Is Toyota's Local Branding Smart Strategy or a Slippery Slope?
January 6, 2014 ‐ 0 comments

On recent holiday travels abroad, we caught a superb Toyota ad:

It's a great spot, used in Australia several years ago, but what caught our eye was the tagline at the end:

Ever vigilant to branding quandaries whenever they cross our path, even copious amounts of ham, turkey, mushy peas and roasted Ballycotton potatoes didn't prevent us from noticing that this line is very different from the one that Toyota uses in the USA:

If you haven't yet deduced, we're just back from Ireland, and seeing the very different claim got us investigating:

  • In France, the tagline is "Toujours Mieux, Toujours Plus Loin" (don't know what it means? click here).
  • In Spain, it's "Siempre Mejor" (again, click here).
  • And Toyota Global's tagline? Cunningly, they don't use one.

Consistency in branding is all but an article of faith. Here's a recent Marketing Week article that covers most of the usual reasons why. So what gives, Toyota?

What gives is this: all branding is local (with a tip of the hat to Tip O'Neill).

Good branding means projecting an image that is credible, differentiated and compelling, and 'differentiated' and 'compelling' are often context-sensitive. What's unique in software market may not be so distinct in fine chemicals. What's attractive to South Africans may not play in the Netherlands.

Toyota believes it has the opportunity to be perceived as the most reliable car in Ireland – an enviable position for any manufacturer. The same opportunity may not exist in the US. Or, more likely, Toyota believes it already owns that position (Consumer Reports certainly thinks so) and is attempting to create a brand with more emotional connections, not just functional ones.

But, fellow marketers and business leaders, this approach is not for everyone.

  1. Because many organizations don't have the resources to position and promote their brand differently for different markets.
  2. Because without careful oversight, giving subsidiaries or divisions an inch often leads to them taking a mile and straying too far from the brand's core.
  3. Because not every market is like the car market. Auto buyers in Ireland probably aren't looking at Toyota's marketing or websites from other countries. Enterprise technology buyers, on the other hand, are almost certainly carrying out international searches for suppliers and solutions. Which means they will likely be exposed to marketing that was not intended for their geography. Which means that value propositions had better be similar from one country to the next, or the message will be diluted.

Local branding is potentially smart for Toyota and any other business that serves multiple market segments. But in an increasingly global marketplace, it needs to be managed carefully, and often the risks can outweigh the rewards.

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