No one ever really foresees a scandal coming but both how you establish your brand, and how established your brand is, aids greatly in how you weather one. Lance Armstrong has seen this true to form during his recent USADA inquiry.
Lance’s performance in his sport combined with his brand strength, certainly plays a huge role in how his brand is perceived. Becoming a hero in the world of cycling, representing his country multiple times on the world stage, along with being a cancer survivor and creating Livestrong are what made Lance larger than life. Could he have created The Livestrong Foundation without being as dominating in his sport? Most definitely. Would it be one of the largest and most influential cancer charities that it is today? Most likely not.
It’s Lance’s creation of a globally recognized foundation, along with his triumph through personal tragedy, that are the biggest factors in the public’s perception of his brand. If cycling dominance was all Lance Armstrong stood for, he would be in different spot than he is now. His brand has many facets, with his charitable arena being as strong as his cycling one. By using his spotlight to create a platform for change, the scale of his scandal was minimized by the positive Armstrong has done in other areas. Christian Piatt said it best in a recent Huffington Post piece,
Armstrong also has the benefit of both empathy and admiration, beyond his sports audience. He garnered his fair share of both when he was diagnosed with, and then overcame, cancer, and he bolstered the latter by launching the now-ubiquitous Livestrong nonprofit, dedicated to cancer research and eventual cures.
In great part to his social media savvy, Lance has been able to build brand recognition for all areas of his brand, increasing it in size each year. His network of 3.7M twitter followers and 2.4M Fans on Facebook allowed him to funnel his statements on the USADA review and draw attention to those other areas of his brand such as Livestrong, health and wellbeing, or engaging with his fans through inviting them on a run/ride. In doing so, Lance has created his own medium to influence and manage information flow. Even though he appears larger than life because of his accomplishments, Lance’s actions on social media give a picture of good will, personal innocence, and accessibility, which affects public perception during a trial/scandal situation.
As the final piece also affecting public perception, let’s not forget that being accused vs being found guilty makes a big difference. This has clearly shaped how Lance is handling his situation. Not only has he addressed the accusations from the start, but he has also spent time and money fighting them, all the while drawing many of the public to his side. It’s when people try to cover up or downplay their guilt as seen by the public reaction to SF Giant’s Melky Cabrera, that the public has little, or no, sympathy. Through his actions, Lance has increased the level of support not only for him but also for his foundation. As stated on Businessweek.com, “That same day Armstrong was banned, the number of donations to his foundation nearly doubled to $60,900 from $32,300 the day before. And the number of donations nearly tripled to 937 from 313 the day before, according to the foundation’s data.”
We know that Lance did not build his brand to weather a scandal, and neither should you. Your brand should be built based on your passions, your brand vision, and making sure you use your spotlight to make an impact. Should a scandal happen, knowing how you established your brand will give you confidence in how you weather the outcome.
Katie Marston is President and Executive Director of DYME Branding , a personal brand development company focusing on professional athletes, celebrities, and executives. Follow her on Twitter at @ktmarston