Moving forward in crisis

moving forward in crisis

Tylenol®. Jack in the Box®. Enron®. WaMu®. Not only has each of these brands weathered crises of varying complexity and severity, but each firm negotiated its respective crisis with a degree of insight that resulted either in surprising success or utter failure. Today, few consumers dwell on Tylenol’s cyanide tamperings of the early 1980s. Fewer yet would have trusted their investments with Washington Mutual as the financial crisis unfolded last year. In a business landscape where crises steadily smolder, Toyota® is but the latest firm to land in the brand firestorm.

Brand crises can transform a company in inalterable ways, since a brand name serves as more than just a product identifier. For most companies, brands are repositories of years of strategic effort and company integrity. A successful brand conveys far more than a simple message about product efficacy. It carries a deeper promise to provide a consistent, safe user experience from one usage to the next. Effective brands transcend the label and become symbols of the trust and reliance that consumers put into the company.

In our intensely consumption-driven lives, in which a vast number of products touch our worlds daily, brand crises almost seem inevitable. Scores of multidimensional corporations work for years to develop and market a diverse range of offerings to satisfy our every need and gain our trust. In the face of crisis, decades of investment in cultivating a brand name can vanish in an instant.

Toyota is the latest company to face the brand quagmire. Is the powerful auto manufacturer more culpable for its crisis than other companies that have faced similar problems? No, every company must assume responsibility for maintaining the integrity of the products it manufactures and markets. But the issue of brand significance is especially relevant for companies whose brand covers a product that is particularly susceptible to public trust. Recent sales numbers may be the most stark indicator of this diminished trust in Toyota. All major automakers but Toyota reported higher U.S. sales in February, and most gained market share from their Japanese competitor.

This is an opportunity for Toyota to decide what it will do to keep, as its slogan says, “moving forward.” What sets companies that survive a brand crisis apart from those that do not is how they react to and manage the given crisis. And Toyota already has started on this path. Its recent media campaign engenders a feeling of partnership with its consumers. As with so many other companies that have survived crises, however, it will be Toyota’s long-term treatment of its crisis that ultimately determines whether the company slows under public scrutiny or truly starts moving forward.

Neena Needel is founder and Principal of Point2Point Group (www.point2pointgroup.com). If you would like to continue the conversation, post a comment or send a message to neena@point2pointgroup.com.

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about neena gupta needel

In marketing, a brand touchpoint refers to every opportunity a company has to impress its brand upon its consumers. I hope my thoughts on these pages will help to connect my ideas with others who share a passion for marketing and communication.

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