Despite some missteps in recent years, Toyota’s ascent to the top of the auto industry has been due to one reason and one reason only: quality. And the main reasons for its unrivaled quality are worker participation and total focus.
When a problem is discovered on Toyota’s production line, Toyota stops everything to sort it out then and there. Production would actually have to wait for the problem to be solved before continuing. There are numerous legendary stories covering just how precise Toyota was at sorting out even the smallest of hiccups. The story I like the most is this one:
On the Toyota production line, in the days before automated robotics, every worker was given precisely the right amount of tools and equipment he needed to get the job done. Assembling 12 doors? Needing four bolts per door, the worker gets 48 bolts, and that’s it. If some sort of malfunction happened with any one of those 48 bolts (or anything associated with them) the entire production line stopped.
The problem was assessed right there at the production line and solved. And once it was solved it rarely appeared again. This is in stark contrast to the way the Americans did it. Assembling 12 doors? Again needing four bolts per door, the American worker gets a bucket of bolts. If one bolt doesn’t work, throw it out and find another bolt to replace it with! And you better do it quickly before you lose your job. Nothing stops the production line.
At Toyota, everyone’s job description is to improve on what they’re already doing. The company culture encourages front-line workers to suggest improvements to their work and to help make them. Management has a relationship of mutual trust and respect so workers can make suggestions without fear of getting fired. So workers are deeply engaged in improving both the quality of their work and their work conditions, and also form a sense of pride and togetherness. Unlike most companies, Toyota doesn’t keep top management away from the field by using suggestion boxes. Senior managers go to the front line and listen, which shows respect to those far from the executive suite. That in turn further energizes workers.
So what does The Toyota Way have to do with advertising and marketing? Quite a lot actually. No amount of marketing and clever TV ads could make Toyotas reliable and well built. Every single person at Toyota empowered the company’s marketing. This philosophy and the associated principles made marketing Toyotas so much easier.
I’ll be the first to admit that Toyota isn’t the coolest or hippest of the car manufacturers (except for the 86 model) but they’re good, honest cars, and you know that the marketing was thought of way before the car went onto the production line. This is in stark contract to Nissan, whose advertising is so over the top and so vacuous that they have to put disclaimers on the ads saying, “Fantasy, do not attempt. Cars can’t jump on trains.”
Whilst Toyota didn’t revolutionise marketing, they at least allowed everyone at the company to contribute to it if they wanted to, and that’s vitally important. If you want to make your marketing job easier, then start looking for ways to get more of your colleagues involved. The truth is that they want to be involved whether you like it or not. After all, marketing is a creative field and anyone can be creative (so the saying goes). But we all know that creativity can be extremely hard to measure and understand, just ask Vincent Van Gogh. So rather than taking it all on yourself, get some help from those around you, because marketing is too important to be left to the marketing department.