A quick case study in missing an opportunity: Toyota’s mobile application

The last car I bought was out of absolute necessity. My family and I had just finished grocery shopping on a typical wintery January day and we quickly came to the realization that the groceries, my twin boys (and all their accessories), my wife and I would not fit our current car at the same time. The next day I was at the dealer and was driving off the lot with a brand new shiny Mazda CX-9.

I know this isn’t the typical car-buying experience but I had done enough research to know what I was interested in before the time had come for me to replace my existing wheels. That has been done on the Internet, comparing different brand offerings against my requirements. Panoramic interiors, customization tools, videos and photos on websites plus user feedback is how I made my decision – the only thing left was a test drive (but most of us know that a test drive is just a formality anyway once we’ve made up our mind).

This week, Toyota released a mobile application to “let customers shop for a Toyota vehicle anywhere, anytime” and it made me wonder if I would use it to make a buying decision for my next car so I downloaded the US version and started playing.

It was quickly evident that Toyota and the company that built it don’t understand the power of mobile.

I’m not going to get into the features of the app – our friends over at Mobile Commerce Daily have already done that. I’d rather focus on figuring out how they could leverage mobile to better service their customers – current and future.

Understanding the Interface

It is clear that Toyota doesn’t understand that mobile is not the web – they may use the same data, sometimes share the same technologies but they are not the same. The web is a very rich research tool for car buyers and the car companies have done a good job of bringing all those tools to their websites but most of us are using them across all makes, models and manufacturers.

The three “C’s”: Context. Context. Context.

Mobile is a matrix of multiple layers of context and the key for Toyota was to put some effort into understanding these layers. The first and glaring issue that they overlooked is that a decision to buy a car is not something I do everyday! Building an app whose primary purpose is to help me make a buying decision every 8 years is not, well, useful. I’m not often sitting with idle time wondering what the latest Prius price is…

A Glimmer of Understanding

One word. mLot. This is a service that allows a customer to take a photo of a VIN number and get all the information about that car. Now this may be useful when I’m trying to compare different models but I need to be on the lot to do it. So close to being on the right track.

What should Toyota do?

The fact they are playing with mobile is great – kudos for getting started. Now that they have, how do they fix it? Simple. Focus on adding value to a specific customer type:

1. The Toyota Owner
Keeping a customer should be the primary focus on this app strategy so I would expect things like VIN scanning (in case the car is stolen or for insurance claims), mileage tracking (a mobile “maintenance book”), service notifications with a clear understanding of what needs to be maintained when (perhaps with a TCO for the year), roadside assistance help (tied in with the GPS of the device) and even allowing owners to book their maintenance appointments and see when shuttles are offered – the list is endless. Focus on value to the owners.

2. The Toyota Thinker (what they call “Intenders”)
Finding new customers via mobile is as much about supporting existing marketing efforts on a national scale as it is localizing those efforts. Mobile is the answer to that. Toyota could take advantage of other ubiquitous mobile offerings to drive dealership trafic. Instead of offering the typical “request a quote” from the app (which is a very “web” concept), why not give a local inventory of the product I’m interested in. Also, why not bring in the aftermarket as well? I may be interested in a used car so work with the partners to create a connection and make me a lifelong Toyota owner and my next new car will be an easier sell.

3. The Toyota Dealer
Yup, dealers. There are often more than one in a city and they compete with each other but are all representing the brand. Wouldn’t it be interesting to have an app for the dealers that actually gave up to date pricing, sales incentives and local stock/availability so they can better serve their customers? Can’t find the right model on the lot? Help them find it in the city. Give them the tools to help deliver a customer.

The Battle for the Front Page

There are two challenges for apps these days: (1) Being found and downloaded and (2) remaining relevant and staying on the front page of apps on the smartphone. What Toyota has done is not relevant in mobile and the outcome will be used for a moment and then discarded. Not sure that is worth the effort and cost put into this offering.

What do you think?

About the author

Rob Woodbridge

I'm Rob, the founder of UNTETHER.tv and I've spent 14 years immersed in the mobile and pervasive computing world. During this great time I've helped some of the most innovative companies grow their business through mobile. If you are in need of a mobile business advisor or coach, connect with me here to get things rolling.

  • I understand your points.
    Toyota is one best car creator in the market. This Japanese brand created too many advanced products to the market to prove its presence.

  • Anonymous

    I see your point about creating a sticky app. Extending on the owner concept, I purchased a Tacoma last year and it would be great to have a mobile app to track maintenance and interact with the dealership for scheduling appointments. (I have even thought about writing my own app to remind me of the proper maintenance schedules for my truck.)

    A Bluetooth connection between my phone and the car for reading data such as maintenance indicators, mileage, etc would as help create great context for a mobile app.

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