Toyota Effort Exemplifies Japanese Idea Of Kaizen

When translated into English, the Japanese word kaizen is typically rendered as “continuous improvement.” Kaizen is the steps you take to improve your processes, frequently by implementing small and oftentimes cheap improvements so as to make them better and better. Few companies or nonprofits … in Japan or anywhere else … are likely to survive if they don’t practice some version of continuous improvement. And kaizen is precisely the word to describe what Toyota’s marketing department practiced with its cause-marketing effort called “Meals Per Hour,” which is a video about what a Toyota team did to improve the processes at a food bank that served the people of the Rockaways in the wake of Superstorm Sandy, in October 2012.

The Rockaways is a thin peninsula in Queens, N.Y., that faces the Atlantic and acts as a barrier island. As the crow flies, it’s only five or six miles from the center of Brooklyn. But unless you’re a crow, it’s one of the more remote areas of New York City. And so when Sandy hit, all that ocean frontage served up a heaping plate of devastation for the Rockaways. And getting food relief to the people who live there was a challenge.



It was made all the more so because the food bank delivering food to the Rockaways wasn’t as efficient as it needed to be. People in the Rockaways waited in line for a box of food from the food bank truck for hours. Putting each relief box together took volunteers three minutes. Sometimes the food bank truck would run out of boxes before helping every needy family, even though the truck was full.

Meals Per Hour describes how Toyota dispatched a couple of efficiency experts to teach the Toyota Production System, the company’s own version of kaizen, to the Metro branch of the New York Food Bank serving the Rockaways.

The video explains how they suggested simple ways to improvement the system. The result was that the Metro branch was able to get more boxes on the truck, and pack them in just 11 seconds! The end result was the needy residents of the Rockaways were served better and faster.

But this post isn’t about the kaizen of the Metro Food Bank ;it’s about the kaizen of Toyota’s marketing department after it had released the video.

Toyota set up the video such that every view generated a meal for the New York Food Bank, ending on July 19, 2013. Toyota's goal was 1 million views and 1 million meals. Toyota seeded the effort with a guaranteed donation of 250,000 meals. When I watched it last night, the view count on YouTube was 1,018,088.

Toyota activated it with paid media … paid search, specifically ... and with its own website, But the “Watch One, Give One” approach quickly paid off, and Toyota’s marketers decided to reroute the budget for campaign activation directly to the food bank.

“Once the documentary launched and we saw the amount of organic pick-up, we re-allocated our paid media dollars to fund additional donations to [meals nonprofit] Food Bank,” Marjorie Schussel, Toyota's Corporate Marketing Director, told Adweek. “Today, there is only a small amount of paid search on targeted terms allocated to support Meals Per Hour.”

In other words, not only was the video about kaizen, the Meals per Hour cause-marketing promotion became an example of kaizen, too.

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