Toyota- The Tarnished Brand?

02.04.2010aToyota has been in the news a lot recently. Unfortunately all of the news has been bad. First it was a recall of 2.3 million models because of a gas pedal problem. Now, the Prius model is being investigated for a faulty brake system.

I remember when I was 22 years old and needed to buy my first new car. There was little deliberation in my head about the car brand I planned to purchase. I am not a car buff so I didn’t get care about buying something sporty or stylish. I also did not want something cheap and completely unsafe. When it comes to cars, I only care about one thing- Reliability. And in my mind, there was one car brand that stood head and shoulders above the rest when it came to reliability- Toyota. For over 20 years, Toyota and reliability have been synonymous. Now with the recent news, Toyota’s brand is in jeopardy of being tarnished.

Marketers continuously attempt to control a company’s brand. They want to control the image and the brand messaging. In the present time, this is almost impossible. A brand is not dictated by company execs anymore, it is communicated by customers. There are many reasons for this. The web has spawned the information age. Now, consumers can find any information about a company and its products before they make a purchase. Companies cannot spew out propaganda anymore and make consumers believe it.

This is the same for small business. Small businesses must understand that branding is not just about advertising, it’s about every interaction a company rep has with a customer. If a customer has a great experience, they will be a brand champion.

Toyota has had brand champions for years and I am one. I currently drive a Toyota Corolla with 180,000 miles on it and have no issues. I rave about Toyota to all my friends and it will take a lot for me to buy another car brand. However, Toyota now has a spotlight on them and they must be very careful. If they handle these issues correctly, they can emerge as a stronger brand. In the past, Tylenol and Jack-in-the-Box have actually emerged as stronger brands after a crisis.

For small business owners, one must remember that a customer problem is an opportunity to strengthen your brand not damage it. If you handle the issue effectively, your brand will emerge stronger than it was before.