Saving Toyota's Reputation

The assignment was to specifically rebuild Toyota’s public-facing reputation. I consider this to be both to customers, as well as from a brand management perspective, potential customers. In addition, I have considered the driver of another vehicle brand, who may recognize the Toyota logo and wonder if they are safe on the road next to that vehicle.

Communication Approach My objective with respect to the approach for this assignment is to get a response from the media and from customers who receive this follow-up letter of, “Finally, maybe they get it.” I happen to have been a recipient of the initial letter as a Toyota owner at the time of the recalls. I thought back to how I reacted to it, as well as to what I wrote for W6, D2, as I crafted my letter. In Week 7, Lecture 1, there was mention of cultural interpretation as a cause for a lack of candor. The fact that Toyota is a Japanese company, weighed heavily on me as I considered the initial approach that was taken in February of 2010, as well as my attempt now.

Traditionally, and according to Science Direct, Japanese companies have long-term plans in place that focus on growth and employee welfare, vs. that of financial goals. Toyota had been number one for quite some time and as a result, the Japanese culture may not have “permitted” the consideration of error or fault on their part. This consideration supports my W6, D2 sentiment of “disbelief internally that their product could be defective in some way.” In America, we take a proactive approach to crisis management, based upon the financial and brand impact that negative press can have – Tylenol and Pepsi-Cola as sited in Weiner are two examples of such mitigation. I considered Weiner’s Ten Rules for Crisis Management in preparing my response, as well as the fact that this would be exposed via television, news reviews, mail, electronic means, social media, and so on. The inclusion of a website and 800 number was part of my strategy, in offering clear means and desire to address customer questions and provide support.

Tone and Style As a follow-up to the original letter and my personal reaction of what I interpreted as insincere, an attempt to save face, and too little too late, I simply followed the rules of apologizing as well as candor. First, I acknowledged my/Toyota’s awareness that the initial response wasn’t up to par (with American standards). An apology was extended in multiple places, a tone of sincerity and empathy hopefully shines through. Responsibility and graciousness is core to my reply, as well as some offer of reparation in mentioning the remedies available to customers. As the initial letter was quite formal and reserved, this reply is more personal and heartfelt to convey empathy and care, and appeal to the personal side of the stakeholder community.

Stakeholder Implication Brand management is an art (I say this from personal experience in media and advertising for 15+ years). This letter should be considered as one of many steps required to repair the damage the press, the denial, the initial letter, and so on created. A comprehensive marketing campaign, funding for research, press releases, deep advertising expenditure, social media management, customer loyalty programs, and communications efforts are some of the required actions to reduce the negative impact to stakeholders Toyota’s initial approach created. The outcome of the initial influence and the evolution into a comprehensive effort to repair Toyota’s reputation will take time. There should be no question as to the financial and emotional impact their initial decisions/inactions created, and what could be years to rebuild loyalty and confidence for the brand and for both internal and external stakeholders.

Reflection on Risk I was careful to accept responsibility yet not address anything associated with the acceptance of blame. Specifically, I stayed away from the red flags that we have created as a litigious society and focused on the emotional repair that I believe was required on the part of Toyota to customers and others. There is risk in any attempt at repair, however there is also opportunity. Notice the risk/opportunity I have taken in the implied elements of the logo and tagline I created in the header of the letter; a subtle reminder that together, for more than fifty years, Toyota has been a part of our lives.

Reference List Cialdini, R. 2001. Harnessing the Science of Persuasion, Harvard Business Review, 72-79.

Morgan, N. 2008. How to Become an Authentic Speaker. Harvard Business Review, 115-119.

Weiner, D. 2006. Crisis Communications: Managing corporate reputation in the court of public opinion. Ivey Business Journal.

Lectures from JWI505 Weeks 6, 7 and 8.

Kono, T, 1984. Long range planning of U.K. and Japanese corporations—A comparative study. In Long Range Planning, Volume 17, Issue 2, April 1984, Pages 58–76 URL: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/0024630184901377 (accessed August 26, 2012)

Avraham, Eli and Eran Ketter. Media Strategies for Marketing Places in Crisis: Crisis Communications Management Defined. 2008 URL: http://www.marketingincrisis.com/index_files/Define_Crisis_Comm.htm (accessed August 25, 2012)

Richardson, B.K.& Byers, L.: Communication Studies and Emergency Management: Common Ground, Contributions and Future Research. Opportunities for two emerging disciplines. In: MCENTIRE: Disciplines, Disasters and Emergency Management: The Convergence and Divergence of Concepts, Issues and Trends from the Research Literature. Emergency Management Institute, Electronic Text Book, 2006. URL: http://training.fema.gov/EMIWeb/edu/docs/EMT/Disaster%20chapterDraft%20one12.23.04.pdf , Nov.2009) (accessed August 26, 2012)

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