A View from Blue Grotto

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Tea ceremonies at Lexus

I have found new resources to affirm my belief that a company’s history plays a big role in their future. And that increasingly, companies are using their history and core values to strengthen their external image.

In the last two weeks, I read two articles about companies revamping sales using important elements of their heritage. It’s not surprising that they are both Asian companies – Japanese to be specific. A July 9, 2007 WSJ article outlined Toyota’s campaign for Lexus’ brand recognition “by plunging deep into the world of ancient Japanese hospitality traditions.” And the very next day, the NYT reported on Subaru’s attempts to boost sales of its 2008 Impreza WRX “by invoking the history, heritage and popular culture of its home country, Japan.”

Now, we are talking about cars, here. But I think the underlying premise is awesome! Leverage your own best practices, and more importantly – your history of what makes you uniquely able to provide services or products.

I say it’s not surprising that the companies are Asian because Asian culture deems great respect for tradition. Every US company doing business in Asia has quickly learned of the importance of formality. In my corporate history work, I have often thought US companies with decades of experience behind them (3M with 100 years, for example) have a leg up in dealing with the Asian business community and governments. Conversely, the article on Subaru demonstrates that American consumers appreciate the history and traditions of an ancient culture.

In efforts to outperform its European counterparts, Toyota is employing traditional Japanese customs to help Japanese car buyers identify with its luxury line, Lexus. Reporter Amy Chozick says the company “decided to offer a flavor of customer service that would be difficult for its European rivals to match.” I’d say. Can you imagine the German BMW employees, from sales people to mechanics, practicing flower arranging and tea ceremonies?

Put into those terms – flower arranging and tea ceremonies – it would be hard to imagine any American company digging deep into its history to come up with a Samurai pose or anime film as best practices. But, put into context, a company’s history of success, and the challenges overcome to reach success, and their ability to repeat success can make a huge difference in their strategic planning for the future.

Email me with examples of how your company leverages its history or traditions. Arigato gozaimas! (Thank you)

To search for free copies of the articles:
Subaru Turns to the Land of Forbidden Secrets

The Samurai Sell: Lexus Dealers Bow to Move Swank Cars
Search by article title: www.finance.yahoo.com

Yvonne Hundshamer
President, Blue Grotto Inc.