Brand / product genius

Stumbled on a program on PBS today–when I heard the name Deming they had my full attention instantly–that was talking about how Nissan built its success worldwide (starting, naturally, with its first foray into the United States market way back in 1947). They found one guy (I apologize that his Japanese name was unfamiliar and I can’t remember it) who’d gone to college in the U.S. and assigned him the task of making it work.
 
But listen to this…they didn’t know if he would succeed, and they didn’t want to risk sullying the name of Nissan if he didn’t.  How wise and provident is that? How incredibly smart to know how valuable your brand is. So they made up a name — Datsun — to market whatever the guy ended up creating with his design team.
 
With great passion and attention to detail–and getting the designers into the mud with clay models (were they the first to do this? it didn’t say so, but it talked as if it was an original idea at the time) that they could hand carve and play with because he wanted them to be able to feel the curves they were working on–they set to work to create a statement…a car that Americans would fall in love with.
 
Now a program about Deming (the guy who invented quality control) combined with stuff about cool cars–I was actually in the car business for a couple of years back a couple of decades ago–is a double whammy of interesting material to me. I learned a helluva lot about business in the car busienss, and a certain amount about cars, too. And even cooler, I got to drive a whole bunch of cars that you and I in our ordinary lives would never get a chance to drive.
 
As I watched the show, I realized they were talking about how Nissan-then-Datsun (I never did understand back then why the name confusion–now I get it) created this incredible car. And I got goosebumps. Because I remembered a car we had on that used car lot. A car, like many others, that I got to take home a couple of nights (because I was a sales star–and that’s another story I’ll tell you sometime), but it was a car that knocked my socks off.
 
I kept watching because the name of that car just wouldn’t come to me, but I knew they were talking about it… As a sales star I often got to drive the coolest ones in stock home for a night or two. I got to drive a Jaguar, a BMW 3-i series when it was brand new (I’ve got a great story about a doctor who came to buy that black beauty one night…), a couple of different models of Porsche (914 and even a 911) and even a deLorean. For several yeas when I was married I drove a red convertible Jensen-Healey…
 
But nothing captured my heart and had my hormones in an uproar like that Datsun. I waited patiently for this program to name it, and when they finally revealed the name of this brilliant car, I suddenly remembered in detail that beautiful sleek gray sports car I took home one night… It was a masterpiece of comfort, sexiness and power. I have always said nothing else compared to the way it drove. The way it hugged the road. The Datsun 280Z.
 
The Z-car series made Nissan in America. After the succes of the 280Z they realized it was safe to dump the Datsun name and start using Nissan. Though Nissan’s fortunes have gone up and down since then, it was great to hear this story of how they truly invested in their success. And the final lines of the program went something like this… “No one could ever have imagined how much one man…and one car…could change the world.”
 
Branding. Faith in an employee. Innovative product. The turnaround guy they hired after they’d lost the ground that original Z-car won for them, spoke on stage about finding the “emotion” in their products and putting the ”passion” back into execution. These are the kinds of inspiring stories every business owner needs to listen carefully to.
 

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