Recent headlines, conversations and social media posts have been dominated by the Lance Armstrong interview with Oprah. Although many people are getting weary of the topic, it’s understandable that it’s caused such a buzz given the role Armstrong has occupied in sport over the past decade or so.
He did such a great job of building his brand that he became a household name. But the way that he’s gone about building that brand has been dishonest and now that the truth’s come to light, it will be very difficult for people to trust his brand again.
I’m struck by the contrast between Lance Armstrong and another “disgraced” sportsperson, Tiger Woods. Essentially, the difference is that while both did things that were wrong and betrayed their personal brands, Armstrong continued to lie when his actions were questioned, while Woods came clean.
Woods may have acted dishonestly by portraying himself as Mr Family Man while having numerous affairs, but he didn’t orchestrate an organised campaign to protect a web of lies and threaten to sue people who questioned his behaviour. Armstrong, on the other hand, vehemently defended a position that was a lie. Even after his interview with Oprah, people are left wondering whether the whole truth has been told. For example, did he really not dope after 2005, or is that a lie too? Because we now know how duplicitous he’s been to date, it’s difficult to believe what he says.
Authenticity and honesty are the founding blocks of a successful personal brand. Reputation is the balance between who you say you are; how people experience you and what other people say about you. Any gaps in these elements will result in issues when it comes to managing your personal reputation. Reputation has to be nurtured and protected with your life.
The way Woods handled his mistakes – coming clean, apologizing and doing what was possible to fix his mess – is a far better approach than Armstrong’s approach of aggressively covering up lies while they grow. The fallout that his creates is far worse than if matters had been dealt with early on.
Woods taught us that when it comes to personal branding, everything counts. His misdemeanors were personal, not professional, but they impacted his personal brand in a significant way. In Armstrong’s case, because his wrongful actions relate directly to his career, the effect is multiplied exponentially.
The man who stood for health, hard work, inspiration and beating the odds through natural talent has gone against every single one of those brand attributes, violating everything he claimed to represent.
I for one can’t foresee a full recovery for his personal brand, whether his ban is ever lifted or not.
Donna is a branding and marketing specialist. She is also author of the best-selling book Branding & Marketing YOU, the first South African based personal branding and marketing book.
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