In the blink of an eye, a video, social media post, or other casual publication, can either launch a brand as the hottest thing, or destroy it completely. Many of us watched Super Bowl 50 and saw the Carolina Panthers’ Cam Newton destroy his brand in the post-game press conference. Cam was not engaged in any of the questions being asked, often giving one word answers. He then got up and walked out. I used the word “destroy” because he did exactly that to his brand. Let’s not sugar coat it. When you act completely uninterested, and then walk out, you destroy yourself and those on your team who have worked so hard. So many people were trying to defend his actions, saying he couldn’t hear, or he was an athlete in the moment of defeat.
I follow Michael Jordan and other top athletes closely, and have never seen them act like that. Cam is an amazing person, and I still respect him. I hope he recovers, but his brand took a major hit, and it is going to take a long time to recover.
It’s hard to imagine how anyone, in the public eye, could fail to realize that cameras are all around us constantly, and what we say is so easily recorded. Many celebrities such as LeBron James, Mel Gibson, Paula Deen, and Lance Armstrong have destroyed their brands. Recently, companies such as Chipotle and Volkswagen have hurt themselves, leaving their brands on life support.
Here are examples of brand destruction:
Lance is the ultimate example of a celebrity destroying a brand. His brand was built on surviving cancer and achieving huge success as an athlete. He admitted to taking performance enhancers after years of intense denial. However, what made it worse was that he lied for so long, and showed no sympathy when he finally fessed up.
In the past few months, Chipotle made many people sick with the problems it had with it’s food and lack of safety. Chipolte marketed themselves as food with integrity. The company has taken a beating. Although Chipotle is cleaning up its act with new safety standards and a marketing campaign, I haven’t been to Chipotle since the outbreak and I cannot see myself returning anytime in the future. It’s possible that Chipotle will survive, but it will take a long time for that to happen.
The company that prided itself on super engineering has also taken a massive beating. Volkswagen admitted that it had understated the carbon dioxide emissions for over 800,000 cars, thus cheating on emissions of vehicles. Following the admittance, investors dumped their stock. Many analysts have indicated that Volkswagen could lose billions in lost sales.
There are many other brands worthy of mentioning, like Starbucks, Enron, Blockbuster, and Borders Books.
So why are these brand destroyers occurring?
Here are the three top reasons why brands, be it a famous person or company, fail:
1. Straying Away From Your Core
So many companies veer away from who or what they are about, causing the brand to get lost. Think Starbucks a few years ago. That brand was so watered down that I felt I was going to a deli instead of a coffee shop. Remember the lunch sandwiches and salads? Going into a Starbucks was an experience, and that is what everyone wanted. They expanded with so many stores that you could find a Starbucks in a hospital. In a hospital? Come on! Coffee and the atmosphere is what everyone loved about Starbucks. They had to bring back Howard Schultz to review.
LeBron is another example of a person who strayed away from his core. He was the “chosen one” to finally bring a championship to Cleveland. Granted, there were some problems with the Cleveland Cavaliers management’s commitment, but LeBron strayed away from who he was and what defined him in “The Decision.” He made his decision to take the easy way, to win championships, instead of sticking it out in Cleveland. You can’t tell me that he would not have been able to influence Cleveland’s management team to bring in the right players. He had plenty of influence. Michael Jordan never left Chicago, and it took him seven long years to win a championship.
2. Poor Leadership
Lack of leadership is a key reason that brands fail. Mel Gibson was at the top of his game as an actor. He used poor judgement in his decisions and actions. He never really came out and apologized for his mistakes. Paula Deen admitted to using offensive terms in the past and apologized for it. Her poor leadership is around the fact that she justified her use of offensive terms because everyone back then was doing it. That is just an excuse and a poor leader. Cam Newton is arguably one of the best players in football right now. His actions are an example of poor judgement. Put aside all of the excuses to justify his actions. You are not a great leader when you act immature at a press conference. Chipotle’s lack of leadership is the key source of the problem. Yes, their ethics are in question too, but how is it possible for one of the hottest companies to fail this bad? It all goes back to the leaders at the top.
3. Moral And Ethics Decay
Many people and companies lose all sense of right and wrong, and make unbelievably poor ethical decisions. How does Lance Armstrong, who courageously battled cancer, make the decision to use performance enhancing drugs? He lost all sense of good judgement. Volkswagen did the same thing. They decided to cut corners to save money, not thinking that the emissions would do anything to cause harm. And Enron, well, just about everything the C-leadership team did was morally and ethically wrong.
If you are going down that path of brand destruction, remember, Apple, Harley Davidson, and Burberry were saved and are now thriving. Remember Marv Albert, the famous broadcaster? He apparently bit a woman in her back. His brand has recovered through actions he took to repair his image. You can turn it around, but you have to make a huge shift quickly.
Here’s How To Avoid Flushing Your Brand Down The Toilet:
1. Unshakeable Confidence
As a leader, you must have unshakeable confidence in yourself. Many companies are reacting to things instead of proactively managing their business. They hear the whispers and then change things up, or expand the business. You can’t be Starbucks and start adding items to your menu overnight that have nothing to do with your business. That’s a sign of leadership reacting to the market and not staying the course through other means. You will never succeed if you try to be something else.
2. High Morals And Ethics
You must have high morals and ethics. And the way you do that is to set high standards and expectations of yourself and your employees. You must hold yourself and everyone accountable to those standards and ethics. I always go by the saying, if I have to think about it, then it’s probably night right. Your heart will never steer you wrong.
3. Employees Are Brand Ambassadors
I am amazed at how so many famous people’s assistants and many companies employees have poor people and customer service skills. They have no clue what they are doing and treat the customer or client like garbage. You must treat your employees with respect. And you must communicate effectively with them on expectations and job functions. Over communication should be your goal! Many employees are disconnected from top management and it always shows every year in survey results. How well your employees treat customers and talk about your company is key for any brand.
4. Don’t Control Your Brand, Influence It
This one is my favorite. So many leaders try to control the brand so much that they suck the life out of it. They push for new products or cutting costs so steeply that they forget they can influence the brand through its customer service and keeping a simple message through all of the marketing chatter that is out there. You cannot control your brand. You have directly influence on it. Your brand is not created in the conference room or boardroom, but in the hearts and minds of your customers.