Building A Brand Is A Lot Like Building A Pinewood Derby Car

My son is a Cub Scout, and it’s pinewood derby time again. This year I also had an epiphany. Building a winning pinewood derby car is exactly like building a winning brand.

Our clientele are small to mid-sized businesses, nonprofits, and startups. They typically don’t have huge marketing departments or understand the purposely confusing acronyms that seasoned marketing folks like to throw around to make you think what they do is magic. I personally hate these acronyms too, which is why I like to explain branding in a way that regular people can understand.

Like building a brand, building a winning pinewood derby car boils down to science. It’s all about making well-thought-out, incremental improvements.

Out of the box, the pinewood derby car is pretty slow, so the first thing you need to do is make it more streamlined. The simplest way to do this is to cut off the top part of the woodblock to make it into a flat slab about 0.5″ thick, 1.75″ wide, and 7″ long. Doing this will make your car a few car lengths faster than an un-modified one.

Next you need to move all the weight to the back. You do this by drilling out the front so it’s hollow and then putting tungsten weights behind the back axle. This gets you a few more car lengths. Next, you need to polish the nails that are used for the axles. That’s 1.5 car lengths. Graphite lubricant. Another car length. After that, there are a dozen more things you can do to get fractional advantages.

It’s all very scientific and amounts to making multiple small improvements to give you an edge over your competitors. A beautiful pinewood derby car may turn heads, but it won’t get you across the finish line any faster. There is no art or luck when building a winning pinewood derby car or a winning brand. Just the scientific method. The person who makes the most improvements wins.

In branding, first you need to learn about your competitors. Learn about what they do well, because you need to be at least as good as they are. Then look at what they do poorly because that represents opportunity.

Next, you need to articulate what it is that makes you different and better than these folks you just learned about. This is your value proposition and the reason people will want to do business with you.

It’s just like moving the weight behind the rear axle of your pinewood derby car. If your competitors can’t explain what they do better than you, you will land more business.

Then it’s just a matter of going down the checklist:

• Find a name that supports your value proposition.

• Create a slogan that sells.

• Design a memorable logo.

• Put it all on a web page that, top to bottom, introduces what you do differently and better than your competitors and explains how and why.

After that, it’s all about getting seen. I prefer paid advertising because it’s predictable and repeatable. I recommend starting with the big three: Google Ads, Facebook, and Instagram.

Make sure to check your analytics (just like you would use a scale to weigh your pinewood derby car) and eliminate the ad channels that are not performing. I like to keep the ad spend somewhere around 8%-15% of the revenue generated from an ad channel, otherwise I drop it.

Then keep adding channels. If your ad spend is 8%-15% of revenue, spending money is an easy decision. The more you spend, the more you make.

There are plenty of other interesting ad channels and listing sites to explore, including LinkedIn, YouTube, Reddit, and Pinterest. All have analytics tools that let you track performance, and there are also CRMs like HubSpot and Salesforce that let you dial it in even more.

Just like building a winning pinewood derby car, branding is all about the science. The brand that makes the most incremental improvements wins.

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