Thursday, February 15, 2007

Anna Nicole & TrimSpa: A Case for Brand Scenario Planning

B2B companies typically are insulated from the kind of multi-national, media onslaught being experienced by consumer-facing, diet company TrimSpa. B2B companies typically do not have celebrity endorsers either. But, B2B companies do have brand identities to protect and, at times, celebrity CEOs at the helm.

Anna Nicole Smith’s unexpected death serves as a reminder for businesses heavily dependent on a single person. Brand identity closely tied to an individual creates opportunity for chaos. Iacocca and Chrysler. Welch and GE. Kozlowski and Tyco (TYC).

Tyco is a B2B brand most notably tied to former CEO L. Dennis Kozlowski. His high-flying largesse with corporate funds and rapid deal making made him synonymous with the Tyco brand. That association led the company to a near-death experience when he was convicted of grand larceny, conspiracy and a spate of other charges.

The TrimSpa-Anna Nicole Smith relationship illustrates the need to plan for brand vulnerabilities, regardless of B2B or B2C designations. The most telling indication of this resonates in the following words of TrimSpa CEO Alex Goen during an interview with MSNBC discussing the future of his company.

“You know from a company perspective you want to be friendly to the media; you want to be treated well by the media, so you want to cooperate whatever you possibly can. So we’ve got, I’ve got an issue, that I have to deal with business-wise. My back is against a wall. I’m certainly concerned about whether or not we can make it. I think the odds are right now possibly against us. I mean we are going to give it all we have,” Goen said.

Sounds like a company unprepared for when celebrities fail, sputter or fall and the intense media scrutiny that affects nearly everyone and every entity associated with them. The bigger the star, the wider the impact. The same holds true for companies run by dominant, highly visible individuals. One misstep without the ability to effectively right the wrong and manage the fall out afterward, and the entire brand can go down with the individual’s reputation.

Companies such as TrimSpa, which led to the ebb in Anna’s yo-yo weight situation, discovered this firsthand. Subsequent media coverage discovered competing product Slimfast in her refrigerator and extended news reports of a Federal Trade Commission settlement of alleged unsubstantiated weight loss claims. Tie this with all the rest of her much publicized exploits, and I’d be curious to know if anyone took the time to think of all the what-ifs of having her as a spokesperson.

Through some quick web research, though, it seems TrimSpa and CEO Alex Goen are making moves indicative of sound scenario planning. But at this point it might only be fancy reactive footwork. The TrimSpa website quickly became a tribute to Anna. News reports indicate the company already was transitioning to find a new spokesperson with Anna’s help. This seems to conflict, however, with other reports citing TrimSpa President Tony Azzizzo, who said brand spokespersons now would focus on “your neighbors, friends, family members.” Does anyone know where the brand is headed?

Regardless of the whether TrimSpa planned for this scenario in advance and emerges from this tragedy in tact, or tap dances a reactionary waltz to obscurity, one thing is certain: brands tied closely to individuals require constant assessment of whether that person represents the appropriate image for a brand. One might argue Anna Nicole Smith did portray an appropriate brand image for TrimSpa. Nonetheless, a thorough assessment of brand vulnerabilities and how to save the brand, should those threats become reality, would have given TrimSpa a fighting chance.

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