On April 1, a dozen of new managing officers strengthened the ranks of Toyota. Two days later, they met with a small group of reporters in Nagoya. The center of interest was one of the newcomers, because she stood out. She was the only one not to wear a black suit. She was the only one who was not Japanese. She was the only she.
Julie Hamp, who had worked herself up the ladder at GM from giving factory tours and making videos to General Director of Communications, is the new Chief Communication Officer of Toyota, and she was put in this slot by Akio Toyoda to effect change. Here is what she will change – if the gaijin ninja manages to slip through the ranks of the blacksuited corporate samurai.
Julie Hamp will build up trust in Toyota, and love for Toyota:
“What I would like to do at Toyota is to make it not only a respected company, but a well-loved company. Trust is the singly most important driver of purchase consideration. Trust in the company, trust in the product, trust that the product gives me peace of mind, that the product will keep me and my family safe.”
Toyota is greatly trusted by its extremely loyal customers. Outside of its customer base is work to do, and Julie Hamp will do it.
Julie Hamp will take a comprehensive approach to communications:
“My challenge is the merging of many forms of media. There is paid media which remains very important and reaches masses of people. Then there is earned media which is the most credible form of reaching people in ways they find the most believable. Then there is owned media, which companies like Toyota begin to recognize, and which can become our own ways of communicating through our own channels, and which is an exciting opportunity for us. And a final form is shared media. Communicating in ways that are so engaging, and so believable, and so interesting that people want to share this with others across channels like Facebook or Twitter.”
Toyota has a solid grip on marketing communications, and very little change is to be expected here. Toyota’s public relations sometimes is one of two worlds, the Japanese world, and the rest of the world. Expect a lot of change here from a boss who is talking to the Japanese side through an interpreter. Global automakers are faced with the breakdown of traditional earned media in terms of competence, quality, and the ability to pay the salaries for qualified reporters. This shifts the job of telling stories to the OEM. OEMs grapple with this challenge. They can produce high quality stories, but they often do not get the clicks. Julie Hamp loves to tell stories in an engaging way.
With a small in-house team, Toyota HQ started to use Twitter and Facebook for corporate messages only last year in a consistent, organized way, and it was an uphill battle. Expect a lot of immediate change on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media channels, driven by a comms director who has her own Twitter handle @juliehamptoyota, and who joined Twitter in 2009, in times when “social” still stood for an entry in the Washington, DC, Green Book.
One of the biggest challenges for the small team was to make Toyota people take a personal part in the daily discourse of social media channels. On Twitter and Facebook, you want to talk to real people. Akio Toyoda, Toyota engineers, or a Toyota worker resonate much better than a @Toyotamotorcorp. Of this, the team tried to convince its bosses, and it ran into a rubber wall.
Julie Hamp will need no convincing. She “will be focusing on giving the most credible voices in our company greater exposure. Those are our subject matter experts, not always the top company leaders, and also our own associates who have the deep passion for the company.” There is great interest in the human side of Toyota, and driven by Julie Hamp, the human side will get a voice. Maybe, Julie Hamp will even get her boss on Twitter. There are 10 Akio Toyoda on Twitter, and none of them look kosher, time for an Akio we can trust.
Hamp’s challenge: To convince the black-suited samurai that the world of media is different from still mostly paper-based Japan. In the U.S. and Europe, traditional media are folding. In China and India, traditional media can’t hold a candle to digital media when it comes to cars.
There is great interest among young people in technology. Car companies have talked a lot about cars, and not enough about tech. Outsiders like Tesla, Google, or Apple could fill that vacuum without doing much. Take Elon Musk’s tweet about a “new product.” That tweet added a (fleeting) billion in market cap, and tech blogs are still going gaga pronouncing that home storage is the next big thing, and that it will put utilities out of business. Toyota had real home storage in real homes four years ago. Its Japanese peers. from Nissan to Honda had real and better integrated home storage three years ago. They have the tech, but they don’t have the buzz. Sell-driving cars? Tesla doesn’t even have the software for its measly tech package, but Tesla is already abused as a self-driving synonym. I was driven by self-driving Nissans and Toyotas years ago, so was Japan’s Prime Minister Abe. Where’s the buzz? OEMs are just beginning to talk up tech, and expect a Toyota under Julie Hamp to “adapt its internal realities to the outside perceptions,” and to finally lead the charge:
“One area where GM did very well through the years, and where Toyota is beginning to do more, is talking about the future, talking about advanced technology, talking about what is coming down the road long before it is coming, sometimes many years before it comes.“
At Toyota, the hard part never was to make the engineers talk. The hard part was to find people who would let them talk. With Julie Hamp, the permission is a given.
Toyota has a sophisticated production process, with quantifiable quality at the core. Coming from GM, and honed at PepsiCo, Julie Hamp brings data-driven communications to Toyota:
“Using research was something I brought in here the first day. The trust index is something that now is being used globally. Any communication strategy starts with research, and it must be measured to see what kind of progress we are making.”
Finally, Julie Hamp will talk more about Toyota, the company. There used to be a misconception among OEMs that customers are only interested in cars, and that only financial analysts and business reporters care about the company. They are slowly waking up to what Julie Hamp put in words in Nagoya:
“Communicating corporate values is more important than ever. There is one universal truth around, especially with young people. They want to buy their products and services from a company they admire, from a company they know, and from a company that has the responsibility to help others. Toyota has the most rounded corporate values of any company. We must reinvigorate our communication about the company, what we do stand for.”
As simple as it may sound, this could very well be one of the hardest changes, and the biggest challenge for Julie Hamp. Having worked around the world, she is used to many different cultures. In Japan, the consummate PR professional is confronted with a deep-seated mantra of “do good, and never ever talk about it.” Tooting your own horn is considered boastful, and suspect.