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What Your Small Business Can Learn From Toyota

Author: Kim Sheehan   |   March 7th, 2010

The car giant, Toyota, is facing shall we say a tough few months. Unless you’ve buried your head in the sand, you’ve noticed that Toyota has had a series of recalls on some of their popular vehicles. And the critics are pretty split whether Toyota is handling this well.

Every company has communication and public relations crises to deal with. The larger the company, the more likely these crises play out in the media. And there’s nothing like a crisis, coupled with a lot of media coverage, to start the negative word of mouth cycle. So what can your small business learn from Toyota’s troubles?

1. Focus your message. buzz marketing tips
Toyota did a good job of answering questions in the media, but ignored some of their traditional advertising and their website, which were still promoting the quality and value of the brand. While many consumers understand how difficult it is to shut down traditional advertising, there is no excuse for not updating your online presence to show you understand and care about problems consumers face.

2. The owner of the business must take responsibility.
People want to hear from ‘someone in charge.’ Recently, the president and COO of Toyota Motor Sales USA,  Jim Lentz ook questions from the public online. Interestingly, the company let consumers use the Digg.com engine to let users vote up those questions that they felt were the most important.

This is great: letting consumers set the agenda helps them feel more in control. However, consumers still want to hear from the person seen as really in charge, Toyota President Akio Toyota.

3. Energize your base.
If you have a group of loyal customers, both online and offline, use them to get the message of what you’re doing out to others in their social networks.

4. Explain both sides of the picture.
Toyota is doing a great job of getting information out about how to fix the problem. Where they’re falling off is looking at why the problem happened in the first place. Customers want to know the ‘how’…as in ‘how did this happen.’ You’ll be a more authentic company if you address both sides of the story. And people will share this information, as they’ll feel more ‘in the know.’

5. Monitor the buzz.
Don’t stop with seeing what people are saying at your website or on your Facebook page. Use the twitter search engine to search for your business name, or set up an alert using ‘social mention.’. The Internet is all about transparency, and you need to be part of that.

Every business will face some trouble at some point…and the sign of a well run business is how you’re prepared when trouble happens.

- Kim

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