One cardinal rule about public relations is to position yourself in the marketplace and media before they can position you.
When you have a brand as strong and powerful as Toyota, it's easy to cite the metaphor that ‘the bigger they are the harder they fall.’ I think the fact that Toyota’s manufacturing woes were front page, above the fold, lead stories in the news media for a week, proves that a short, slippery slope exists when it comes to brand loyalty. Customers could turn very quickly in this climate.
However, this is a story about what can be done right with your positioning and CRM. The CEO was on the Today Show within a day or two of the crisis going national. He was assuring and not defensive. He put himself out there before he would have been forced to make a statement.
Then, the really luck break, the Superbowl Ad. The timing was pure luck. A captive, national audience watched a carefully crafted brand ad produced in sobering black and white. The ad reinforced their legacy and commitment to customer service.
Last, while the story is still hot, they are staying in front of the media by releasing proactive, solutions-oriented stories. The Prius issue is still pending while I write this, but I know their solution is in progress.
So what about social media? I’m not a Toyota owner, but you can guarantee there is a loyal community out there, and they have opinions. This is where Toyota should focus moving forward. Start the two-way conversation with customers, and be above board with who is actually contributing to the chatter. In other words, don’t pretend to be a customer in the conversation, be a representative who is listening, leading and learning from your base.