Toyota's Strong Brand Values Key to Success

Toyota's climb to become No. 2 carmaker in the U.S. is entirely consistent with its ranking as a "21st Century brand" with real differentiation and value in the eyes of consumers.

It was all predictable, says Robert Passikoff, president of Brand Keys and author of Predicting Market Success: New Ways to Measure Customer Loyalty and Engage Customers With Your Brand, which will be published this Friday by John Wiley & Sons.

Toyota is a "21st Century Brand," defined in the book as a name so strongly imbued with values and meaning that it is easily and strongly differentiated from the competitors. Google is another brand enjoying this status, based on the Brand Keys research.

Passikoff's book lays out a methodology for getting at how to market to the demanding "21st Century Customer" by going beyond satisfaction measurement to evaluate the real drivers for brand loyalty in a category, and then how your brand measures up. He also looks at the highly topical subject of media engagement and discusses when certain media choices might actually harm a brand.



Ford, Passikoff says, is a dying brand--a "category placeholder." In his book, Category Placeholder is the designation for products or services with strong awareness in the category in which they compete but with values so basic, and so absent of meaning, that they cannot be differentiated from the competition in the minds of the consumer. Other brands he gives this designation to are Coca-Cola and Gap.

If you have no values or meaning to leverage, all you can do is resort to tactics like lowering your price or trumpeting your satisfaction levels. GM's creative shell around its price drop--the GM Employee Discount--was brilliant, but a week later Ford and Chrysler duplicated it. Toyota didn't have to. "Makes you realize how important being a brand, a real brand, is," Passikoff writes., the car-buying advice service, projects that within six years Asian auto companies will outsell their Detroit rivals in the U.S., led by Toyota.

Toyota is also rolling ahead in the last remaining category where Detroit automakers have defended their turf--the pickup market.

Toyota will introduce its first full-size pickup in mid-February. Don Esmond, svp of automotive operations at Toyota Motor Sales USA, told The Detroit News last week it is planning for a 10 percent market share of the 2007 Tundra--which would mean 200,000 truck sales.

American truck buyers tend to be more brand-loyal than passenger car buyers, so a major marketing push is planned, Esmond said. It will include extensive dealer training, heavy TV advertising, and event marketing at activities favored by pickup customers--car racing, motorcycle racing, hunting and fishing, and country music.

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