If brands are best built by providing credible proof points of one brands' key benefit over another, what will Toyota have to do now to get consumers to believe ‘everything keeps going right'?
The smartest business consultants in the world are scratching their heads in the wake of Toyota's global product recall due to faulty accelerator cables. The best they have come up with in the efforts to understand how it could possibly have happened is that it's all part of the "arc of tragedy" Jim Collins refers to in his book on “How the Mighty Fall'.
Toyota's global CEO Akio Toyoda has fallen on his sword and apologised to shareholders and to its customers all around the world not having taken more care to avoid such problems.
And in South Africa, Toyota's top leadership has come out loud, and not very proud, to assure customers that vehicles which could possibly be affected will be recalled and if they are found to be faulty it will take only about an hour to fix them.
From a communications point of view Toyota must be applauded for their efforts in minimising the collateral damage by using every channel possible - from YouTube interviews with its SA CE trying to convince consumers it's not really that serious, to a “special services campaign” online, set up special customer care help lines and phone in centres as well as questions a Toyota owner might have, answered via its website. It is also using Twitters and Facebook in addition to the traditional media and direct communication channels.
But, methinks, it's too little too late.
In September last year the crisis came to the fore and Toyota started recalling vehicles in the US market. I am not a Toyota driver and am not sure if there was any communication to SA clients in the wake of this at that time. Maybe they felt it was not necessary because its cars in SA were apparently not affected to the same degree as they were in other markets, due to our ‘hot and dry climate'.
But now they tell us they are recalling all affected vehicles in SA merely as a precautionary “no cause for concern" and not due to client complaints' measure.
But, the credibility of the message is tainted for local consumers.
“Why did they not tell us about the problem sooner. Only once they can no longer hide or deny, has the brand started putting its mouth where its money is. Now, suddenly for the first time it is talking to the SA public. No matter how loudly, the message now seems insincere and a little 'too little and too late'. Global brands need to understand consumers are consumers where ever in the world they live.”
The brand in SA last week recalled more than 52 000 vehicles sold in SA since 2006, as well as about 60 000 potentially faulty vehicles manufactured by it and exported to elsewhere in Africa and Europe.
The lesson to be learnt when it comes to creating brands for consumers and getting them to believe in your product beyond the ‘sell and tell' of advertising is not to leave anything to chance when making it do what it promises. Especially when it comes to quality, safety and functionality.
If the car is not doing what it is designed to - i.e. respond properly when the accelerator pedal is pressed you're short on credible ‘proof points' especially for motorists.
No matter how cute your talking dog advertising campaign is, or how loudly you assure consumers after the fact - the credibility of your message is tainted and your communication spend a waste of money.