Tag Archives: trust

Troubled Toyota

Photo credit: angusw on Flickr

I feel compelled to share some thoughts on Toyota’s brand troubles.

Jim Lentz, president of U.S. Toyota sales, acknowledges that the situation is embarrassing, “but it doesn’t mean we (have) lost our edge on quality.”

Maybe not. But here’s the problem. First we learned of the accelerator problem. And now we’re hearing about braking problems with the Lexus and Prius. If we just had the accelerator issue, consumers might be willing to give Toyota the benefit of the doubt. But with other problems coming to light, consumers may now question who Toyota really is.

Is Toyota the auto company who can be counted on to build reliable, high-performing vehicles? Or is Toyota a brand that’s no more trustworthy than any of the other big brands?

Toyota has always ranked exceptionally well in the perception of value category. The current crisis now threatens to undermine that precious asset.

What’s the lesson?

Well, for starters, you can never let up on guarding your reputation.

As I’ve said many times before, brand building is a marathon event (probably more like an ultra-marathon). It’s tough, takes a long, long time and there’s no shortcuts. You build your brand mile by mile by mile.

But if you let up for a moment, if you slip, if you fail to do what you need to do, if you let your customers down, brand value that’s taken decades to build can be destroyed in an instant.

Guarding your brand’s reputation must be an obsession. It’s a total commitment.

Through all of the media reports on Toyota’s troubles, one of the ideas put forth is that the Japanese auto manufacturer had gotten complacent and overly focused on growth.

In fact, you can go back as early as 2005 and 2006, Toyota was talking then about the need to fight complacency and re-focus on quality even as it pursued growth across the globe.

Wasn’t it the Japanese who taught us that the relentless pursuit of quality and continuous improvement is key to growth?

For Toyota, the worst may not be over. We’re hearing reports that Toyota knew about the accelerator problem for over two years. And according to a U.S. House of Representatives committee, the sudden acceleration problem has been linked to 19 deaths in the last decade.

I think this is the most troublesome part of this story… that Toyota may have hid from its own problems. All of the sudden, it’s not just reliability and quality issues, it’s a question of integrity.

My view: Toyota will need to work hard, very hard, to bounce back from this crisis. They need to earn back the trust they’ve lost, and they need to rebuild the perception of high value.

Part of the value of having a strong brand is the ability to weather a storm when things go against you. Toyota will benefit from the brand equity it’s built with consumers, especially Toyota loyalists. But rebuilding the brand equity lost won’t happen overnight. It’s going to take years.

For more on Toyota’s troubles, see Toyota’s Chief Steps Forward to Apologize.

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Tommy Boy Teaches about Trust in Branding

tommyboyLast weekend, I happened to catch a few scenes from the movie Tommy Boy.

I know… It’s one of those stupid comedies, but stupid sometimes pays big: the film netted close to $33 million at the box office.

In Tommy Boy, loveable funnyman Chris Farley is Thomas “Tommy Boy” Callahan, who has returned to his hometown of Sandusky, Ohio where his father, “Big Tom,” owns and runs an auto parts plant.

His father is a savvy businessman, which is apparent in one scene in the way he overcomes some customer resistance and accelerates a sale.

Customer: Sounds good, Tom, but I’d like to take a look at your operation before I commit.

Big Tom.: Fair enough, Doug. ‘Course I can get a hell of a good look at a t-bone steak by sticking my head up a bull’s ass, but I’d rather take a butcher’s word for it.

Customer: And you guarantee everything you sell?

Big Tom: You know I could guarantee you all day long, but we both know a guarantee is only as good as the man who writes it.

Customer: Sounds good, Tom. I’ll send the contract next week.

What exactly happened in that scene? What insights, if any, can we draw?

To me, this scene is more than smooth talking. What came to mind for me more than anything else?: The importance of trust.

The customer, who has a relationship with Big Tom, may be unsure about some aspects of Callahan’s operations. But he has no doubts about the man behind them, whose word, the customer knows, is his bond.

Oh yes, trust goes a long way. And few would dispute its importance in building brand equity. Brands everywhere are working hard to earn it, keep it and profit from it.

People Build Trust
I think this scene also reminds us of something else: brands earn trust largely through people.

Companies, organizations and products… they come to represent a set of attributes and associations. They take on a meaning, an identity.

One of the big ways this happens is through people, people who add the human touch, people who make impressions, people who build relationships and people who make sure expectations are met and exceeded so trust can grow and strengthen.

A brand is nothing without the people behind it. And without Big Tom and a past history of reliable, trustworthy performance, the customer would have likely held off on that contract.

If you think trust is for softies and all this talk is overblown, you should consider Stephen M.R. Covey’s view. He’s the author of The Speed of Trust: The One Thing that Changes Everything.

Trust, he says, is integral to everything else you do, and he asserts that trust is hard, real and quantifiable, not just a soft virtue.

Competence and Results Build Trust
So when we talk about trust here, we’re not just talking about someone’s character and integrity. Are those important? Absolutely. But as we well know, someone outstanding in character may not prove competent in delivering results. Trust is a meld of various elements: character, of course, but also competency to deliver against expectations. And that’s as measurable as anything!

Trust in branding, I feel, is a big topic, and I’d like to hear more on this. Share your view. How does trust apply to branding? How important is it? Who does it well?

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