From Hero to Zero – and Back? Re-building a brand after a series of losses

Golf fans and even fair weather sports fans are teeing up for this week’s Masters and one question that seems to be on everyone’s minds is, “Will he win?” We’re talking about Tiger Woods, of course, an iconic golf “brand” in and of himself. Winning, and winning frequently, were Tiger’s trademark – racking up tour 71 wins, accruing 14 major championships and chasing Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 majors. If the revelations from Tiger’s personal life in 2009 fractured the stable reputation he had earned, it surely killed his winning streak. For a “brand” built on wins, his apparent inability to clinch them was an epic loss.

We’ve talked about Tiger before because his is an ideal, current case study of a brand in crisis (and in need of crisis communications) and because we like Tiger. We want to like him more. As do his fans and the public. But he’s made it awfully difficult. While not an easy shot, there was a chance for Tiger to re-emerge humbled, open and fan friendlier. He missed that shot, instead reverting to an often surly demeanor.

America likes winners and underdogs. At this point, Tiger is a bit of both and his game appears to be back to where it was during the peak of his dominance. He’s not only the betting favorite for the Masters, but the favorite subject for the media to write about and favorite player for spectators (or Patrons, as they’re referred to at Augusta National) to follow in the practice rounds. While he wasted an opportunity to re-connect with his fans during his recent win two weeks ago it was the first win in more than 30 months and has made this one of the most anticipated Masters ever. If Tiger wins what would be his 15th Major, his “brand” will have come full circle. The endorsement deals will probably come back and the scandal will largely be forgotten if he stays on course.

Again, we like winners. Consider the Big Three Detroit automakers, General Motors, Ford and Chrysler. They spent years losing market share to foreign competition, a combination of producing models that didn’t appeal to consumers, being tainted with a reputation for inferior craftsmanship, quality and reliability, and dragged to react when other manufacturers began offering far more fuel-efficient vehicles as gas prices steadily climbed. This, along with defined benefit pension programs that continued eroding the bottom line paved the way toward bankruptcies and massive government bailouts. In short, the big three were no longer winning.

But they did re-build and make a comeback. During turbulent times, they spoke out and were reassuring. Their audiences – investors, taxpayers, and potential car buyers – were repeatedly assured that government loans (taxpayer money) would be paid back, benefit programs would be restructured, and most importantly that vehicle quality would once again be associated with domestic brands – cars that Americans would be once again proud to own.

Although this process took several years, the Big Three by and large kept these promises and remained steadfast in their messaging as they communicated about progress. Government loans were repaid, they all returned to profitability, domestic autos are once again being recognized for their style and reliability, and each Detroit automaker has strong offerings in the fuel efficient, small-car segment. Slowly but steadily, the Detroit automakers are clawing back to the top in winning style. And the media are happy to spread the word: Strong car sales signal automakers’ comeback.

We’re rooting for Tiger to do the same. Now, who wants to make a make a bet on who will be wearing the Green Jacket on Sunday?

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