Brand Drafting: Give Your Brand a “Kick Flip”

Although he’s a life long skateboarder and now entrepreneur, when it comes to describing how he builds brands for young companies, Per Welinder turns to the world of competitive biking.

His concept is brand drafting; and the metaphor he uses is a bike race where a lead rider is in front facing the wind and “pulling” so that his teammate behind him can “draft.”  Similarly, companies with no brand can build one by drafting off of a stronger brand.

Welinder is a two-time world champion freestyle skateboarder and now the president of Blitz Distribution, an incubator of brands and a manufacturer of apparel and skateboards.  

He talked about brand drafting in a Webinar to alumni of UCLA’s Anderson School, where he earned his MBA.

Brand drafting starts with the assumption that you, or your company, are excellent at something.  He gave the example of his friend Tony Hawk, who became a world-class skateboarder before he became famous.  Thus, the goal of a branding campaign is to find symbiotic partnerships with other companies that can turn your expertise into a true brand. 

Welinder cited an example of a classic brand drafting campaign by the owner of Crustacean Restaurant in Beverly Hills.  To build awareness for the restaurant, the owner sought to have a party to celebrate Tony Bennett’s appearance at the Grammy awards.  She first got the OK from Bennett’s PR team, then assembled her ecosystem:  she signed on a LA celebrity magazine for guaranteed publicity, brought in some celebrity friends as “attention magnets” and finally lined up a sponsor to pay for the event.  The result was a very successful event that exposed the restaurant to a brand new audience with a positive association to a very popular singer.

Welinder says that any small company can brand draft by following four steps:

Start by conducting a self-exam of your brand to determine its true perception in the market.  Get an honest outside opinion from customers, a trusted friend or partner. That will help guide what kind of partner brand you will draft off of.  Also, determine if your business has the potential to grow significantly, otherwise the branding effort might not be worth it.

Next, assemble the ecosystem.  Who are the brands or individuals that you can collaborate with?  In the other examples that Welinder gave, people started small, but snowballed.  So don’t think you need to shoot to the top right out of the gate.

Next, pick your media strategy to take the message to market.  Maybe you will use traditional media (like Crustacean), or maybe social media is the best fit.  Welinder cautions against getting caught up in hype around new tools like Google+ or Pinterest – pick the best tool that will reach your audience.

Last, keep an eye out for the “halo effect”; that is, the new opportunities that will come along because of your successful efforts.  In the case of Crustacean, their branding efforts caught the eye of Bloomingdales, which contracted with them to build restaurants in all of their stores nationwide.

To get started, Welinder says take 20 minutes a day for the next two weeks to think through your brand and then identify the collaborators.  While it may take up to three months for the branding project to materialize, Welinder exhorts those interested in drafting to keep working the process with an eye on the opportunities that your new brand will bring.