Tag Archives: crisis

Any Hope for BP Brand?

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Source: BuzzFeed.com, An Annotated Guide to Images from the Anti-BP Movement

A fair question, isn’t it? BP has created a mess for itself, for the world. The brand is under attack from all directions, and rightly so. Media coverage and public outrage have taken on a life of their own. Every second of every day, someone somewhere is slamming BP for its perceived incompetence.

Does the BP brand have a future beyond this perilous oil leak?

Well, the answer depends largely on one big thing: stopping the leak… and stopping it fast.

In a crisis, people want a sincere and swift response, but more importantly swift action. All they really care about is resolution. Saying “we’ve got a problem and we’re doing x, y and z” doesn’t cut it, especially when the problem is inflicting extraordinary damage to our environment and x, y and z are failing.

I’ve said this before, but let me say it again: nothing depicts a brand more strongly than its own actions. BP can say all they want, but the live BP feed of the oil gushing out from the blown oil well drowns the brand out every time. In this way, I agree strongly with Garland Pollard of BrandlandUSA: the best thing BP can do is stop the leak and show the world a live feed in which not one more speck of oil is contaminating our environment (see Garland’s post on BP’s brand crisis).

BP is one of those companies that’s invested heavily in building brand equity and a strong corporate image to establish credibility and trustworthiness. Usually, the more an organization invests in those efforts, the more resilient it will be when facing a crisis.

But this is one belligerent storm BP has conjured. If BP had managed to stop the hemorrhaging much earlier, the story would be different. But with each passing day without resolution, hope for the BP brand fades.

Some will talk about how to better manage the crisis. This is fair as I do believe BP could significantly improve its response.

Regardless, barring some dramatic development, the BP brand is surely forever tarnished. Brands do tend to take on associations with noteworthy events. When I say Exxon, you think Exxon Valdez. When I say Union Carbide, you think Bhopal. When I say AIG, you think greed.

In this same way, I’m not sure BP can recover. BP’s association with this horrific oil leak is now so strong, the mere mention of BP in the future will evoke a total recall of the current nightmare. The brand is forever linked to this blown oil well and the damage it’s causing, not to mention the perceived incompetence of BP with its inability to plug the leak.

Advertising, public relations and communications can go far in creating and influencing favorable associations with a brand, but what counts most are concrete actions to back it all up.

At the end of the day, to paraphrase John Wooden, you need to focus first and foremost on your character rather than your reputation; character is what you really are, while reputation is merely what others think you are.

Guard your reputation, absolutely. But guard your character, that’s essential. And so, if it’s true that BP took shortcuts in its operations that led to this horrific event in the Gulf of Mexico, then clearly the company lost sight of that latter responsibility… and that more anything would suggest little hope for the BP brand.

All that said, let me say that I know behind the BP brand stands many hard-working people, people who believe in the best of BP, people who believe in preserving the environment and working responsibly… they believe, like many of us do, in creating a better world.

To them, I offer the following words from Bruce Barton: “Nothing splendid has ever been achieved except by those who dared believe that something inside of them was superior to circumstance.”

More than ever before, BP people need to drill deep inside of themselves and find the ingenuity and strength to resolve this problem and then continue pursuit of our shared mission to make the world better for future generations, whether they do so under the BP brand name or not.

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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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