When your company brand depends on the character of one person you are playing Russian roulette with your most precious corporate asset. When that person accurately reflects the values and positive attributes of your company, all is good. When he or she doesn’t, you are in deep trouble.
Twelve world class companies are discovering both the rewards and risks of defining who they want you to think they are through their association with one very high profile athlete – Tiger Woods. The events of the last two weeks are particularly problematic for Accenture who has spent the last six years (and hundreds of millions of dollars) building and promoting their brand through their singular use of Mr. Woods as their visual and literal poster child for all Accenture advertising. As we know by now, Accenture has had enough and this weekend they called an end to their Tiger Woods relationship. It was not a question of if but when.
As a marketing professional, I’ve looked with envy as I’ve strolled through airports around the world and admired countless beautiful Accenture ads with Tiger Woods promoting various virtues of integrity, excellence, perseverance, etc. Heck, what CMO wouldn’t want one of the worlds most famous athletes speaking on behalf of their brand. Yet while the emotional side of me loves the idea, the practical side says our brand is far too important to entrust to someone else.
I have tremendous empathy for all the companies who thought they were associating themselves with someone who they assumed reflected what they wanted others to think about themselves. I’ve less sympathy for building one’s brand based on one well known individual. There are numerous companies in the IT industry who define themselves through their actions and their core competencies. Apple. IBM, HP. Intel. The list goes on. A brand is built through thousands of convesrations and impressions. Risking all that on the behavior of one uncontrollable person is the equivalent of having your entire retirement plan based on one stock.
To be sure, Accenture, Gillette, Gatorade and the other sponsors of Mr. Woods will survive – the process of re-defining themselves starts now. For me, I’ll stick to building Novell’s brand not through the eyes of one high profile outsider, but through the actions and intentions of thousands of customers, partners and employees.