Wednesday, December 16, 2009

What Next, Tiger? Rebranding...

For well over a century now therapists have agonized about curing trauma. As men and women of science they have hypothesized, experimented, and tried out different approaches.

But what if the answer does not lie in a scientific treatise or a medical experiment? What if the answer lies outside of the field of therapy, in fields like marketing and public relations?

After all, the pain of trauma involves a loss of dignity and reputation. As we often forget, how you look to others is a major factor determining how you feel about yourself.

Losing your reputation, falling into disrepute... these are certainly traumatic experiences. Even when a child is abused or molested, his or her anguish derives in the loss of modesty, the feeling of having been exposed unwillingly to another person, someone who now knows things that he should not know.

The work of reputation-recovery is difficult and arduous. If we are looking for new techniques to help people on this journey we would do well, in my view, to look outside of therapy into the worlds of marketing and public relations.

Don't think curing trauma; think rebranding.

Don't think insight; think self-management.

As any good life coach knows, the key to rebuilding reputation does not lie in insight into what went wrong, but in knowing how to start getting things right.

And yet, in order for the rebranding to work, you need to deal with the trauma.

Now, The Economist has published an article about how Tiger Woods should rebrand himself, recover his reputation, and return to what he does best. Link here.

The article begins by saying that Tiger has not done a very good job protecting his brand. He and his advisers have failed at crisis management and damage control. This, of course, is the first task for anyone who has undergone a trauma.

I have suggested in a previous post that I did not think it would have been a good idea for Tiger Woods to go public immediately after his automobile accident. Assuming that his wife injured him-- before, that is, she trashed his car with a golf club-- he did not need to show the world his wounds.

As an athlete, as a man among men, Tiger would have solved nothing by displaying his wounds, that is, his stigmata.

I still believe that this was correct, though I now see that it was only partially correct. As more and more women started coming forth to expose their trysts with Tiger, his absence from the public eye made it appear that he was in hiding.

And this is not a good thing.

The branding experts consulted by The Economist found an excellent way to split the difference. They would have advised Tiger to designate a spokesman to address the media, to answer questions, to change the context, and to shift the focus.

As of now, the only person who has spoken up for Tiger Woods is John Daly, a golfer whose bad behavior has been so consistent that it has become part of his brand.

What should the spokesman have said? One rebranding expert said that the message should have been that Tiger Woods was a golfer, and that he was not hired for how he conducted his personal life.

Clearly, this is an approximation of the truth. But if it allows some people to think their way out of the prurient details surrounding Tiger's reputation, it will have served a purpose.

This presentation would not have been ideal, but it would not have been nothing.

Say what you will, no one ever suggested that Tiger Woods cheated at golf.

If the press was unable to accept the "spin," the spokesman should add that Tiger Woods had not committed any crime, did not have problems with drinking and gambling, and was a good father.

Rebranding involves placing a fault or flaw within a larger context. The fact that Tiger cheated on his wife diminishes his reputation, but it does not mean that he has no character.

If Tiger erred in not having a spokesman speak for him, he has done the right thing, the experts say, by withdrawing his product from the market, thus, by taking a break from golf.

Clearly this demonstrates shame and shows a willingness to accept that he is taking responsibility for his mistakes.

The next step must involve relaunching the brand, returning to public view.

The rebranding experts say that this will involve two things: returning to tournament golf and constructing a new narrative that contains Tiger's flaws but shows him overcoming them.

Since most golfers and lovers of the game are still sympathetic to Tiger Woods, the chances are good that his return to golf will be greeted with cheers from his fans.

After all, this morning the Associated Press named Tiger Woods the athlete of the decade!

But Woods also needs to present a new narrative, not because life is a narrative, but because disruptions and traumas need to be covered by a narrative. A new story would explain what happened and show the path to recovery. The narrative is a bridge back to normality.

Yet, rebuilding a brand, like recovering your reputation, requires long work and consistent good behavior.

A redemption narrative must be accompanied by a rebuilt marriage or scenes of Tiger as a great father, or even a new beginning with a new marriage.

People are like companies. As one rebranding expert explained, companies that apologize when they make mistakes, and that do everything in their power to correct the error, often end up with: "better customer relations than before."

He adds that Tiger Woods: "...hasn't committed a crime against humanity. He has just been caught with his pants down-- which actually adds drama to his story, and could improve his long term value."

The Economist adds: "Accenture could even start running adverts featuring a triumphant Tiger with a new slogan: 'However bad it looks, it can be turned around.'"

Tiger Woods could become a role model for those who despair of overcoming adversity or recovering from trauma.

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