Man-made Mountain -- The 2016 Tacoma shows off its hill climbing capabilities on an obstacle course created in a Bass Pro Shop parking lot.
Necessity, it’s said, is the mother of invention. Zach Emahiser would certainly agree. After all, the Kansas City Region’s training manager—sensing the need to ramp up support for the all-new 2016 Tacoma—created the mother of all product introductions: the Tacoma Launch Experience.
The recent campaign, conceived as one part dealership sales consultant training and three parts consumer engagement marketing, went well beyond the Region’s regular routine for a new vehicle.
“The Tacoma is so important to our market,” says Emahiser. “I just felt we needed to take things to a new level. Plus, I was inspired by our current Brand Shift initiative that challenges all of us to come up with programs that are inspiring, innovative, exciting and help create a new Toyota. This one ticks all of those boxes.”
Day at the Beach -- Though buried up to its axles in sand, the Tacoma is able to extricate itself thanks to its crawl control system.
Changing Market Forces
At first glance, the extra effort might not have seemed warranted. After all, Tacoma has dominated the compact pickup truck segment for the past 10 years and currently owns a commanding 63 percent share. But other data suggests change is afoot.
For example, while the segment has grown 53 percent over the last 12 months, Tacoma has only claimed about 16 percent of that growth. Meanwhile, General Motors has reentered the segment with two new trucks: the Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon. Both are built at a plant in Missouri.
“They’ve proven to be a formidable purchase option for Midwest consumers,” says Emahiser. “When it came to the new Tacoma, I just knew we couldn’t afford to rest on our laurels.”
Three-wheeling It -- This station in the Tacoma Launch Experience demonstrates the truck's ample wheel articulation.
Bass Pro Shops Partnership
If he’d stayed with the existing game plan, Emahiser would have booked meeting rooms at various hotels throughout the Region to host feature-benefit presentations and ride-and-drives for retail salespeople. Instead, he leveraged Toyota’s existing relationship with Bass Pro Shops—a national chain of supersized stores dedicated to hardcore outdoors enthusiasts—to show off the new Tacoma’s most compelling attributes. And he created the show not only for dealer personnel but also for consumers with active lifestyles—the truck’s core owner profile.
In the end, a Thursday-Sunday program was held at four Bass Pro Shop locations: Independence, Mo.; Council Bluffs, Iowa; Altoona, Iowa; and Springfield, Mo. The first half-day was dedicated to sales training, centered around a 2016 Tacoma displayed on the store’s retail floor and a PowerPoint presentation projected on a 70-inch flat panel TV. By design, the session took place during the store’s normal business hours.
“The general public got educated on Tacoma at the same time as the salespeople,” says Emahiser. “We put out extra chairs and quite a few store customers stopped and listened to our one-hour presentation. Some customers even followed along in the breakout sessions. It was pretty cool.”
The display vehicle and TV remained in place throughout the weekend. The latter playing a looped video of training content, third-party media endorsements and ads to continue to tell the new Tacoma’s story.
Go Pro or Go Home -- Each Tacoma was fitted with a Go Pro video system so passengers inside the truck could see, in real time, just how hard the 4x4 was working on the outside.
An Off-Road Experience
But the real show stopper was found outside on each of the Bass Pro Shops’ parking lots. That’s where the Region’s business partner, OutCold Marketing, built an off-road driving course out of high-strength aluminum framing, lumber, crushed limestone and dirt.
“It’s one thing to talk about the Tacoma’s capabilities,” says Emahiser. “It’s quite another to experience them.”
Some 7,500 people did just that, taking a seat in the Tacoma while a professional driver put the truck through its paces on the course. To amp up the impact, the underside of each truck was fitted with four GoPro video cameras that transmitted live footage to iPads in the cabin. That way, passengers could actually see the full range of the Tacoma’s suspension, ground clearance and four-wheel drive system while they were in action.
“For example, when they went over a 45-degree side hill, they could see just how steep that was,” says Emahiser. “Obviously, we couldn’t strap people to the bottom of the vehicle while it was in motion. So this was the next best thing.”
But that’s not all. At another station in the parking lot, Emahiser’s team buried the Tacoma’s axles in sand. Thanks to its crawl control system, the truck was able to extricate itself—appearing to almost levitate. In addition to the riders, Emahiser estimates another 2,500 people watched the action. Many of them captured the crawl control demonstration on video and shared their clips with their social media followings. To help encourage such activity, the team created a rather memorable hashtag: #badasstaco.
All told, Bass Pro Shops estimates some 35,000 people were exposed to the Tacoma during the four weekends.
Class Act -- Toyota dealership sales professionals receive a full briefing on the new Tacoma. At some of the locations, Bass Pro Shop customers also sat in on the training.
Survey Says: Yes!
To close the loop, Emahiser’s team asked the hands-on participants to complete a short survey. Of those who did, 50 percent asked to receive information about a Toyota vehicle—in most cases the new Tacoma. An impressive 15 percent were ready to buy the truck and asked to be contacted by a dealer to discuss the terms of a deal. And a whopping 93 percent said the experience changed their opinion of the Tacoma’s off-road capabilities. That’s huge, especially in the heartland where owner loyalty to domestic pickup trucks can be very hard to sway.
Clearly, Emahiser’s creativity and hard work (it took him three months to organize the 2016 Tacoma Launch Experience) paid off.
“Look what we can do when we take a chance and think outside the box,” he says. “Look at how many more people we can reach. This isn’t just about Tacoma. Programs like this are about changing the way people think about Toyota.”
By Dan Miller