Be the Complete Racer: Build Your Brand

Number 5 in a countdown of the things that racers must do to achieve greatness is to be known for what you are off the track as well as your prowess behind the wheel.

“The number one mission in sports is to make people care how it turns out,” says Paul Pfanner, president and CEO of Racer Media & Marketing, Inc, the motorsports publishing, marketing and strategy company behind RACER magazine. “That starts out with them caring about you. I don’t mean being an egotistical hog for attention, but do things that convey that you are a complete human being.”

That’s the beginning of brand building for a driver. The drivers with a huge fan base are the ones that have stood out from the crowd not just on the track, but off as well. Sometimes that comes through negative actions – some people just love a villain – but more often that comes through positive actions and a feel-good attitude. But either way, trying to be something you’re not is not going to help you in the long run, the marketing experts say.

“True branding, whether it is a racecar driver or a Fortune 500 company, is about authenticity,” says Jim Bowie of Brandrenaline, Inc. which works with Mazda Motorsports as its Agency of Record in Partnership Programs. “Branding is not a logo, slogan or trademark. True branding is the authentic interaction between the brand (driver) and the audience (media, fans, sponsor, etc). Just as a global big-box discount retailer can’t brand itself as ‘high quality,’ a driver cannot brand themselves as something that they are not.

“If you are introverted, serious and all-business, you can’t be the happy-go-lucky ‘Mayor of Racerville.’ It will not be authentic. If you are an outgoing personality, always having fun and super social, you can’t brand yourself as a serious corporate spokesperson. It’s not authentic. If you support a charitable organization that you have zero personal connection to, and do so just because you think it can get yourself some exposure leading to sponsorship, it won’t work as it lacks authenticity,” Bowie continues.

Pfanner echoes that sentiment, and says when it comes to charity, that’s a great thing if you’re campaigning for a cause you believe in. But it’s even better if you have fun with it, he says, citing then-MX-5-Cup-champion-in-waiting Kenton Koch’s promotion of his hometown of Glendora, California’s GumbyFest last year.

“It was fun, and funny. And he’s fun and funny – but, boy, does he deliver on the racetrack. He’s got personality in what he does. If you notice a young up-and-coming driver, you also remember their personality and their authenticity and sincerity and remember there’s more to them than driving a race car really well. You care about how things go for them. That’s where sponsorships come from, that’s where the ability to attract attention, the ability to attract opportunity comes from.”

Pfanner also tells a story of, as a teenager, meeting Richard Petty, of whom he was in awe. Petty actually thanked him for being a fan and interested in him, making a comment that it was people like Pfanner who put food on Petty’s table. “That’s the kind of gracious acceptance of the good fortune to be able to do what they’re doing and getting people to be enthusiastic and go with them emotionally. That’s everything. That’s how people go from having no money to being world champion – somebody went with them and believed in them,” he says.

Finally, hooking up with a brand like Mazda doesn’t hurt your cause, Pfanner says.

“Mazda has embraced all these competitors and embraced people from the grassroots to professional racers and elevated them,” he notes. “Mazda is comfortable with people representing them and the Mazda brand, which is this challenging spirit. So if you’re already racing a Mazda, you’re halfway there.”

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