In late 2009, Toyota suffered a PR nightmare when the 911 call from a panicked driver went viral. The driver claimed his accelerator pedal was stuck and his brakes wouldn't respond. Moments later, the car crashed into another vehicle and careened off the road into a ravine, killing the driver and all passengers.
A Sticky Situation
Conflicting reports of faulty software, defective floor mats, and human error surfaced as the reason for numerous similar accidents that occurred well into the following year.
A sticky material in the accelerator pedal was determined as the culprit in some cases. This didn't just stick Toyota with a recall and a monetary settlement of over a billion dollars, it also stuck them with a nasty brand management problem.
Toyota's brand had suddenly transformed from a consumer's vision of reliable vehicles for everyone into an association with being unsafe, which is never a good thing in the automobile industry.
Brand Management Saves the Day
In a time of crisis, company leaders must rise to the occasion to rescue their brand. This was the task facing executive leadership at Toyota when the sticky pedal situation happened. Brand management was the only way the company could recover from this perceived image of being unsafe.
Brand management begins with an analysis on how a brand is currently perceived in the market, proceeds to planning how the brand should be perceived if it is to achieve its objectives, and continues with ensuring that the brand is perceived as planned and secures its objectives.
More specifically, brand management includes four key fundamentals.
Most often, brand identity comes from a design element such as a symbol or company logo. It could also originate in a slogan or even the company name itself. When brand identity is established with great precision, it becomes immediately identifiable to the consumer. Such is the case with the symbol for Apple products. The slightly-bitten apple with the stem slanted to one side is perfectly synonymous with their entire line of products.
Building a great brand reputation takes time. Destroying it, however, can be done in a matter of seconds. In the case of Toyota, they had built a stellar reputation among the car-buying public from the 1970s well into the 2000s with masterful marketing on television, in dealerships, and through long-term customer relationships. The achievement took decades to procure, but it was shattered with one viral 911 call in 2009.
Brand equity is built by implementing successful advertising campaigns that increase customer loyalty and heighten the perception of the value a company offers. The glowing reputation Toyota built from the 1970s until 2009 resulted in superior brand equity. Customers associated great value with the brand name from the effectiveness of previous marketing tactics that established the company as a producer of affordably long-lasting automobiles.
Awareness is a key component of brand management because it plays such a pivotal role in purchasing behavior. A good example of exemplary brand awareness is found in companies like Google and Uber, where it's been so successful that the name of the company is synonymous with consumer behavior. For example, when someone wants to perform an internet search, they google the term. When someone uses a rideshare, they uber from one place to another.
What Poor Brand Management Looks Like
What happens when these techniques are ignored or ill-conceived? You get a situation like what Burger King did a few years ago with their Eat Like Andy Super Bowl commercial.
For some reason, the fast-food mega-corporation chose valuable Super Bowl air time to show Andy Warhol struggling with a ketchup bottle to eat a burger.
First of all, Andy Warhol died in 1987, so nobody cared about how he ate a burger. Second of all, there was no real connection between him and Burger King. Lastly, it had absolutely nothing to do with the four elements of brand management depicted in this article.
The result was an extremely expensive and highly coveted advertising slot wasted. The chance to increase brand identity, reputation, equity, and control was entirely missed and virtually no ROI was achieved.
In these challenging economic times, carefully constructed and well-executed brand management is crucial to establishing, maintaining, or even saving your company's image. Start with the four fundamental principles, evaluate what works and doesn't work, make adjustments, and prepare to reap the long-lasting rewards.