VW Must Drive the Discussion Immediately

By Scott Signore

This week Volkswagen will try to react to its tremendously damaging emissions scandal with the effectiveness of an airbag, and hopefully one that’s been approved by the regulators. The company has a new CEO – the former one ousted recently for rather obvious reasons – and has lots of explaining to do. While addressing what’s already being asked will be the priority, the company needs to be proactive and must communicate to their shareholders, customers and employees, all of whom have allegedly been deliberately deceived. Those key constituents trusted VW to deliver on its promise, and they failed, and more than ever they need to hear from Volkswagen. I’m encouraging the company to get ahead of the pile of ash and deal with the topic while the burn is still underway, and here are a few specific suggestions as to how Volkswagen should move forward:

First, shareholder value is based on integrity, and immediately the organization needs to issue a statement of confidence from the new CEO. The content needs to be deep – deeper than what has been shared to date – and it needs to be sincere. The commitment is to address the immediate issue and then be forward-looking in regard to maintaining a standard that supporters expect. The first step is to get the leader’s message to the world, and to work smartly and quickly in the very practical spirit of stabilizing the downward spiral of the stock.

Second, the loyal VW customers – who are many, as Volkswagen has among the most loyal customer bases in the entire global automobile industry – need transparency. In the spirit of avoiding a lifetime of owner regret, they need to know the details and, specifically, how long the wrong-doing has occurred. As a result of this scandal VW will lose many current and potential customers in the coming months and years, but they need to hang on to the loyalists, many of whom could jump to other brands if they learn they’ve been unknowingly damaging the global environment for a prolonged period of time. (Think of the typical committed recycler – VW needs a save right now or they won’t win these customers back.)

Third, more than ever the company needs to leverage all of its communications channels to reach their key audiences. They need a centralized messaging strategy – and a campaign that will heal wounds and again capture customer interest. They need to invest to be certain their position is accurately conveyed in both traditional and social channels, and they need to be broad in their approach to be sure their message saturates the market. They need to drive the message, rather than having others drive the message in the absence of clear action on their part.

Fourth, the company needs to pivot and communicate with their employees and partners who work with the organization to develop the product. These partners need to have faith in their company, and they need to be part of the solution – a singular voice that communicates confidence across all channels. They need to believe in what they are doing daily, and they need to be encouraged to share their perspective with anyone who will listen. They need to be empowered to be ambassadors of the brand, and the company needs to appreciate the power of a singular, confident employee base.

Finally, no matter what Volkswagen chooses to do, they need to act fast. (Fast, like, yesterday!) No organization recovers from such a crisis while letting the market dictate the discussion. The decision-makers need to move quickly in the spirit of saving the company’s brand equity. As is the charge all along the way in marketing a product or service, VW needs to identify their key audiences and reach them with powerful messages, or they may never come back.

What am I missing? What do you think Volkswagen should do?