The social media blog Mashable has an interesting theory: Toyota’s recall woes might actually be good (gasp) good for the brand. To back up this astonishing claim, they offer two premises, based on online social media data:
The first is that the increased number of conversations about Toyota are building greater awareness for the brand even though many of the mentions may be negative. While this may seem unusual, the fact that people are talking about the brand a lot more and sometimes in a neutral light (not just negatively) is increasing its exposure. More people are talking about Toyota than any other brand these days. And they’re talking about the recalls, but also the fixes being provided by the dealerships too. And some of the consumers are probably coming to the defense of the brand too. Maybe there is some truth to the adage that there’s no such thing as bad publicity after all.
The second answer comes via Jeremy Anwyl, the CEO of Edmunds.com in an interview with CNN on February 5th. He explained that people have sensed an opportunity to pick up a bargain and are moving towards some of the Toyota models. Edmunds research showed that before the recall, 7.4% of the consumers in the market for compact cars were considering a Toyota Prius, and after the news broke, the number moved up to 8.7%. Edmunds’ research measures online purchase behavior against conversations on the social web.
What does this tell us? Firstly, that the SIM Score fluctuations and the related Edmunds user intent analysis have unearthed a counterintuitive trend with regard to Toyota; increased buyer interest even though there’s a lot of bad news about the brand. It also shows that there hasn’t been significant short-term damage to the Toyota brand on the social web, at least relative to its direct competitors. This of course is likely to change, as more news about Toyota’s troubles have broken since January, and more people are talking about it online today. I fully expect the Toyota SIM Score to start dropping again when the February numbers are computed. It is worth pointing out the SIM Score is a measure of a brand’s health on the social web and not always a leading indicator of sales, though it can be for certain product categories.
My take is that losing a halo of invincibility on the issues of quality and reliability is never good, although in Toyota’s case it was probably unavoidable. One point on which I have little doubt: Toyota’s fall from grace will probably help consumers make more informed car-buying decisions. Unfortunately for Toyota, that shouldn’t help them keep their sales numbers up. Ultimately, the available social media data doesn’t seem reliable enough to discard the conventional wisdom that most consumers buy on reputation… and with congressional hearings and federal investigations looming, there’s still reputational damage to be done. What say you?