Toyota’s Values Blind Spot

Toyota has a problem, but not the one you think it does.

Monday, Axios released a report which showed Toyota has made 37 donations to Republican politicians who voted against certifying the 2020 election. Social media reaction was predictably swift and critical towards the Japanese automaker, with the @Toyota twitter account receiving a barrage of messages from people saying they would never buy from the brand again.

Toyota has a PR mess on its hands. Thousands of angry online commenters may be just the tip of the iceberg with more would be car shoppers staying silent but nodding along to the outrage and commitment to never buy again. The problem for Toyota is not what to do next but what data to use to decide what now. 

Toyota executives looking to quantify the impact of this incident have a big blindspot. The car buying process is typically slow. From need to consideration to purchase takes months.The June sales month will close in a couple of days. A week later all of the final data will be compiled and sent up the chain.Will any effect be noticeable? Even if there is a dip, how can they be sure it was due to the Axios story and not the hundreds of other factors? Even the extreme weather the country is facing right now could cause a three-day sales dip.

Let’s say the results are inconclusive for June. The July numbers will not be in until the first week of August, and all of the same attribution problems will still exist. Even in the most responsive category, the ability to measure the impact with sales data alone would be difficult. In auto, it will be nearly impossible. Throw in the fact that Toyota is one of the largest Olympics advertisers and the negative impact is likely offset by a massive patriotism and unity values barrage to come.

It is possible that Toyota has caused a values-driven sales decline that will be masked by alternative advertising and latent sales data. Without real-time values-driven intelligence they will never appreciate the impact these campaign contributions had on future car sales.

In the Values Economy, brands need better data. It needs to be faster and more attuned to the issues that today’s consumers care about. 

Yesterday, hundreds, maybe thousands of people declared online that they would never buy a Toyota again. It is possible that many will never follow through on that. It is also possible that for every person who tweeted at Toyota, there are ten more who will take the action without announcing it. Toyota may never fully appreciate the impact because the current systems can’t identify where the shortcoming originated. The point is, Toyota is driving blind in the Values Economy.