With the recent passing of Eiji Toyoda, it’s a good moment to look at a man who re-invented the Toyota brand. While he didn’t found the company (a cousin did), Eiji Toyoda took the Toyota brand from a low-budget also-ran to a global powerhouse. How? By focusing on systems and how to make them better. And by letting the people inside the company help him do it.

Toyoda created a process of labeling assembly line parts–a precursor to the bar code–that made Toyota plants  the model of efficiency. He also promoted “Kaizen”– a process of continuous improvement that, at least in his version of it, relied on the company’s own workers as the source of the best ideas to constantly improve quality and efficiency.  Toyoda understood that what would distinguish his family’s cars from other cars was to deliver quality for a price-point that worked for American customers –the ultimate Toyota target market. Today, it’s hard to imagine someone not knowing the name of the company that has brought us the Lexus, the Prius and the Camry.  

But when organizations talk about re-inventing their brand, they often think first about logos, websites, social media campaigns and marketing slogans. These are essential tools, don’t get me wrong. What’s often missing from the recipe for a better brand is, well, a better brand.  Toyoda’s secret ingredient was to focus on how people and processes delivered cheaper, better cars.  Translated for nonprofits, that means delivering on the mission in a way that is more consistent, with more impact.   Communicating about that terrific quality and impact is actually the last step in the process.

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