The diesel emissions falsification disaster is a difficult case for Volkswagen because many fundamental brand values and beliefs towards VW have been damaged. Greed, arrogance, dishonesty and product deception were not at all a part of VW’s brand image in the past. But now, these negative traits have all been linked to VW’s well-established core image, and only time will tell when we will see them washed away.
The most common mistake made by leaders of companies trying to fix a broken brand image is to spout obvious statements that do nothing to change customers’ minds. VW says they are sorry. Customers know that. And VW ‘admits’ they broke our trust. Yes, no need to tell us that. First rule: Stop stating the obvious because it will not repair your shattered reputation.
In a recent VW full-page print ad, the company apologized for the scandal. The most galling part of the ad is that VW claims it will win back trust. That assertion could be perceived as arrogant since only customers can decide whether they can trust VW again or not. To change the way people think about VW, the company needs to convey sincere messages motivated by humility. Anything else will only reinforce negative attitudes towards VW.
Advice to VW: Don’t claim that you will earn trust by doing this and that. Don’t talk about what brand image you should have in the future. It would just be speculation. Don’t claim a certain brand image that you might not yet deserve. And don’t talk about how you want your customers to perceive you because you are only reminding them of your deceptive practices.
A simple way to regain trust is to affirm that VW is based on values that are the opposite of its damaged brand image. VW needs to communicate these values so that customers will re-evaluate VW in a positive light. VW’s brand image will start to rebuild the same day VW starts to relate the brand to characteristics that are contrary to its current negative image. Think in terms of sincerity, fairness, transparency, humility and empathy.