Corporate Eye

Toyota Looks to the Next Generation Brand Champion

On Tuesday, Toyota made a move to leverage the power of a brand champion by naming Akio Toyoda, the grandson of the company’s founder, as the company’s new president.  Brand champions such as Hugh Hefner for Playboy and Steve Jobs for Apple can play a powerful role in developing and promoting a brand image and promise.  Brand champions become living embodiments of the brands they advocate and protect, and often become celebrities for no other reason by their role as the face of those brands. 

For Toyota, which posted its first loss in 2008 since the company was started in 1937, naming Toyoda as the new president could provide a perceived sense of security to consumers and stockholders who associate the brand champion’s last name with the company’s success.  Of course, Toyota doesn’t operate based on the word of its president.  Instead, it’s very much a consensus organization, but nevertheless, Toyoda brings a sense of heritage that harkens back to a time when the company could do no wrong.

In an article that appeared in the New York Times, Toyoda (who was educated in the United States and speaks fluent English) said, “If I am going to be at the top of the car company, I want to be the owner-chef” — with knowledge not just of its vehicles but their ingredients. I taste my car, and if it tastes good, I provide it to the customer.”  His hands on approach to learning the company from the top down (he’s been working there since 1986) will serve him well in his new roll as brand champion. 

A successful brand champion needs to live his brand and fully believe in it.  While analysts don’t believe that Toyoda will have an immediate impact on the company’s bottom-line, there is no doubt that his presence as the leader of Toyota could impact the brand. 

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Susan Gunelius is the author of 10 marketing, social media, branding, copywriting, and technology books, and she is President & CEO of KeySplash Creative, Inc., a marketing communications company. She also owns Women on Business, an award-wining blog for business women. She is a featured columnist for and, and her marketing-related articles have appeared on websites such as,,, and more. She has over 20 years of experience in the marketing field having spent the first decade of her career directing marketing programs for some of the largest companies in the world, including divisions of AT&T and HSBC. Today, her clients include large and small companies around the world and household brands like Citigroup, Cox Communications, Intuit, and more. Susan is frequently interviewed about marketing and branding by television, radio, print, and online media organizations, and she speaks about these topics at events around the world. You can connect with her on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, or Google+.