Monday, 26 July 2010

Toyota Swagger Wagon

As Tony Hayward departs BP and the oil spill might finally be plugged, it looks like the media will have to find some a new brand to bash. Toyota, for one, must have been relieved when their turn was over and BP took over the lime light. A global recall of 9.4 million Toyotas due to unintended acceleration is certainly top of the hit list of PR disasters for the year, along with golfer’s hero Tiger Woods.

"All the Toyota vehicles bear my name," Mr. Toyoda repeatedly lamented at the time, except someone in the marketing department seemed to have misspelled it a long time ago and never fixed it.

As an aside, a forth brand is also in trouble today. Ferrari, another automotive heavyweight appears to think that it is far too big and important to follow the rules. Currently they are attempting to convince us that it did not fix the latest Grand Prix race by ordering Massa to give way to Alonso. Shame on you Ferrari, I don’t believe a word of it and I bet most of your customers don’t either. Trust issues anyone?

Anyway, back to Toyota. What do you do when your brand is in tatters?

Rebuild it slowly but surely, concentrating on the products would be my answer.

Get back to the roots and look at what makes the products great and start communicating on this. Stay well away from any fuzzy brand statements and make sure your customer service is exemplary. People are much more likely to evaluate your brand based on their actual experience and touch points than anything they see on the media. This includes positive and negative. Yes there is no denying that the negative is more difficult to shake off but nevertheless this rule still holds true.

Less people might walk into the showroom but if you make the experience fantastic for those that do, and show them real product benefit, then they will purchase, they will come back and they will tell their friends.

As well as this, I think having a bit of a laugh at yourself is always a good move when you have made a major gaffe. Which is one of the reasons why I think the video launched by Toyota in the US to promote its Sienna Minivan is so genius. The video currently has nearly 5 million views.

It is clever because it is engaging, funny, pokes a bit of fun at station wagon families that might drive the car but overall is very memorable.

Memorable for the right reasons which goes a small way to start re-building that lost brand equity. Not everybody will find it funny but it will certainly be talked about. It is already doing the rounds in the social media space and is in the top 5 videos in the US charts.

As part of the series there are other videos which also manage to display product features of the car like the smart Key or dual power sliding side doors. It reminds me a bit of the Clio adverts that poke gentle fun at the French heritage of the car and we know what a huge success the Clio has been.

Although profits are looking better for Toyota as they are expected to return to black for the April-June period (according to the Nikkei Daily), Toyota still has underlying issues that date back, even before the recall. Share of market in Europe is declining and the South Koreans are taking over. So there is still a lot of work to be done for Toyota to find their competitive edge again.

However in the meantime I am liking their style and not ashamed to admit that the Swagger Wagon looks pretty cool for a mum with 2 kids!