Take-away From Toyota’s Woes: Smaller Can Be Better

Posted on February 5, 2010. Filed under: Crisis Management, Crisis Response, Jazz, Public Relations Marketing, Social Media, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |


Please click the audio player right below for today’s tune — Duke Ellington playing Lotus Blossom — and see end of post to learn why I chose it. For email subscribers, please visit the blog to listen.

The largest company in the country that gave birth to the notion of ‘falling on one’s sword’ just gave itself a belated slap on the wrist for the results of abandoning its brand commitment to quality. Toyota president Akio Toyoda finally spoke formally about the company’s woes at a press conference today.

He apologized to consumers and shareholders and vowed that Toyota would refocus on quality, which has suffered — apparently since Toyota’s strategic decision to become the world’s largest motor company. The #1 spot didn’t do General Motors very much good from the standpoint of innovation and quality. It did indeed lose top billing to Toyota, which, ironically, has now dropped to #2 behind Volkswagen-Porsche – the result of global recession production pullbacks.

According to reporting in the New York Times, Mr. Toyoda said, “I deeply regret that I caused concern among so many people. We will do our utmost to regain the trust of our customers.”

He said that he hoped to restore Toyota to profitability and help revitalize the economy of Japan, but he would put restoring trust above profits. That makes sense. If trust is restored, profits will follow.

After reading the Times account, I decided to mosey around the Social Web a bit to see what people are saying and to check what Toyota is doing online to help turn around the situation.

On the Toyota Facebook page, there was a scary war of words going on among some of its more than 70,000 fans. Brand loyalists were chastising those who were concerned or angry about quality issues – even folks who had actually experienced serious accidents as a result of sudden acceleration.

Particularly heated were comments from a few fans with a political agenda who were putting forth the notion that the US government is pursuing the Toyota situation in an attempt to help GM return to the dubious status of ‘world’s largest.’ They must not have read Japan’s transport minister’s remarks, that he suspects Toyota delayed too long, putting profits before safety.

On Twitter, there were far fewer positive comments about Toyota and far more criticism of its delays and its departure from its quality ethic. However it was on Twitter that I found a link to Digg’s announcement that this coming Monday Jim Lentz, President and Chief Operating Officer of Toyota Motor Sales, USA will take part in a Digg Dialogg.

Members of the Digg community are posting questions for Mr. Lentz and he will be asked to answer the ones most-voted-on between now and then. I took the opportunity to ask a question about whether the drop in quality standards would cause Toyota to retreat from the “Let’s be the largest” strategy.

Personally, I’ve never believed that bigger is better. I’ve seen too many tiny client companies make incredibly valuable contributions to the world, their customers and their employees. It’s great to grow and achieve efficiencies and economies of scale, but it’s also critical to have open eyes about what might be lost along the way. If I thought I might lose the very values that define my brand, I’d definitely choose to keep it small. Thanks for the reminder, Toyota.

 Today you’re listening to Duke Ellington playing Billy Strayhorn’s haunting tune Lotus Blossom. A song inspired by this iconic image of Eastern culture seems a fitting homage to Toyota and Japan. Out of curiosity, I just googled Lotus Blossom Symbolism. A result from WikiAnswers® informs me that the Lotus Blossom is a symbol of having come through a hard time, on the way to better times. The lotus begins its life in the muck and mud of swamps and works its way through the water to become a thing of beauty floating on the surface in rarified air. Wow! How perfect is that? Toyota, may you be a lotus blossom.

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One Response to “Take-away From Toyota’s Woes: Smaller Can Be Better”

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Good post – Yes, bigger is not always better.
Staying nibble in the brave new world we live in is critical. Keeping our eyes open and learning new skills while retaining the quality of our brand is critical.


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