Car companies don’t know how to brand

Tom Dougherty, CEO – Stealing Share

29 January 2010

TOYOTA needs another recall… its brand.

Toyota is in the news these days and the auto world is quaking over an accelerator issue that has lead to the suspension of sales and a major recall . I have heard some so called “automotive pundits” wonder how this will affect the “Toyota brand” when they have built their brand around reliability.

Two thoughts come to mind, one is how crazy it is to see such trepidation about product recalls in an industry that has them all the time.  Most drivers look at them as a nuisance rather than a bone-shattering disappointment.  After all, I have had a couple of recalls in my experience with Ford and, with Ford, “Quality was job 1.” So, from my perspective, recalls, no matter how large, are par for the course.

For me, the bigger issue is the brand issue. If Toyota built its brand around customers rather than around themselves (Toyota), this would be explainable within the brand itself. For example, the brand would not suffer at all if, instead of believing Toyota stood for quality (which is about Toyota), it represented “a smart driver” (about the owner). After all, it is the providence of a smart driver to be informed and to get any issues, no matter how small, fixed right away. That way, the Toyota brand would have permission to ask the “smart driver” to get the accelerator issue fixed.

Stealing Share has been telling this story as loudly as it can for as long as we have been around. Brand needs to reflect thehighest emotional intensity of the customer and not a promise of efficacy from the manufacturer. While GM is the “Heartbeat of America” and Ford tells us that “the quality goes in before the name goes on.” BMW promises that the owner has sheer driving pleasure. The category is so poorly branded that BMW is as close as we can get to a real brand.

Wake up and embrace a real brand.

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