Toyota’s Timely Reminder

Posted on Feb 02

Toyota’s recently well publicized PR problems provide a timely reminder: It can take 20 years to build your reputation, and 20 minutes to ruin it.

For as long as I can remember, Toyota has been regarded as the pillar of quality, the standard bearer when it came to safety, reliability and durability. Along comes a massive recall, a somewhat poorly played response from the auto company, and before you know it, you have some industry insiders suggesting (however glibly) that the automotive stalwart change its name:

In an episode of Mad Men last season, a former client comes to Sterling Cooper because its dog food product made with horse meat became public. It became a public relations nightmare for the company. Even though all dog food products including those made by its competitors was made with horse meat, it no longer mattered. The public had formed its opinion and it wouldn’t be swayed.  Don Draper and Roger Sterling put it bluntly to the client that the name was done. It’s been poisoned.

That was fiction. Toyota’s crisis is all too real. Is the Toyota name done? After decades of developing a carefully crafted message that Toyota vehicles were safe and superior to American cars, this recall can destroy all that.

Obviously, Toyota isn’t going to change its name to avert this (hopefully) temporary crisis, as perhaps some other troubled brands might try:

Reputations are precious things. They are so difficult to attain, and so difficult to protect. Once you build your brand, it becomes such a valuable asset, that most protect them at all costs. Sometimes this is impossible, but there are plenty of companies who have been through crisis and emerged stronger for it.

Your brand will undoubtedly meet adversity at one point or another. How you are prepared for it, and how you respond to it, are the key determinants of your power to persevere.