Spokespeople and figureheads can do some amazing things for your brand. As we have discussed before with brand associations, just as the right strategic partner can enhance the image of a business so can the right individual. Some of the same pitfalls are present, however.
Large businesses love to tie their brands to famous individuals to enhance their brand whether it be Jennifer Garner, Michael Jordan, Tom Brady or the like. It’s great when the spokesperson aligns with your core values and builds your brand. When they don’t the results can be devastating unless you distance yourself immediately. Think of OJ Simpson, Martha Stewart, Michael Vick, Tiger Woods, and even Bill Cosby for Pete’s sake!
Even when there are no PR issues, tying your brand to an individual can have its drawbacks. Dave Thomas and Steve Jobs were key elements to the brands of Wendy’s and Apple respectively. Their unfortunate deaths created concerns for both organizations. Fortunately, Jobs’ vision and the overall brand experience provided by Apple transcend his persona. In my opinion, Wendy’s brand hasn’t quite rebounded from the loss of Thomas.
For reasons such as the ones above, some firms create fictional characters as brand associations. Disney’s Mickey Mouse and Geico’s Gecko can pretty much live eternal. More important, odds are we’ll never see pictures in the Enquirer of Mickey and the Gecko paling around at a gentlemen’s club and smoking a pack of Marlboro Lights in the parking lot.
What does this mean for smaller organizations? While you may not be able to tie your brand to Mike Trout or LeBron James, there are a few things you should keep in mind:
- If you are going to brand your business primarily through individuals try to have more than one face of the company. For instance, there are a number of local law firms that advertise on cable television channels by having each partner talk about the brand message of what they stand for. If there are four partners and one has something unfortunate happen, the business still has “three legs to the stool” so to speak. This is helpful to support not only the brand externally but also the culture internally.
- Have a backup or succession plan. Similar to the prior example, a father and son(s) team running a business can create some stability to the brand — not to mention there is an affinity for many to work with a family-owned and operated business.
- In the event the worst does happen, move swiftly and address the issue immediately. If a partner or executive gets into trouble, address it and possibly even distance the firm depending upon the facts of the matter.
The media, and especially social media, has made it easy for brand-image problems to proliferate very quickly. Managing your brand associations closely can not only prevent unnecessary issues but also provide many benefits for your business.