Toyota’s toxic ‘sausage’ shows risk of neglecting product quality

In a branding conference 4 years ago I watched a presentation about the “Lovemarks” concept, which I thought was fatally flawed. The presenter suggested that “Consumers want something beyond benefits, attributes, performance and functionality. They want Lovemarks.” Product quality was irrelevant and easily copiable, and the key to success was emotional branding.

A key case study was a car brand. One that had, according to the presenter, got quality sorted, and now needed more emotional connection to grow. Can you guess the brand?


Now I’m not blaming Toyota’s problems on following the Lovemarks method. But, it does show how dangerous it is to take quality for granted, forgetting the product “sausage” and focusing too much on emotional sizzle.

To better understand Toyota’s problems, guess when the the following headline come out:

“Toyota President admits quality woes are growing pains”

When do you reckon? This week? Last week? Nope. It was published in March 2008, almost two years ago.

And this one: “Toyota to recall more than 1.35 million cars worldwide”?

Jan 2009.

In other words, Toyota’s quality problems have been brewing for years. Only now has the new story “tipped” and made the headlines. Or rather new stories, with two now running: sticking accelerators and dodgy brakes.

Toyota is a chilling example of what happens when Leader Brands neglect the quality of their product. In this case it actually seems like this was more to do with a drive for global growth causing the cutting of corners. This was made worse by manufacturing being spread around different sites around the world, rather than being concentrated in Japan, closer to head office. But focusing too much on emotional sizzle can also lead companies to neglect the product.

The risk of neglecting product quality  is shown by some great research by the PIMMs institute, and featured in our upcoming book, The brandgym: A practical workout to gain & retain brand leadership. It shows that two factors are equally important for maximising return on investment: i) relative market share, and ii) relative quality.

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So, Toyota’s toxic sausage is a horror story that reminds us that even in today’s age, product quality can never be taken for granted. And no amount of emotional connection can match it for making, or breaking, a brand.