How to Bring Down a Brand in One Easy Step, or Not

Brands are known through the culmination of experiences we have with them, real and perceived. I like to call the unconscious feeling we have about a brand – the feeling you get from a brand, “Visceral Value”. Your interaction with a brand is based upon the Visceral Value you get from that brand.

Successful brands have established a strong relationship with their customers, a relationship built through providing a reliable experience, an outcome that validates the promise of the brand and ultimately, a sense of trust for that product or service – positive Visceral Value.

Over the course of 78 years, Volkswagen (VW) has developed its brand into one that its customer base had come to trust. With the launch of the turbo diesel engine, Volkswagen expanded its market to include people who were looking for a clean diesel alternative in a sporty engine. Accolades went to VW for the turbocharged direct injection (TDI) model and demand climbed quickly – only to come to a screeching halt, teetering on the edge of decrescendo with the discovery and inevitable announcement, that its engine technology is a farce. Deceiving the public about your brand promise (and getting caught) is indeed a trust breaker.

This brings us back to Visceral Value. Negative Visceral Value is created when the trust factor is broken, and one might successfully predict that this pivotal debacle for VW could potentially bring down the company.

Brands surround us, and whether we want to acknowledge it or not, we are each subtly our own brand. And we human brands are often judged by how we handle situations. While the iconic VW brand is being judged by the company’s dishonest behavior, VW still has a small window of time to be judged by how it reacts to the situation. Will they use this as an opportunity to rebuild the bridge of trust they have burned? Doing the right thing for TDI owners is the only way for this brand to hang on to a modicum of positive Visceral Value. As a Jetta TDI owner, I have a dog in this hunt and am curious to see which way my Visceral Value for VW falls – it’s completely up to how VW reacts to the situation it created.

Tracy McCarty, BSRN

VP, Client Engagement