Embracing top tasks at Toyota (Part 1)

I remember once hearing about how Toyota launched in the US. The US car manufacturers were certain it was going to fail because it had a very thinly dispersed dealer and service network. What these manufacturers missed was that Toyota didn’t need a dealer or service center every 30 miles because its cars didn’t break down nearly as much. They were tremendously reliable. The first car my brother bought was a Toyota. It ran forever. It always started. It was just totally, utterly reliable.

In 2017, we did a Top Tasks project with Toyota across 14 European countries to find out what matters most to people when they buy a car. Reliability was top in every country. In fact, there was a tremendous commonality in relation to how the Germans, French, Italians, British, Swedes, Dutch, etc., bought cars.

This has been one of my key learnings in doing Top Tasks projects over the years. We have much more in common than we think we have, and we often neglect and ignore what we have in common. We often neglect too what is common, what is core. In other words, we neglect the top tasks. We spend much more energy on the tiny tasks.

In the beginning, Toyota had approached digital in a way that most organizations had. It was seen as something new, something separate from its core business. The old rules didn’t apply. But then what rules did apply?

Online, there is overwhelming evidence that speed matters. Just like a car needs to be able to accelerate and quickly reach a certain speed, so too a hallmark of a good Web experience is a fast-downloading webpage. There should be total consensus on that, right? Except there isn’t, far from it. Webpages are in fact getting slower.

“We’ve been fighting with Marketing for years on the importance of speed,” Karen Peeters, who is general manager for Omni-Channel Management at Toyota Europe told me. This is a fight that has happened all over the world. It shouldn’t happen. Yet it does. Because Marketing should be even more concerned with speed when the overwhelming evidence is that slow speed hurts sales and customer satisfaction and fast-downloading pages help sales and improve customer satisfaction.

So, why does Marketing often design the slowest of websites? Partly because Marketing uses the wrong metrics when it comes to Web success. Marketing is indeed concerned with speed, but often the wrong type of speed. Over the years, Toyota was inundated by lots of marketing agencies promising fast this and fast that. Lots of fast turnaround on digital campaigns. Lots of digital activity and creativity.

Unfortunately, this ‘creativity’ was often the root cause of the performance problem. Traditional marketing creativity measures stuff that is created quickly and has an immediate wow factor. In this sort of world, launching the app or website is what is important, not what the app does. To be a success, the app or website must pass the 30-second, wow, gut instinct, that looks cool test. Then Marketing will pump loads of advertising money into maximizing traffic to the new app or website. Then it’s on to the next project, the next campaign. This launch-and-leave culture is embedded in most organizations. It must change.

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