A Brand is Meaningless without Integrity

What is a brand? Of course it is a name, logo, and colors that form its identity. The identity represents the tangible aspects of a brand. But, that is not why you and I are attracted to certain brands and become loyal customers. We are drawn to brands because of the promises they make and deliver against. Some promises are explicit, such as product warranties and service guarantees. Other promises are implied benefits that one can expect from a brand. Consistency, fairness, and integrity are three implied brand promises that can either strengthen or destroy customer relationships depending on how well a brand is managed.

A brand that finds itself at a decision point to manage an implied promise of demonstrating a high level of integrity is Penn State University. The institution is engulfed in a child sex abuse case against a former assistant football coach that has swept up the iconic head football coach, Joe Paterno. The purpose of this post is not to opine on Paterno’s culpability or whether he did the right thing when made aware of improprieties. In fact, the effect of this scandal on Joe Paterno should be of secondary concern to those persons entrusted to manage the Penn State brand, its trustees.

The overarching concern, besides the well being of the victims, is protecting the integrity of the Penn State University brand. Any crimes committed cannot be undone, but the institutional values of Penn State University can be affirmed, which could mean that Joe Paterno and other leaders who could have done more to prevent some of the alleged assaults must step down immediately.

A truly great brand is larger than any one leader or star employee. Remember, a brand is really owned by the stakeholders to whom the brand matters. Their interests must be served, and that can be best accomplished by making decisions that send signals that Penn State University is committed to being a high integrity brand.

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