The outcome of last week's US
Presidential election reminds us yet again of the power of an
established brand - including a public personality - when it comes
to influencing consumer decision-making.
Barack Obama himself characterised the
contest as "It's the devil you know versus the devil you
don't." The public went for the devil they knew. (Even
if, as Edward Luce pointed out in the Financial Times, "The angel
we didn't know suited him so much better.")
Established brands have a momentum
that keeps them moving forwards. They get their power from
what's happening in the minds of three key constituencies: the
media, the fans, and the public. A complex interplay between
these three protagonists establishes the perceived value of the
Why are these groups so resistant to
changing their opinions?
It's easy to see why fans are
reluctant to give up the value and validation that is delivered to
them by personalities they admire. Likewise, the media rely
on public personalities to generate much of the content, much of it
for free, that they broadcast. No wonder they resist
Which leaves the least informed group,
the public, to try to make sense of what is left.
This may explain why public
personalities who eventually fall from favour, such as Lance
Armstrong in the US or, on a more serious level, Jimmy Savile in
the UK, seem to retain broad support and exposure even as the
evidence of misdemeanours starts to mount up.
(Jimmy Savile was a popular UK
broadcaster and charity fund-raiser who now, after his death, is
being investigated over hundreds of allegations of sex abuse.)
Eventually in cases like these, once
the facts are out in the open then support for the personality
falls away suddenly and dramatically. The brand narrative
flips from positive to negative.
There is a hypothesis in science that
new theories are generally resisted by the establishment, who were
the ones who came up with the last set of theories anyway.
Eventually, the evidence becomes overwhelming, which prompts a
sudden flight to the new position. If you've ever tried to
open a sticking door you'll know the sensation!
This paradigm shift rule seems to
apply to branded personalities too. They resist pressure at
first, but when the force becomes irresistible they suddenly
And the lessons for more conventional
Keep your brand momentum up to
speed. Find new audiences. And don't think you can get
away with being untrue to your brand's identity. A strong
brand momentum will carry you through travails but cannot defy
gravity. Eventually, you'll fall.