The recent suspension of anchor Brian Williams from the NBC Nightly News offers a valuable lesson about the importance of safeguarding your brand. And make no mistake, Williams is—or at least was—a very valuable TV brand.
The anchor’s sin was embellishing his participation in various news stories. According to a Washington Post article, people in the NBC newsroom thought his occasional ventures beyond the facts were simply “Brian being Brian.” It’s a common enough failing, and one that most of us overlook or indulge in our friends. But it’s unforgivable in a journalist, and NBC rightly suspended Williams once he was exposed.
You might also remember Manny Ramirez, once a fine big-league ballplayer. Manny was a brand, too. This supremely talented slugger was known for his foibles and eccentricities, such as once vanishing into the Green Monster at Fenway Park during a pitching change (supposedly to use the bathroom), and barely making it back out before play resumed. Fans called this behavior “Manny being Manny.” Like Williams, Ramirez could do no wrong for a long time. Then he tarnished his brand with a suspension for using performance-enhancing drugs. When he faced a second suspension for the same thing, his career was over.
Why brands should care about image
With brands—as with TV news, baseball, and just about anything else—there are some lines you just can’t cross. They vary from brand to brand, depending on each one’s image. Likeable Brian Williams had to tell the truth, always; he failed, and may not get a second chance. Quirky Manny Ramirez had to rely on natural talent and be square with the fans; he didn’t, got a second chance, and failed again.
Every person and every brand fails sometime (and usually recovers). But some failures are worse than others, because they violate an implicit agreement. Nordstrom, for example, can never deliver a horrible shopping experience. Apple can’t contemplate a device that’s not sleek and beautiful … even in prototype. Whole Foods can’t stock a shoddy product that counters the company’s wholesome, health image. To do any of these things is to court ruin.
The consequences of not protecting your brand
“Apple being Apple” can mean only one thing—that Apple never falls short of what consumers expect from it. Steve Jobs knew this. You have to understand it about your brand, too. There’s no leeway or wiggle room when it comes to whatever it is that makes your brand unique. You always need to know your brand, your customers, and where the brand is headed. And if anything ever infringes on your brand’s special quality—however remotely—you need to correct the problem immediately. Because a good brand can vanish almost as quickly as a news anchor off a nightly broadcast.