English Department Alumni Take Interdisciplinary Approach to Branding Toyota Financial Services
Although Tatsumi Paredes (Class of '98, B.A., English, magna cum laude) and Maria Tirado (Class of ’86, B.A. English lit/communications) attended California State University, Dominguez Hills nearly a decade apart, they both agreed that the education they received was instrumental in propelling them to their current positions at Toyota Financial Services (TFS). Tirado, who serves as TFS’s brand manager, recently welcomed Paredes to her department as the new brand administrator.
“The best thing about Cal State Dominguez Hills is that the class sizes were pretty small, so we were able to get individual attention in terms of what we were learning,” says Paredes. “It was a good opportunity to work with other students and professors directly. It’s pretty amazing how closely that translates to the real world.
“If you go to any large university, I don’t think you’ll get that intimate interaction. You’re in a crowd... listening to a lecture. But we all know that in the real world, we’ve got to participate in meetings. We don’t just sit there and listen, for the most part. So I think that’s a great advantage that Dominguez Hills has.”
Tirado says that the opportunities that CSU Dominguez Hills gives its students was instrumental in helping her achieve her career goal as a writer, which led to her current position.
“What I liked was how small and intimate [the campus] was,” says the former Bull’s Eye (now The Bulletin) reporter. “It was such an honor to interview Sally Ride for the school newspaper. I felt that’s what Dominguez afforded me – access to things that maybe a larger university could not give me.”
Providing a way to achieve dreams is just what Tirado and Paredes are in the business of as leaders of the brand team for TFS. They are currently developing an external brand strategy to encourage more automobile buyers to use Toyota’s financial services. Tirado believes that the success of their internal campaign will ensure its favorable reception by the public.
“What we’ve learned is that we’re not going to reach anybody out there if we don’t believe it here first,” says Tirado, who has worked at Toyota since 1996. “Our product is really an experience. Our people are what differentiate us from all the [competition]. They go through extensive training on how to treat our customers... to deliver service that is simple, proactive, and personal.”
Paredes says that since she began her career at Toyota three years ago as senior dealer market planner, she immediately recognized the company’s culture of integrity in her colleagues and their products.
“It was energizing to work with so many people who believe in what we do, who provide great service, and who believe that overall we’re making a positive difference in people’s lives,” she says.
Tirado says that while TFS’s products—finance and lease contracts, and extended service coverage—are not as “sexy” as the Toyota, Lexus and Scion vehicles that they sell, the organization “really is about the relationship we have with the customers who own those cars,” and with the dealers who sell them.
“Dealers can choose any number of financial institutions to get the funding for the customer,” she says. “But we do have a good market share right now, and we have a lot of dealers who are loyal to TFS. They see TFS as part of the Toyota family, so there’s an incredible amount of cachet and trust there.”
Paredes says that although many customers are focused on getting the best rate possible when financing an automobile purchase, she enjoys the challenge of building brand recognition for TFS.
“[Customers] may not necessarily ask for us by name, and that’s one of the challenges for us,” says Paredes, who minored in communications at CSU Dominguez Hills. “I love being part of the TFS brand department and developing an external brand strategy. It’s really a way to let [consumers] know what a great brand we have and how we stand behind the experience that we give and the products that we sell.”
Comparing the divergent career paths that led them to Toyota, Paredes and Tirado credit their success with capitalizing on wherever opportunity led them. Tirado was introduced to Toyota while working as a proofreader and copywriter for a local design firm that was contracted by Toyota. She says that the variety of courses she took while at CSU Dominguez Hills was also instrumental in helping her develop her skills as a marketer.
“If you want to be in marketing, clearly you need to take some marketing courses,” she says. “But at the same time, take courses in psychology, art history, music, philosophy, history, all the arts. I think marketing is made up of all those disciplines. Look at it in terms of enlarging your frame of reference.
“Sometimes [in marketing] you have to be a psychologist. Sometimes you have to be a historian. All of that will come out in how you communicate. It’s about communication, but it’s also about understanding.”
Paredes began her 13 years of experience in the automotive industry as an intern in the customer service call center at Nissan while still a student at CSU Dominguez Hills.
“I think until you actually work in a company, there is no way you can really imagine how it’s going to be,” she says. “Students should consider doing internships, and just talking to people. Talk to people who are already working. Ask them detailed questions about what they do, what they like about it, what they did to get there.”
Echoing the manner in which Toyota has developed its internal brand recognition in order to bolster its external image, Tirado says that students should also consider what they are developing as their personal “brand” while preparing to graduate and enter the workforce.
“When you look at what the definition of ‘brand’ is, we also kind of represent our own brands here,” she says. “When you’re a student, you’re trying to absorb everything you can. When you go out into the world, whether to a job or a career, you have to ask yourself, what is [my] brand about? It takes time to build a brand, but then also as you work, it takes time for others to build trust in a brand.
“There are attributes I [think of] for the ‘Tatsumi Paredes’ brand: responsibility, intelligence, warmth, sensitivity. When I think of Toyota, I think of quality, dependability, reliability. I think that’s what every person on this planet should ask themselves: What are my attributes and how will I contribute them?”
For more information on the English department at CSU Dominguez Hills, click here.
For more information on the communications department at CSU Dominguez Hills, click here.
- Joanie Harmon