Trading personalities: Toyota and Tiger Woods

The internet and in particular social networking sites have changed the rules of handling a branding crisis, yet most companies – Toyota being one of the latest examples – are risking their brands’ reputations by failing to adapt their defence strategies to the real-time and candid nature of the online environment.

  • To read the cover story relating to this ’Bringing your brand back from the brink ’ click here
  • To read the case study on First Direct click here
  • For Vikki Chowney, editor at Reputation Online’s expert viewpoint click here
Tiger Woods
Tiger Woods

When golfer Tiger Woods read out a 15-minute prepared speech in February this year, responding to worldwide coverage of his marital infidelities, it aimed to smooth over his relationship with his many former sponsorship partners.

And when Toyota’s chairman Kazuo Okamoto issued an apology to its customers earlier this month, he admitted that the company had got too big, too quickly and needed a rethink in the way it responded to customers. He admitted: “Maybe now we will ask them [customers] to be more patient so we will really give them optimal quality.”

Both brands were apologising to their customers for very different reasons, but Al Moffatt, chief executive of agency network Worldwide Partners, believes they can learn from each other.

“They’ve got to steal a page from each other’s book,” he reflects. He says that Woods’ brand would benefit from acting in a more contrite manner as Toyota has done. Woods’ “apology” speech attacked the media rather than expressing remorse.

Toyota, in contrast, needs to take on a bit of Wood’s sportsman-like personality, says Moffatt. “Toyota needs to act more like Tiger Woods and be aggressive about getting the facts out there. The two essentially have to exchange their personas to correct their issues.”

Moffatt says the car brand has allowed the media and social networks to run with multiple stories without effectively communicating its own position.

Contrary to other crisis management experts, Moffatt believes Toyota should stand firm and not “overreact in terms of incentives”.

Communicating the right personality in a crisis will help consumers or corporates believe in a brand. But as Woods and Toyota demonstrate, it is difficult in the face of a knowledgeable public – especially through social media – to get the tone right.

Moffatt admits that it is a tricky balance: brands must adopt a careful balance between being too stiff in their response, so seeming insincere, or going too far in the apology.

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