Toyota brand the new ‘tall poppy’?

Image of Toyota Logo

The poor old Toyota brand is the latest to be in the firing line with news of its vehicle recalls.  It is interesting to observe the various dynamics at play here:

  1. Toyota has a great reputation for reliability and build quality to the point of almost being boring. So, no matter what great strides forward they make it is unlikely to be newsworthy. No wonder the media leapt on this story, and little wonder Toyota spokespeople seemed so confused and wrong-footed. This is new territory for them – the spill-drill is probably lost in a bottom drawer somewhere.
  2. As Tom Peters observed in ‘In Pursuit of Excellence’; excellence of service soon becomes accepted as the norm – so you have to be constantly pushing it. Once you have reached that high point it would be easy to say the only way is down, but that is a cynical view as boundaries are always able to be pushed. It’s just that every step forward takes +2 effort for +1 gain: every -1 slip back is measured as -2.

I have often argued that brand damage, especially where it attacks the core values of a brand, is disproportionate. We saw it with Anderson consulting over Enron, and more recently with some major banks. If the value of a brand’s core intangible assets is, say, 100 and it suffers core value damage of, say, 10, it does not go down to 90, but often down to 10 or lower.

One of the key reasons we chose brands is their reliability on delivering their promise. We may choose a brand of coffee because it always has the same good taste – if we taste it one time and it is bad, the hundreds of previous good cups count for nothing. The reliability of the brand promise is irreparably damaged.

For Toyota, I would be quite optimistic. So far, actual failures are very few where satisfied customers driving around are legion. There does not seem to be a major safety issue (a critical success factor for an automotive brand), so just some overenthusiastic journalists looking for another tall poppy to behead.

Perhaps one area where Toyota may need to take a close look at itself is in its customer relationships – just like drivers take the reliability of Toyota for granted, has the company done the same for its customers? I do hope they are closely watching the blogs and forums.

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