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Twinkle. A Chesapeake 17 Sea Kayak.


I’ve been building brands for over 35 years. Last year I did something new. I built a boat. A Chesapeake 17 Sea Kayak by #CLCBoats, made of marine plywood, epoxy, fiberglass, and time. It took about three months and I learned a lot about woodworking along the way.

I also learned that building a boat is a lot like building a brand.


To start with, if you build it right, it floats. If you build it wrong, it’s a Viking funeral. A brand, like a boat, has to be built right. It has to be true to its purpose, true to its function, and it has to serve its audience. It’s all or nothing with boats and brands. A boat can’t just “kinda” float and you can’t just “find” your way into a brand. It takes commitment to do it right.

Not my boat but you get the idea.

To build a boat or a brand, you have to start with a vision. When I started my boat, I knew exactly what it was supposed to look like, even though the box of parts I received looked nothing like a boat. With a brand, you have to have a mental picture of what you want the brand to look like, feel like… what it will BE. Most importantly… what it will mean to your audience. The clearer the vision, the better. Like a boat, the parts that make your brand might look like they don’t belong together. It’s your job to make sure they do.

To build a brand or a boat, you have to have a plan.
My boat came with 15 videos and a 150-page manual. I spent a lot of time with those plans. When building a brand, the care and thought that goes into the plan will always be worth the effort because, no matter how well you plan, things will go wrong.

Be prepared for things to go wrong.
It happens in boat building as well as branding. Things don’t always go according to plan. I had to adapt several times along the way with my boat. With a brand, adaptation is crucial because things will change. You will make mistakes. The competition will surprise you. Your customers will change their minds. You have to be ready to adapt. A clear vision will allow you to adapt while staying true to the end result.

You need to control the environment. 
When I started building my boat, it was too cold in my garage. By the time I finished, it was too hot. Epoxy and varnish react very differently when the weather changes. With a brand, the environment is always changing because the marketplace is dynamic. While you need to be prepared for change, the best way to control the environment is to lead the change. It’s called innovation, and if you make it a part of your brand you will have a much better chance of being the leader. Leaders have a better chance of being in control.

Building a brand requires patience.
Putting a boat together and building a brand requires patience. Nothing happens as fast as you want it to and absolutely nothing ever happens exactly like you want it to. With a boat, you have to give the varnish time to dry. With a brand, you have to give the market time to react. You have to keep sanding. You have to keep marketing. If your plan is right and your execution is right, it will work. Remember though, it will never work as fast as you want it to. Make a good plan and stay the course.

What else?
Yes. There’s more. Let these lessons sink in and stand by for part two.

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