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What the Tiger Woods Affair(s) Can Teach Us About Branding

The sports and entertainment worlds are full of Tiger-esque stories.

Wilt Chamberlin claims to have slept with 10,000 women, Magic Johnson contracted HIV while married and Woody Allen wed his adopted kid.  So, what makes Tiger's personal life such a big deal?

Well, first off, it's recent news and most likely will die down with sporadic blips. Sure, Tiger is a big star and no matter what he does, he will get attention. But, the reason why this garnered so much attention was because of how completely unexpected the behavior was. Tiger built his brand as a combination of absolute athletic dominance, upstanding character, a great smile and wholesome family values. When he won golf tournaments (and he won a lot) he was humble and appreciative and when he lost he was respectful and praised the victors. Shortly after he married, doctored nude photos of his wife surfaced.  Woods stood strongly by her side and commented that an assault on her character was an assault on both their characters because they are (were) a team, and when something happens to one of them, it happens to both.  After they had a second child, the almost 'too perfect' photos of the happy family were everywhere. They represented the "ideal" family. Even two dogs made it into the photo. Rockwell couldn't have done better.

Most people can't really claim they are offended because he cheated on his wife.  It makes a considerably better spectacle because we had some emotional investment or an ideal image of Tiger and his transgressions didn't match that image.  Not to downplay infidelity, but who gets upset when they hear about a cheating Hollywood star? Brad Pitt split from Aniston to be with Angelina and no one boycotted his movies. But, with Tiger, we all bought into the brand he had built.  And, so did his sponsors.

So, it's that delta between a brand expectation and reality where people and companies get in trouble and lose business.  I call this the 'brand delta.' Unfortunately, organizations have gotten into the regular practice of over promising and under delivering. For whatever reason, that's become the norm. Competition can force companies to constantly out-message (and promise) each other and the economic challenges of late have pushed companies to do almost anything for a deal.

I'm amazed to see how easily companies will completely exaggerate their offerings only to act surprised when confronted with poor analyst comments or a social networking slap in the face. Yes, you have to get a prospect's attention, but somewhere along the sales process is an opportunity to establish a stronger relationship based on..... wait..... ok.... here goes.... honesty!

In such a transparent world, you have to assume that reality will rear its true head and the price of being exposed to a lie or exaggeration is far greater than having a relationship built on in-perfect, yet honest communication.  How about having a reputation of under-promising and over delivering?  Give your customers a pleasant unexpected experience.

Here's a few suggestions:

  1. Tell prospects 3 things that your competition will say that's true about you and 3 things that aren't (get in front of the fudd and be the first to strike the honesty match)
  2. Know your brand delta weaknesses - Do an internal anonymous survey to see how your product claims match the reality. In most cases, staff know the reality but are afraid of looking like doubters. Encourage candid feedback. Rank product promises on a scale from 1 (not accurate at all) to 5 (totally accurate). Then reevaluate how you present your offerings.
  3. Find some brand/product promise you made to a customer that you should apologize for and go a ahead and say sorry. Say sorry when the customer doesn't expect it and they'll remember for a long time.
  4. Have a culture of delivering a refreshingly easy support experience. Most people expect when they call a support desk or need help with a problem that the experience will suck. That's an opportunity to turn a negative into a big positive.