You just spent the last 20 news cycles getting dragged through the mud because of your failure to get out in front of a bad story. For the last 70 years you have built one of the best brands in the world and you might have just blown that in two months. This same type of epic PR disaster has played out about 20 times since the dawn of the blogosphere – and each time we hear afterwards how "They failed to get out and control the narrative". How did you let yourselves lose control?
Obviously your number one responsibility is the safety of your customers, but by not publicly addressing the "stuck accelerator" issue in a timely fashion (2 weeks after the accelerator recall we got a half-assed press conference) – you exacerbate peoples fears and draw much more negative attention to the issue. Your CEO dodged the media and was even photographed dodging them in an Audi! How did you really think that would play out? That is red meat for the blogosphere/cable news cycle.
Nowadays people can handle brutal honesty more than they could 20 years ago. We get "brutal honesty" pumped into our lives 24 hours a day through the media. And the American consumer is willing to forgive and forget – if it is given the respect it deserves. And in this case, Toyota, that means you should be fixing all of your manufacturing and safety issues ASAP while being very public and transparent about the whole process. You should also be ready to implement some kind of "Sorry we f****ed up" consolation prize (warranty extensions?).
And of course you are going to have to spend millions (actually more like billions) on "The New Toyota" marketing campaign that is sure to come. Oh yeah, and you should probably abandon the "Moving Forward" campaign as well – too much bad-internet-meme potential. But to be fair you are approaching the Prius brake recall (a software update to fix the brakes???) in a much more pro-active, transparent way. Heck, Toyota was even getting Digg involved (although I would have used reddit – it's users are more likely to actually own a Toyota) :
"Doug Frisbie, national marketing manager at Toyota USA, said that within a few hours well over 500 questions were posted. "It's important to fully understand the issues" when dealing with social media, said Frisbie, in addressing why it took some time to respond online. "Our top priorities are, No. 1, to listen to consumers and No. 2, getting them the information they need." (from Adweek)
Oh yeah – Toyota, the American car companies are just about done licking their wounds, Ford is even making a profit. These guys have been reborn and are ready to pounce on your market share. Are you going to give up all that ground?
I only say all this because I drive a Toyota, and most of the people in my family drive Toyotas – and we have had very, very few issues considering all of the road miles driven between us. I would even go so far as to label my in-laws "Toyota Fanboys." Toyota is a very forward thinking company that provides thousands of jobs in America – the kind of company I don't mind giving my money too. Hopefully that doesn't change.
So next time (and there will be a next time) bad news strikes, Toyota please promise we won't have to relearn these lessons. Timeliness, honesty and transparency – while painful at first they will save you much more suffering (and money) in the long term.