Lessons in Branding from Tiger Woods

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What does Tiger Woods have to do with small business branding? He is an example of how a powerful brand can be taken out by a single incongruency. However, as we shall see, there is still hope for the Tiger Woods brand—and any brand, including one tailored to a small business—if the audience and the future of the brand are both taken into consideration. Here are a few lessons we can all learn from Tiger Woods—off the golf green, that is.

1. Be the brand. Just last year, Tiger Woods was a classic all-American brand. Squeaky clean with a beautiful wife and family, notoriously well behaved, this young man was everything that Americans love: stylish, polite, and successful because of hard work and talent. While this brand was to take a sharp downward turn, there is no denying its power. Tiger was number five on the Forbes Celebrity 100, the highest paid athlete on the globe, and the spokesman of brands ranging from Nike to Accenture.

2. Don’t contradict yourself. The recent news about Tiger Woods is huge news because it is so conflicting with his brand. If his brand hadn’t been in large part centered on clean living, none of the tabloid reports of philandering and marital strife would have been unsurprising and unremarkable. People expect a certain amount of misbehavior from sports stars; if Tiger Woods’ brand hadn’t focused on clean living, there would be no contradiction. Knowing that his behavior could diminish his brand, a more successful choice would have been to either rebrand or choose other, less controversial activities.

3. Know your audience. Tiger Woods’ clean image resonated with the upper middle class audience that makes up the fan base of professional golf. However, it is unlikely that the people most likely to be offended by his actions—namely, married women—were a big part of his audience in the first place. The remainder of the audience may be willing to overlook the current headlines and buy into a brand that doesn’t include clean living as one of its central promises. While his actions have diminished his brand, there is still hope for Tiger Woods.

4. Rebrand when necessary. Obviously, the time for Tiger Woods to rebrand is yesterday, although today will have to do. The Tiger Woods brand, which is currently diminished, will have to be reshaped and renovated to accommodate current behavior. A new focus on excellence in sports complete with a championship or two, or otherwise a decadent lifestyle reminiscent of the Hilton daughters are two possibilities. With celebrities as with small businesses, sometimes brands have to be rebuilt from the foundation up.

The same way sports superstars such as Kobe Bryant and A-Rod have managed to overcome very public branding challenges, Tiger Woods can do it as well. The same rule applies to small businesses. It’s important to maintain your brand at all costs; when this fails, rebrand to accommodate the changes and challenges of your times.