Livestrong and the fundamentals of rebranding

A brand is built on trust. People trust in its values and believe that they are similar to their own.

Never was this more apparent than with Lance Armstrong and the former Lance Armstrong Foundation or ‘Livestrong’. But what happens when this trust breaks down? How do you go about rebuilding the brand?

The key rule of building a strong brand is to have a compelling, and credible brand promise. Livestrong’s was built on determination in the face of adversity. So the narrative went, it was determination that helped Armstrong recover from cancer and go on to win seven Tour de France titles. This gave hope to cancer patients and survivors around the world and attracted millions of dollars’ worth of donations.

But in not contesting the doping allegations against him, Armstrong has left the brand promise lacking authenticity. He has tacitly acknowledged that his achievements on the bike weren’t built solely on determination, but also on performance enhancing drugs. Livestrong needs a new brand promise, and many marketers believe a total re-brand.

But how do you go about rebranding an organisation with a tarnished reputation and regaining trust? There are three key stages crucial to any organisation going through this process.

1. Consider the past

Rebrands happen for a reason, and it is important to address the issue that has caused it.

In this case, it must come from Armstrong himself. He would arguably best serve Livestrong, not to mention his own credibility, by accepting what seems to be an overwhelming weight of evidence against him and explaining why he did it. As it stands, he has stepped down from the board, but retained ties with the foundation, and neither the brand nor Armstrong has addressed the issue.

2. Go back to basics

The organisation needs to address the basic questions of why the organisation exists in the first place, who for and why.

Livestrong relies on its supporters to donate funds in order to help people who have cancer or have survived it. If Armstrong’s continued presence results in a fall in donations, Livestrong should cut all ties and consider a name change. The basics of the brand are fighting cancer and helping survivors. These are worthy aims that can be emphasised without needing Armstrong’s presence.

3.  Over-Communicate

Once these basics are addressed, communication is key.

If Livestrong decides to sever ties with Armstrong and completely rebrand, it must be communicated as a business decision in order to continue supporting those who rely on its funding. It must ensure this is conveyed sympathetically to stakeholders, as their emotional connection to a charity brand will be so strong. It also must explain its current stance on doping and its plan to rebuild following the Armstrong saga.

As with any organisation facing a rebrand, Livestrong faces an uncertain future. Can it survive after the departure of a man tied up so completely with its ethos and branding? It faces tough decisions and a long road in rebranding sufficiently to rebuild its lost trust. Perhaps determination in the face of adversity is what’s required.

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