Monday, 16 March 2015

The Whole Truth – Personal Brand Building 101

As of the last week, social media has been abuzz following claims that Belle Gibson, founder of The Whole Pantry health and well-being app, may have lied about suffering from a terminal cancer. The context of these allegations is that she’s essentially built a brand out of her personal health journey, and documenting her battle with this illness.

I don’t want to focus on the validity of these claims – that’s Belle’s story to tell, and it’s not productive to speculate on what is essentially a rumour at this point in time. I do however want to draw upon the undeniable power of personal story telling, and how it can both build and completely ruin a brand.

Perhaps the best example of this scenario is that of Lance Armstrong – a cancer survivor and seven time Tour De France title holder who was found out to have been using performance engaging drugs during the span of his cycling career. Lance’s battle with cancer and eventual comeback was a heroic tale of sheer determination and a fight against all odds. This story became the backbone of his brand, and later formed the basis of his sponsorship deals with Nike, Michelob, Trek Bicycles, Easton-Bell Giro Helmets, Honey Stinger and Lance Armstrong branded 24-Hour Fitness gyms. These brands bought into the athleticism of Lance Armstrong, so when it emerged that drugs may have aided his success, his brand story fell through and so did his various sponsorship deals.

Cyclist Lance Armstrong (Source: Esquire)

Where Armstrong’s situation differs from a fellow sportsman such as Tiger Woods (who faced a highly publicised cheating scandal back in 2009), is that Wood’s sportsmanship never came into question – he may have cheated on his wife, but he didn’t cheat in the game, which is why key sponsors such as Nike stood by him throughout the scandal.

So when it comes to personal branding, the key takeaway from these situations is that your brand story (and values) are essentially what consumers/followers/admirers are buying into. When any part of this story starts to fall through, so does the trust people instil in your brand; so always tell the whole truth!

Salil Kumar
Current student in the Master of Marketing program at the University of Sydney Business School

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