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Toyota – Putting the Brakes on Bad PR

October 26, 2010

In the past year Toyota Motor Company has voluntarily and forcibly recalled over 8 million vehicles. Toyota has had to recall their namesake vehicles, as well as Lexus and Scion vehicles, because of multiple malfunctions. For the most part, Toyota has received little to no positive publicity since the first accidents and few deaths in late 2009 and 2010. In a major effort to repair their damaged reputation, Toyota has made sure to address multiple publics through various outlets, as well live up to their motto of “Moving Forward.”

Toyota has been working in the United States since 1957, and has invested more than $18.3 billion, in sales and manufacturing operations, research and development, financial services and design. Toyota is also the owner of both Lexus and Scion, with a combined employment of more than 28,700, plus over 100,000 in dealership employees. Toyota also pride itself with philanthropic endeavors, and has awarded over $493 million dollars to various organizations across the U.S., focusing on education, the environment and safety.

The greatest irony is that over the past year, Toyota has been known for their vehicles lack of safety. In August of 2009, four individuals were killed due to a wrongly fitted and unsecured floor mat that caused the accelerator pedal to stick. For months, Toyota denied any accelerator issues and assured customers the easiest fix was to just remove the floor mats via a simple recall. Finally in late November of 2009, due to more complaints and accidents, Toyota amended the previous recall to include the reconfiguration of the accelerator pedal, replace the faulty floor mats with thinner ones, and install a “brake override system’ to prevent unwanted acceleration.

In January 2010, Toyota initiated a second recall in response to reports of accelerator pedals sticking in cars without floor mats. This time, there was no faulty mat to blame; clearly the issue was with the pedals themselves all along. A series of additional recalls followed: February 3, 2010 Toyota recalled a number of vehicles for failing to comply with requirements of FMVSS 110, “Tire Selection and Rims”, due to missing load carrying capacity labels; February 12, Toyota recalled Tacoma trucks for potential front drive shaft issues, as well as a recall for frame corrosion for Tundra trucks; July 7, Toyota recalled Lexus and Crown vehicles for improperly manufactured valve springs.  All of these recalls totaled over 8 billion cars and managed to tarnish Toyota’s reputation as a trusted and safe car manufacturer.

Toyota has managed to move past the negative image and regained popularity in the past few months. Their newest campaign “Swagger Wagon” for the Toyota Avalon has gained in popularity and shows Toyota reaching out to audiences in a new way. A classmate and fellow blogger on BloggerUniversity introduced me to the Swagger Wagon in her post detailing this newest Toyota campaign. By improving on already set avenues, reinforcing and re-engaging current audience support and by implementing different avenues of social media, Toyota’s recall snafu seems to have vanished from the landscape.

I will support this rationalization by analyzing the campaign through the use of Kent and Taylor’s five principles of dialogic relationship building via the internet.  The Toyota Corporation meets and exceeds the necessary attributes of useful information, ease of interface, conservation of visitors, generation of return visits and dialogic feedback loops (Taylor and Kent, 1998). I will address each of these tenants and provide links and emphasis on how each of these requirements is met.

Each Toyota site is built so that users can easily find information. Fonts, text, wording, colors and design all contribute to an easy to navigate page that allows one to find what they need in no time. This is extremely beneficial to Toyota, specifically in the case of frustrated or upset customers worried about recalls.

All of the Toyota sites are easy to read, navigate and find the information customers might want and need. For example, for their Latin customers, Toyota has created a specific Facebook profile and made sure to create a Spanish speaker friendly website. The main difference in this Spanish site is that it is not just a translated version of the USA site, but specifically created for Hispanic customers addressing their concerns and needs. There is even a link to the Toyota Latino Facebook where users can get free, personalized stickers to match your nationality.

The Toyota site is simple and easy to navigate. The site naturally leads the visitors to the most popular and needed information.

The Contact Us tab has dedicated sections that include a glossary, FAQ’s and the ability to sign up for updates through Toyota Access. Here, users find the portal to all of the valuable information Toyota has to offer. Here one can find the phone and fax number for Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., get 24-hour automated account assistance, link to and find information on Toyota financing, locate a dealer, email Toyota, or get an owner information update. The most important link found here is the Toyota Newsroom.

The newsroom, set up for media by Toyota provides a plethora of information for customers, from press releases to corporate information and details on the various car divisions. The Newsroom was the most valuable area to gather information about Toyota. There are a slew of images, videos, speeches, articles of Toyota in the news, as well as bios on company executives, pricing and product info, fact sheets, and the most interesting, Our Point of View.

Our Point of View is a series of postings created by Toyota associates that discusses various issues in the automotive industry. These are posts that Toyota hopes hope will engage the community and be of interest. Here is one of the more obvious attempts for dialogic feedback. In the introductory paragraph it states, “We encourage you to speak up, tell us what’s on your mind and say whether you agree or disagree with our posts.” A number of posts deal with specific topics, such as the recalls and newer technology, but also the industry overall and how Toyota operates. It is a nice view into Toyota from the employee’s view.

Toyota has allowed for users to contact and interact with them in multiple media forms. Toyota has been sure to implement traditional methods such as website and typical modes of advertising, as well as creating the many social media profiles listed:

  1. Multiple profiles for specific vehicles: Prius, 4Runner, Sienna and fan created profiles

On each of these outlets, Toyota asks for feedback, input and information for users, all while providing users with valuable information. Toyota has made sure to target specific publics by segmenting groups by car brand and by appealing to the Hispanic population (the fastest growing consumer group) by creating specific profiles, pages and communities for each user. I do not drive a Toyota, but my grandfather has driven one since before I was born and probably will until he dies. For the sake of this blog I asked him why he always went Toyota. He said, “I just like them. Good customer service, good cars and I have known the owner of a Toyota dealership for over 20 years and I get good deals.” He went further telling me how they have always helped him with financing, repairs and most importantly, they always had people that spoke Spanish to help him. My grandfather speaks fluent English, but my grandmother never learned. It was important to them that my grandmother be able to communicate with Toyota representatives when she needed to.

This is just one example of how Toyota has managed to appeal to a large group of people, but has been sure to create individual messages for specific audiences. Toyota has made sure to tailor their information, messages and social media to individual audiences versus creating one outlet for all of the information. I feel that this is a great example of Web 2.0 and continually striving to overcome negative publicity and media stories, while maintaining active engagement with audiences.

NOTE: Shortly after the completion of this post, but prior to publication, Toyota annouced a voluntary recall on Toyota Avalon and Highlander, and Lexus GS300, IS250, and IS350 vehicles.

 

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