There’s tremendous buzz about the ‘recall campaigns’ by the 2 automobile giants – Toyota and Honda, all over the print, television and online media. Even in India. Twitter is abuzz with comments and opinions. There is also a lot of discussion online whether this ‘campaign’ is a good move – does it show how proactive the brands are…or does it simply show how bad the cars’ quality is. A tweeter is even seen asking such a question to Anand Mahindra!
But, here’s the other angle to this recall story – why are Honda and Toyota almost-exclusively using the PR route to communicate during the time of such a crisis of global proportions?
I have been with clients, during my pure-PR days…during such crisis situations and have advised the usual – answer queries, be available, assuage customers etc. But interestingly, almost all this was achieved using mainstream media as intermediaries. It continues to be the case even today, but now brands have an opportunity to really show empathy. Online.
- Toyota’s global website has a index page blurb about the recall. The actual page marked for all recall-driven communication is a reasonably good effort – it at least has a FAQ that is topical and relevant. Where it falters is towards the end – it asks people to contact Toyota using conventional one-to-one modes like phone or email.
- On its Facebook fan page, Toyota is nowhere to be seen – customers are discussing things among themselves. There are 69,000+ fans by the way! I do not see any official effort to answer relevant queries.
- But on twitter, Toyota has been mighty active and is brilliantly using the FAQ as the home base, by promoting that across Twitter as ‘the’ place to go for answers. Good move.
- Honda’s global website, shockingly, does not have any indication that there is a product recall in progress! As a long-time Honda fan and a current Honda City owner, that bothers me a lot.
- They do have a vaguely titled news release, ‘Safety‘ (that precisely is the title!!!) and it talks, in a generic way, about Honda and safety! This has been added to the site on January 25th and is found not from the home page, but as one of the releases in the ‘news and views’ page!
- Honda’s Facebook page is no different from Toyota – stoic ‘official silence’, despite having 292,000+ fans! Honda on Twitter is even worse – as if no recall ever happened!
- As if that was not enough, take a look at Honda India and Toyota India websites. Yes, you guessed it right – they exist in a different dimension where product recalls simply do not happen.
The point? Here goes.
- Both brands have extremely strong loyalty, in India and globally. Cars are machines, not miracles. And things do go wrong. Recalls have happened in the past too, but how a brand handles a fault is how they will be remembered.
- A recall is a first step towards building confidence – it screams, ‘we’re willing to take a hit and not let customers suffer’. Good step.
- But, how a recall is communicated makes all the difference. Print and TV media are powerful enough to gain access (via PR agencies) to senior spokespersons who are ‘authorized’ to speak on the issue. Is that enough? In this age of customers voicing their opinion loudly online…NO!
- Isn’t this the time for both brands to go on an overdrive talking proactively about the recall, its background and impact across specific countries? It sounds like a no-brainer to me and is a phenomenal opportunity to go all out to crush rumors and show how much you care for customers. Even in India, this is an opportunity to showcase how much they care by highlighting the fact that there is no recall in India for the specific reasons that have been communicated to mainstream print media. There, Honda and Toyota are talking to a journalist, in the hope that it’d reach customers. Online, they would be speaking directly to the customer…take a wild guess, which is better?
- One-to-one modes of communications like email and phone helpline are passÃ©. When recalls happen, the first thing that hits customers is mainstream media – fair enough. But, along with it, the online media hits too, including social media that is populated by fellow customers. Opting for a one-to-many communication mode online not only helps the brands reach more people faster, but also avoid repetitive responses for similar questions from worried customers.
- Toyota FAQs approach is definitely good, but they need to use it more actively across the platforms they have built for themselves oh-so-ambitiously…like Facebook!
- The Indian websites of Toyota and Honda…could they please come out of the slumber and not expect mainstream media to do the talking on behalf of them? They owe some responses to customers – particularly when they are crying hoarse (via anonymous spokespersons) that the Indian version of Jazz is not part of the recall. Why can’t they say it more officially using their website? Try it once, I say – and see it spread like wildfire on Twitter and discussion forums in India. But, while doing so, please do explain in detail and in a believable manner as to why we should…errr…believe you.
Note: Toyota and Honda may now, after the news has reached widespread news coverage, go online aggressively and may even take some of the measures suggested above. When that happens, this post may look dated and out of place. So, just to back what is written above, here are some helpful screenshots.