This week, our cultural exploration class had the rare pleasure of engaging in a conversation with acclaimed author, Alan Crawford, who discussed his most recent work, “Twilight at Monticello”. The book chronicles the Thomas Jefferson’s later years, casting the historical figure in flesh and blood, rather than the bronze and marble we’re accustomed to. Jefferson’s intelligence and wisdom are portrayed in equal parts with his frailty and indecision. 

In light of his surroundings in the VCU Brandcenter’s lecture hall, Mr. Crawford chose to speak about the Jefferson brand, and how that brand has come to represent different things over time, depending on the mood of the populace. The lesson has broad implications for those of us who are charged with managing brands. At any moment, the public’s perception of a brand can change due to cultural events outside of our control. Imagine a small and ethical stock brokerage being looked upon with cynicism due to world events they play no role in. 

This is even more reason for brands to act with conviction and long-term predictability, rather than cow to the changing whims of the public. Many brands rid the waves of short-term fandom, only to collapse when the tide goes out.

For our students, who all visited Monticello in preparation for this session, the story behind the tourist attraction was a revealing one. Thank you Mr. Crawford and Mr. Jefferson.