How would you like to be an owner of a Crossfit gym right now? Your gym has been closed for three months due to the global pandemic. You face an economy where 13% of the U.S. population is unemployed and is cutting back on expenses. And last week, your CEO — the architect of the brand you’ve built your entire business around — tanked the brand with a single tweet. Do you think you might be wondering whether writing that application essay to join the ‘grassroots movement’ was just a big mistake or the biggest mistake you’ve ever made in your professional life?

Ideate and build a once-in-a-generation product that reimagines the idea of a phone and people will excuse (or ignore) your personal failings. The world’s best phone has unmatched value, and your brand is more than just an idea and personality. But when your product is a name and the brand around that name, and that name is irreparably harmed, people will leave in droves. And that’s what’s happening at CrossfitHQ right now. 

We talk a lot about how your brand is the most important item on your balance sheet. First you define it. Then you cultivate it. Then you protect it. In the Whitepenny, PwC & Cohn Financial collaboration on Branding your family business after the pandemic, we wrote: “A brand that has been built over many generations can either be enhanced and elevated, or tarnished and torn down, by the actions taken right now.” 

It goes something like this: 

To achieve longevity, great brands need to be built on solid fundamentals and built for resiliency. There is no more tenuous a brand strategy than saying you stand for one thing (community!) while your actions stand for the opposite (not recognizing the moment, and not understanding how your words, choices and tweets impact the community, and in CrossFit’s case, the brand — the storage vessel of value). Bottom line: brands are fragile and you can destroy a brand with a simple tweet. 

The Crossfit brand is a brilliant example of how to drive brand value through building community, connectivity and telling stories worth sharing, promoted by organic and authentic content. As a digital-1st and digitally flexible brand, it leveraged network effect by giving away free content (workouts), and licensed the brand. The workouts? They’re free. This ‘awesome’ brand that people want to be a part of? That you’ll have to pay for.

But what happens when that brand becomes synonymous with one individual and their actions, words and tweets? Time will tell how resilient CrossFit’s brand is, but Andy Stumpf’s revelations last Friday on his Cleared Hot podcast have compounded the brand destruction. 

We end with one final question: can the brand be saved and divorced from its Founder/CEO, or will the community splinter while the brand fades into obscurity? We can’t predict the future, but we do know that it’s hard to get the cereal back in the box when the bottom falls out.