Lance Armstrong’s doping scandal is already old news. And yet the damage to Lance’s personal brand will last forever. He’s had all of his wins stripped, lost his seat on the Livestrong board, and Nike has pulled endorsement deals for the disgraced athlete. That’s a lot of bad news for a man who has fought through so many ordeals. I have learned over the years one crucial point about brand loyalty from scandals like these; people will have your back until you break a promise of upholding values they strongly believe in.
Now, the interesting part is not all values are treated equally to all members of your brand community. Look at Tiger Woods. He cheated on his wife with a plethora of women, ruining his home-life, and the mental toll almost ended his illustrious career. But, many avid golf fans, men and women alike, did not find this discrepancy as a broken promise of his brand values. He was an entertaining golfer who stood for hard-work, being a devoted son, and a strong passion for the game he loved. I never concerned myself with him being a family man so when his affair scandal broke, it did very little to influence my feelings towards him as a golfer. I still got excited when he returned to the game and to this day, the media follows his time on the course as much as any other. One of our other staff members has a different feeling about Tiger Woods, but for me it was all about the golf!
So why was Lance Armstrong different? Because Lance stood for something we all wanted to believe in. We wanted to believe a crippling illness could be overcome and great things could be accomplished through the power of the human mind. When he was exposed for doping, he broke his brand promise and stripped away a little piece of hope his fans had believed in and fought for. It was bigger than an individual athlete doping.
If you believe most of what you read that surrounds the cycling sport, it seems as though everyone is doping and the act itself is not what made people turn on Lance. We stuck with him for almost two decades while he continued to show us what was possible with passion and hard work. With every doping allegation, we believed his denials of the allegations year after year because we knew that Lance Armstrong, the incredible athlete, wouldn’t take such a silly risk and potentially ruin his career.
When he was finally exposed and broke his brand promise to his fans we lost a small piece of hope in the human ability to overcome adversity. A value directly attached with the Lance Armstrong name. A brand community will have your back as an athlete or a company until you sway from your core values, because those values matter to them. They will put up with a lot of mistakes and risks that don’t pan out, until you deviate from what attracted them to you in the first place. Then it’s just a matter of time before your legacy gets wiped from the record books.
Every brand can learn one simple rule from these scandals: Make decisions that reflect your brands values and take ownership quickly when you make a mistake.
Do you have any examples of an athlete or company you felt strongly about until they did something against the values that attracted you to them in the first place? Let us know in the comments below.