I am Not a Brand Sap (Why People Defend the Brands They Love)

by Jennifer Vides on May 12, 2010

in Blog Posts,My Soapbox (AKA My Blog)

I love my Toyota.

There, I said it.

I love Toyota despite the fact that my car had several recall items that caused me concern. Despite news  accounts of continued issues over at Toyota, and what feels like daily reports of more recalls on more vehicles.

As I’ve written before I’m pretty brand loyal but my affection for Toyota made me wonder: am I really just a brand sap?

Some background:  I had a horrible accident many years ago in which I slammed my Toyota Solara convertible into a Suburban. Sure, the car was totaled but it did all the things it was supposed to do; I walked away a bit achy and with the expected airbag burns. Everyone – witnesses, first responders and random passers-by (read: San Francisco homeless people) were shocked that the car held up so well. The accident could have been bad enough to kill or maim the person in the smaller vehicle but – while both cars were totaled – we both walked away.

This was my first Toyota.  I bought the exact same car again after the insurance company settled my claim. And I’ve bought 3 more in the years since then (for a total of five).

Why is that? The accident experience plays a large part, I’m sure. But I’ll also add good buying experiences, solid vehicle performance, affordable maintenance and overall good customer service to the list. It’s an approachable brand. It’s for me. And it never talks down to me. It also never lied to me: when I took my car in for the recall fixes, the service manager was completely up front about what was being fixed and why. He was apologetic, too. And they got it taken care of quickly.

Now before you think that this is a sponsored post for Toyota (it is not – I’ve never been in touch with anyone at Toyota except to buy or service my vehicle), I’ll say this: It will take a lot for me to simply walk away to another brand.

So am I just a brand sap? I don’t think so. There are some really good rational and emotional reasons for me to love Toyota.

Toyota – in my mind – has a great deal of equity. Anecdotally, I get the sense that Toyota lovers like me are sticking with the brand for now, too. Sure, we have high expectations that they’re going to fix their problems. But that’s because generally they haven’t let us down before. But if they had – and worse: unapologetically – I would have been the first to go shopping for a new car, which I’m pretty sure I could get less expensively in these times.

Then I think of brands like JetBlue and Mattel (and reaching far back, Tylenol) that have suffered devastating issues, yet managed to retain their customers. They lost some, to be sure. But all in all they came out the other end okay because stayed true to their core, and reached out to their customers with authenticity and – importantly – accepting responsibility. They demonstrated honest-to-goodness-commitment to make things right.

Contrast that against myriad food, oil & gasoline, automobile and airline brands (to cite only a few) that chose instead to be defensive – cold, even.  I could cite examples of brand after brand that didn’t do the right thing, the authentic thing – and suffer the consequences of their decisions decades later, despite their best efforts to fix their problems today. Too little too late.

I also happen to believe that brands like Mattel, Toyota and JetBlue proactively do things to build equity that serves them well in times of crisis. Foundations, community involvement, customer service initiatives and – yes – proactive social media efforts.

An example – and this is a small thing that’s huge – I asked via Twitter the other day if JetBlue has Wifi on all of its planes (for the flight I’m on as I write this, incidentally). Within two minutes, JetBlue was following me on Twitter and DM’d me a response. The answer was no – not all flights. But they responded. (Days before I tweeted an issue directly to United Airlines. They never responded.)

I’m flying American today – because they have Wifi and they happen to be my favorite airline. But JetBlue gets huge points in my book and I will fly them when it makes sense.

Today, brands have so many opportunities to build equity with one-to-one communications with their customers. Active listening, responsiveness, authenticity and honesty – even when the honest answer isn’t what the customer wants to hear.  Social media, proper training of front-line employees, and investment in charities that are important to their customers are just a few of the many ways companies can engage, build true relationships and powerful brand equity. (The foundation, of course is a good product or service – but that isn’t what I do. Good brands inherently should have this.) Fundamentally, it’s good business.

But if you need a “harder-hitting” reason to make this sort of investment, consider the power your brand fans can have in times of crisis – to defend your brand and ask others to listen before they pass judgment and move along.

The way I listened to Toyota .


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