Corporate Eye

Even Category Leaders are at Risk in a Weak Economy

Over a year ago, I wrote a post on a blog about branding that I used to write where I pointed out that Toyota might be the automotive category leader, but based on my experience at the time with a local dealership, Toyota was also quite arrogant about that position in the marketplace.  In that post, I suggested that Toyota should rethink its brand strategy to remain in the leadership position in the long-term, because no matter how great a product is, consumers won’t stick with it if they don’t feel valued by the faces of that brand.

So today, I read an article on that talks about Toyota’s tumbling profits.  It seems even the arrogant, untouchable category leader is at risk in a weakened economy.  The question is, will Toyota change its brand strategy from one of arrogance as in, “we’re doing customers a favor by letting them buy our cars,”  or will the typical road of finding places to cut costs and reduce value to both employees and consumers be followed?  I think we can assume the latter will be the likely path taken by Toyota, but of course, that remains to be seen.

The important thing to take away from this story is this – never let your brand’s success cloud your brand’s promise, message and image.  As your brand becomes more successful, it’s more important than ever to continue to deliver on your brand’s promises.  Customer service should be better than ever, pricing should be fair and employees should be treated well and encouraged to become brand champions. 

Let’s face it, Toyota began putting a premium price tag on its Toyota branded cars years ago as the brand became more popular and ultimately jumped ahead of the competition in terms of market share.  However, was the premium price tag warranted?  Instead of building a brand promise around what the brand could deliver that differentiated it from other similar brands, Toyota pursued a, “why wouldn’t you want to buy a Toyota?” approach.

Of course, all car manufacturers are feeling the negative effects of the weakened economy, but the point is this – times will not always be great for your brand.  Plan ahead for external forces that will inevitably change the market and consumer demand.  Don’t become an arrogant brand then be forced to backpedal and remember to be thankful that consumers want to do business with you.  Instead, treat every customer like they’re your most important customer and your number one brand champion.  That’s what creates customer loyalty and brand champions, and that’s what will help your brand survive during the bad times, like a weak economy.

What do you think?

Image: Flickr

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Susan Gunelius is the author of 10 marketing, social media, branding, copywriting, and technology books, and she is President & CEO of KeySplash Creative, Inc., a marketing communications company. She also owns Women on Business, an award-wining blog for business women. She is a featured columnist for and, and her marketing-related articles have appeared on websites such as,,, and more. She has over 20 years of experience in the marketing field having spent the first decade of her career directing marketing programs for some of the largest companies in the world, including divisions of AT&T and HSBC. Today, her clients include large and small companies around the world and household brands like Citigroup, Cox Communications, Intuit, and more. Susan is frequently interviewed about marketing and branding by television, radio, print, and online media organizations, and she speaks about these topics at events around the world. You can connect with her on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, or Google+.