Showing posts with label Public Relations. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Public Relations. Show all posts

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Toyota Goes Digital to Market Safety Perception Gap

Toyota is in a real tailspin lately after countless recalls and the latest JD Power Quality Rating that gave the automaker a terrifying drop from 6th to 21st place out of 33 brands. Some industry pundits feel Toyota has enjoyed a leisurely advantage from their customers’ perception of strong quality over the years while in reality it has been deteriorating. A recent episode of Autoline After Hours had host John McElroy commenting on how all of the news is finally showing some of the chinks in Toyota’s quality armor that many consumers have known this for years. (As a side note: If you like this blog, you'll love Autoline After Hours it is by far the best Auto Industry podcast. I highly recommend it for weekly viewing.)

Whatever the case with Toyota’s real or perceived quality and safety issues are they have launched a major digital media campaign to respond to the safety issue.

The initial response was Toyota’s Recall landing page, but now they are moving to a strategic response around “Toyota Safety”. The online ads are directing people to the new safety site that communicates some of Toyota’s efforts around building safe cars. They feature their IIHS Top Safety Pick ratings, their SMART Teams who conduct rapid on-site analysis of issues, and their TV spots (online video) feature safety engineers and families that trust the brand. “At Toyota, we’re currently investing one million dollars an hour to enhance the safety and technology of our vehicles.”

Toyota has even branded their five safety features under the “Star Safety System” which is now standard on all their vehicles. What is the system? It’s traction control, stability control, anti-lock brakes, electronic brake distribution, and brake assist.

The latest ad buy was one recently used by Chevrolet on Yahoo! Mail that uses a background look to the mail login page (see image at left.) They are also buying several key placements on Facebook to get the message out.

I really like Toyota’s Safety landing page. It provides four clear messages with some well-executed online video explaining the company’s commitment and seriousness about responding to their safety perception issue. After months of news stories reporting unattended accelerating vehicles --some true and some alleged hoaxes -- the company needs to show they make safe vehicles.

The question now is will we see a Toyota Quality landing page after their plunging JD Power Quality rating? If one types in the page is redirected to This page does not look like it is ready for prime time as a destination for online media, but that could easily change if Toyota uses the same formula they have for the Safety and Recall landing pages.


Saturday, April 17, 2010

Toyota Marketing Goes on Defensive to Disprove "Expert"

It's one thing to issue a press release or respond publicly to criticism about your company; it's a whole other thing to start advertising your response to a crisis. Let's call this Crisis Marketing, my borrowing a phrase common from Public Relations - Crisis Management.

If you don't know about Toyota's massive, very public recall situation than you are not paying attention. Toyota is suffering a barrage of recalls affecting several vehicles. One of the more damaging recalls is the sudden acceleration issue many consumers are saying they are suffering.

This is all very reminiscent of a similar situation Audi went through back in the 1986. I had a neighbor with a beautiful Audi 5000 that was parked on a descending driveway that we all thought was sure to suddenly accelerate and plow into his garage door, at least that was what we 14 year-old kids wanted to see, but it never happened. In fact the whole Audi sudden acceleration situation was user error due to a pedal placement design, not faulty electronics.

Audi was often criticized for how it responded to their crisis by constantly saying how there was no sudden acceleration situation in their product and it took years to show there wasn't, but unfortunately the public perception damage was done and it took a decade or so for Audi to repair its image.

Marketing a Crisis Response

Toyota is trying to do that same repair and is even marketing how the sudden acceleration demonstration performed by David Gilbert for an ABC News story was a false demonstration not using the actual Toyota product design. Toyota responded with a press release stating it has, "raised serious concerns about the validity, methodology and credibility of a demonstration."

What's most interesting to me as a marketer is how Toyota is getting their story to their consumers. Toyota has bought an ad network buy to get some banners out to tell their side and publicly discredit Gilbert.

The ads feature Professor David Gilbert with copy calling Gilbert a "critic of Toyota electronics." Gilbert isn't identified by his professional title as an automotive technology professor at Southern Illinois University. To Toyota he is a critic of the company.

Then when a person clicks the ad they are taken to a landing page full of content showing why Gilbert's demo is false and Toyota's position on the sudden acceleration issue, plus their response to help concerned customers.

It's all an interesting implementation from Toyota. Instead of letting the "experts" define the issue, Toyota is fighting back with its marketing dollars to regain some ground and not let what they consider misinformation fester and contribute to a long damaging reputation similar to what Audi experience 20 years ago.

The ABC News report featuring David Gilbert:


Friday, January 15, 2010

North American International Auto Show Tweetup

Back in December we had several automotive journalists come to Detroit for some product events with Ford and General Motors. This provided a great opportunity to organize a Tweetup (learn all about what a Tweetup is here if you don't know.) During the planning, one of my followers on Twitter, @Muntz_Man, contacted me about joining the event and mentioned maybe there could be another event during the auto show where the Twitter community could come to see the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) in a more exclusive way.

What I soon found out is that Max Muncey is an Associate with the John Bailey & Associates Public Relations firm working with NAIAS. Once auto show week arrived, Max reached out again and there was a tweet from the @NAIASDetroit Twitter account inviting people to an event. I joined in as did some local social media and automotive people who attended to the first ever NAIAS Tweetup on Wednesday January 13, 2009.

The event was held a few days before the public opening and fell on one of the Industry Days. Industry days are basically what it sounds like, a time for people in the car business - engineers, designers, marketing people - to get a look at the cars and displays usually for work related reasons.

Some of the people who also attended: @wweidendorf, @HajjFlemings, @becksdavis, @MaureenFrancis, @kayleehawkins, @redcrew, @darealchrisree, @richardsession, @AshleySFlintoff, @freeismylife, @jennilewis

The Show

The show itself is great. Far better than last year where GM and Chrysler were held up by a shoestring as Presidential administrations were changing and George W. Bush had only given the auto companies enough to survive day-to-day.

This year the displays are bigger and better with a strong presence by Ford Motor Company and a surprisingly elaborate display from the Chrysler Group; even though, Sergio Marchionne supposedly doesn't see much value in auto show marketing.

Of course, there are not the crazy, design exploration concept cars of years back. Today most manufacturers show "concepts" that are basically 90% completed production vehicles. The one concept that did impress and was a bit more of a study than reality is the Audi E-Tron concept. It is beautiful.

Product Specialists on Twitter

One interesting note to this year's auto show is a new thing Ford, Lincoln, Mercury is trying with giving product specialists their own Twitter accounts. You can view their accounts at Sam DeLaGarza's Twitter List; Sam is the Ford Fiesta Brand Manager.

Bringing product specialists from an auto show to Twitter is definitely something new. We'll have to see if it catches on and becomes an unique way to engage with the show online; though, I do worry it also becomes a platform to be "that guy."

If you want a less corporate perspective from the product specialists, checkout a new blog and Twitter account (@DYCWTC) from an anonymous GM auto show model. Her post on "Grandpas" is an interesting take on what it's like to be trapped by the Greatest Generation.

NAIAS opens to the public tomorrow and has its final day on January 24th. If you are in town, it is definitely worth checking out. I go 2 or 3 every year and will probably even head out again for a public day thanks to some free tickets Mercedes-Benz sent me.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

"Your GM Team" Wants You to Remain Calm

Now that Troy A. Clarke, President of GM North America, has gotten his wish by getting GM employees to successfully campaign the government for money (see this article in Wired back in November 2008.) He is now reaching out to the entire GM customer and potential customer database to send the email you see at left. This “Important Message from Troy Clarke…” that discusses three key messages the New GM wants people to know.

1. GM Dealers are still open for business.
2. GM Vehicles are backed by their warranties.
3. GM will build the “most compelling” vehicles with their remaining brands.

The letter from Troy is really Public Relations, not marketing, reaching out to make those interested in GM feel certain the company is standing behind its products. It’s not flashy, there are no graphics except a small thumbnail of a GM logo, and there is no attention grabbing email subject. There are no Calls to Action except one that invites the reader to the site, but it’s hardly a Call to Action in a marketing sense.

What I wonder about this email is who read it? It had a poor subject line: “An important message from Troy Clarke, President, GM North America”. My Yahoo! email inbox cut off part of Troy’s name and hence left out his GM job title from the subject line, so it looked like spam. The account was “Your GM Team”. Well, I don’t have a GM product so why would I have a “GM Team”? Fortunately, I read everything in the email account this was sent to, since I use the email to receive all marketing correspondences from companies I follow. I doubt most non-GM owners would have read the email and I’m sure many GM owners would’ve ignored it too.

Assuming someone actually read it, what did they come away with? Did the GM email “earn your trust in several ways”, like it sets out to do? I doubt much trust was earned. What I came away with is that the dealers are waiting for customers as the email stressed that dealers are open for business; implying GM corporate is hearing a lot from dealers that people don’t know they are open, so please tell them so customers will come.

GM vehicles are backed by a “U.S. government backed” warranty. This was just another reminder of management that is not led by GM, but by government bureaucrats. Any language stressing the association of government with GM is a negative as boycotts are already underway and I would argue that stressing the association is not helpful.

The last takeaway is that GM is committed to building a company Americans will be proud of. This seems extremely premature. Especially after just recently celebrating 100 years of business, GM is now telling potential customers that they are now planning to build products the world wants.

One criticism, I hear just about everywhere is: why has it taken GM so long to build products consumers want? This one I disagree with, as there are plenty of great products that GM builds right now. The Chevy Camaro, Pontiac G8, GMC Acadia, and several other products are strong competitive products but you would not know it from Troy’s email. Apparently, nothing is really compelling today. We all have to wait for that leaner GM to build great cars. So, as a potential customer I’m supposed to wait how long before this happens? But I thought you wanted me to come to all of those dealerships that are open for business right now?

I’m sure something had to be said to keep potential consumers interested in GM’s current products, but this letter lacked the essentials to keep people interested. Instead, tell me about the offers on the car I’m interested in (you obviously got my name from a form I filled out on a Pontiac G8.) Sure stress that warranties are still backed and include some contact information about the dealerships being open and staying in my local area. Unfortunately, Mr. Clarke’s form letter ignored the product I was interested in, gave me the impression no GM products are competitive today, and it demonstrated GM is a company that is barely alive with “government back” warranties and dealers who no one knows are open.

GM deserved better than this letter and my only hope is it ended up in a lot of spam folders. I really liked what GM's Vice Chairman Bob Lutz said the other day about GM's products not being what put them in bankruptcy; rather, it was legacy costs and the difficulty of fighting legacy perceptions about the GM brand that just are not true today. GM is not a bunch of weak, uncompetitive products and that really needed to be said in Clarke's message.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

An Automotive Strategist's Look at Twitter

I uploaded a presentation on I developed on how I came to find Twitter a useful medium for an automotive enthusiast or marketer. Basically, the deck looks at how I approached Twitter and found a way to make it work for me. I also reviewed a couple of automotive experiments on Twitter and how they are giving auto lovers a place to congregate and engage with brands, publications, and other enthusiasts.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Tiny Products Warding Off Big PR Problems

After $4 became a reality in the summer of 2008, there has been a progressive push to build smaller, fuel-efficient cars for the U.S. market. Advocates, like author Thomas Friedman, have dedicated significant pages to greening the US car industry by raising CAFE standards and promoting more Euro-like auto choices instead of behemoth SUVs.

So it was a bit disheartening yesterday to read about some rather poor crash tests performed by theInsurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). They reported that three popular small cars - SmartForTwo, Honda Fit, and Toyota Yaris - all received a Poor rating when in a front, off-set crash with a midsized sedan.

From Kicking Tires: "What these fresh results from IIHS spell out is that in a frontal collision, physics dictate that the larger vehicle in the test will fare better than the smaller one. Force is distributed unevenly, making the small car lose out in any matchup versus a larger car.

Crash statistics prove this to some degree. In 2007, small-car crashes resulted in a 17% higher fatality rate than midsize-car crashes."

One company was especially irate about the test they criticized saying, "IIHS devised a test that no automaker has designed to and that they claim only represents about one percent of real world accidents."

Safe and Smart is a site Smart car is using to generate user content about their owners real-world experience with the car's safety capabilities. The site is very interesting, for many reasons. First it features real crash photos and stories from owners detailing what happened to them and how they walked away. You can also "Share Your Story". (Yes, I was tempted to write a story of how I was involved in an offset front crash with a Mercedes C class and upload the picture from IIHS.)

The site also provides product details about the safety measure Smart has taken with the car's technology and design. I also found in Smart's press release to the IIHS study that the promoted this site as a more informed response to IIHS's approach.

Toyota ignored the report, from what I can tell; however, their online Toyota Community did not. Someone started a threaded discussion entitled, "What is 'wrong' with these new subcompacts?" where several people shared their thoughts on the topic.

on Twitter did not comment on the story nor did Honda release any statements on the Honda USA website.

The good news for Toyota and Honda (and Smart too) is that other outlets are responding to the study with contempt. Some reader comments on blogs found it interesting that no American car company cars were featured, like the Chevy Aveo. This lead to comments like this on Edmunds, "I wonder if this is an attempt either by the media or domestic manufacturers to smear foreign automotive manufacturers."

Motor Trend
had another theory: "Yes, our highways would be safer if we removed anything smaller than a midsize car, and larger than a half-ton pickup, too. Buses and semis included. Of course, IIHS doesn't expect that to happen -- it doesn't want that to happen. It simply wants to make sure that the money you save by buying a small, fuel-efficient car goes into the pockets of your auto insurance company."

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Is Twitter Right for Automotive Marketing?

I have been following Twitter for a short while, about three months (you’re welcome to follow me @cbaccus.) So, please understand that I am not a Twitter evangelist. I’m also not anti-Twitter. I simply want to learn what is effective and see what brands (particularly automotive brands) are doing on this channel.

Varying Efforts: Ford, Volvo and Nissan

So far, there are a couple of efforts that have caught my attention. One is the work of Scott Monty, the social media person from Ford’s PR team, to see what he is doing to promote Ford’s brands on Twitter. The other efforts come from product launch “trials”. Volvo recently started a XC60 Twitter account and so has Nissan with their Nissan Cube launch. They are two efforts that are using Twitter to try to gain an audience.

First let’s look at Scott’s endeavors at Ford.

For disclosure purposes, Scott is a client of mine in a round about way. I don’t work directly with him but I work for the agency of record on the Ford marketing account and have met Scott, but I don’t know him well nor have I worked on any direct projects with him. I just have simply observed by following his blog and Twitters.

This week Scott is getting trashed by Jalopnik, a very popular automotive blog. The dig was mainly one about the power of Twitter as a way to sell cars along with some personal attacks focused around Scott’s strong ability to self promote. I’ll focus on the selling cars part of the criticism levied by Ray Wert of Jalopnik who questions if Monty’s efforts really impact automotive sales.

From listening to Scott, he has established some strong relationships on Twitter and claims to have had some impact on changing Ford’s brand perception through his communications with those who have forgotten about Ford or have a negative perception of Ford from prior experience. The most public example is Scott’s traction with technology blogger Scobleizer.

Scott is a PR guy at Ford. So, he is primarily focused on improving Ford’s image by influencing media coverage. Improving the brand’s image should eventually result in increased sales and, yes, it may take years to really have any significant impact on sales. But I wouldn’t call what Scott is doing marketing. He is doing public relations.

The other efforts by Volvo and Nissan are truly marketing efforts. Volvo’s communications on Twitter 90% of the time promote drive events where the new vehicle is being toured around the States and the marketing team is using Twitter to promote event location and timing. If you are not interested in these events or are too much of a Twitter fanatic that you can’t just look up the event location on Volvo’s XC60 blog than the Twitter follow loses all value. The other 10% of posts comment on questions people ask the account administrator.

Nissan’s effort was to create a personality for the vehicle. They Tweeted (is that what it’s called?) witty phrases that imitated the car’s personality. It was rather urbane stuff, but for the Nissan Cube fanatics I’m sure it was kind of fun for them and probably produced a grin or two every time a new Tweet came across. Plus the Tweets kept the vehicle in the consumer’s mindset. The problem is very few people followed it with barely a 100 followers, and considerably less once you exclude the agency and Nissan employees who followed it.

The Importance of Twitter

The above examples are not sweeping endorsements of Twitter for automotive marketing, but don’t give up just yet. Understanding why Twitter is even considered right for marketing in social media is still important to automotive brands.

There seem to be two dominant, related themes that are drawing brands to Twitter.

1.) The Power of Relationship Marketing that has been promoted in books like Groundswell.
2.) The idea that mass advertising has lost its impact. Seth Godin says, the strategy is to market to the Innovators, “because they care. These are the people that are obsessed with something and, when you talk to them, they’ll listen, they like to listen and it’s about them and if you are lucky they’ll tell their friends.”

So Twitter is about relationships and it’s about word of mouth impact. Some brands are finding success through Twitter by leveraging the popularity of Twitter advocates. American Express recently started Open Forum, an online community for small business owners with Guy Kawasaki a well-known author and entrepreneur, writing for the community. Kawasaki has also leveraged Twitter and has attracted roughly 60,000 people, who follow Guy on Twitter, to the Open Forum site. Examples like this is creating a lot of buzz showing the power of Twitter to attract eyeballs to corporate website endeavors. It’s not the only avenue to promote the site; it’s simply part of the marketing strategy.

Is It a Medium Worth Automakers Time?

So can automotive brands find success in this space? Possibly. I would think more success will come from efforts that are about long-term relationships than setting up temporary Twitter accounts for a vehicle’s launch, those will die when the launch budget dries up and besides relationships take time.

I do like how Scott Monty created accounts around different themes for the Ford brand, like @FordDriveGreen. Unfortunately, very little is posted on these Ford branded Twitter accounts and most of the Ford communications are done via the @ScottMonty account. So, very little relationship marketing is happening from a branded account; instead one person is becoming the relationship, which is risky especially when Ford and Scott part ways.

That said, there is hope that relationship building could happen and could positively impact a brand’s perception if it is an early adopter, which is something Scott Monty is trying to do at Ford by using Twitter so extensively. I agree with Scott’s approach that Twitter is about building relationships and relationship marketing is a driving force that does have some success stories and will have more, even in the automotive world… eventually. Provided they are done right with an achievable goal, effective branding, developing meaningful relationships through honest dialog, and by participating in social media beyond just promoting your marketing driver events.