toyota’s new brand – too soon to discuss?

time to start thinking about a replacementThere’s talk over in LinkedIn’s public relations groups about Toyota’s handling – or mishandling – of their disasterous recall performance. I posted the following comment earlier in the week on the subject, surprised that nearly two weeks after first announcing a recall there’d been so little actual hard reporting on the massive problem.

As of today, I don’t think it’s too soon to begin speculating on their eventual rebranding. That’s if they survive the other shoes waiting to drop. But first, time to rethink the rush to dismiss the importance of brand in the oceanic swell of social media first. If you’re a marketeer, it will always be about brand.

After the surprising – from a Western perspective – initial non-response, followed by the tepid release announcing Sunday’s ad that was itself the sound of one hand clapping, I’m wondering if…

Actions so far seem to indicate something far more serious than a structural mechanical fault causing a sticking accelerator pedal. Anyone who’s ever tried to chase down an intermittent electronics glitch that defies diagnosis could give odds on management solving the problem in a definitive way that reassures nervous, now angry, owners. Before they can solve the problem they’ve first got to define it – I’m not sure they have.

They’re running thousands of test cycles trying to replicate – and trap – the engine overrun symptom. I’m guessing what they really would like would be to announce a) found problem b) replicated problem c) it’s a sensor from “Z” mfg. installed from this date to that date. But it’s looking like it could be a lot more elusive than that, leaving two not very good choices to communicate: we don’t know but hope we find out, or we’ve fixed the problem – only to have it recur.

If there’s a ghost in the computer – or just behind the dash wiring – good luck. Could erratic software bring down a world brand? It sure could. Especially when you’ve got tech icons like Apple co-founder and Prius owner Steve Wozniak convinced it’s a software problem. But before they can even think about rebranding, they’ve got to find and fix the problem beyond any doubt.

The last major disaster rebranding effort I can recall is the successful example of ValuJet transformed into AirTran after an Everglades crash in 1996. By comparison, this is as the sun compared to a AA flashlight.