Brand Dissonance- What’s Going on with Toyota?

t_newhard_kCognitive dissonance is the anxiety that occurs when you or people or groups you know behave in ways that are counter to their attitudes, beliefs, and past behaviors. So what do we call it when a company behaves in a way that is counter to their attitudes, beliefs, and past behaviors? I’ll call it brand dissonance.

The most recent contributor to brand dissonance is Toyota. The Japanese automaker is renowned for quality. This is justifiable. I know a lot of people, 3 family members, who have either owned  or currently own Toyotas with no complaints. Their record is great and they have worked for decades to make quality automobiles. Toyota’s position within the import automaker industry is as a quality leader. This is a powerful position. If I am in the market for a car and want one that won’t break down…ever, I think Toyota. Honda is a very close second.

However, years of hard work at gaining and maintaining this position might come crashing down with the failure of one part, the accelerator pedal.

The part of the car that makes it go is defective in an estimated 2.3M Toyota automobiles. This defect has put the automaker under a microscope and more quality concerns are starting to surface. This is partly do to Toyota’s position at the top and the high degree of publicity and tragedy surrounding the deaths associated with the defect.

But wait, you thought Toyota’s were invincible? What do you think now? It seems that Toyota behavior is not congruent with their attitudes, beliefs, or past behaviors.

Brand dissonance is uncomfortable. People deal with it or try to reduce it in two ways: Change attitude towards brand and altering buying behavior.

Attitude Change

In an effort to reduce dissonance a consumer may change his or her attitude towards a brand. You might tell yourself, “Maybe Toyota isn’t that great after all.” When consumers change their perception of your brand, they have changed your position. Toyota is no longer the quality leader in their minds. This is the only place position matters — in the minds of your consumers. It will be hard for Toyota to regain this position, just look at how long it has taken Ford to regain confidence on their brand after the Pinto.

Behavioral Change

In order to bring congruence between attitudes and behavior consumers may change their buying habits or behaviors. They may decide not to buy a Toyota based on quality. Perhaps they will still buy Toyotas based on other purchasing behaviors like price or attractiveness. But Toyota is positioned as a quality leader. They are not relatively cheap or exciting to drive. They are nice looking and safe, but no more or less than their competition. So, if consumers stop buying Toyota’s automobiles based on quality driven purchasing behaviors, Toyota will probably take a hit in sales.

It can take a lot of time and effort to achieve and maintain a particular position within the minds of your prospects. Make sure it is a position you can maintain. Your position should not only drive your marketing, but it should drive many operational and leadership aspects of your firm as well.

Personally, I hope Toyota uses this issue as a spring board to show consumers how responsive they are. It is probably the best option on the table for them.