5 Things Brands Can Learn From NASCAR

This Sunday kicked off the 2013 NASCAR season, with the 55th running of the Daytona 500.  For the better part of a week the fanfare belonged to Danica Patrick.  All eyes were on whether history would be made in the “Great American Race.”  From her start in the pole position to leading a lap in the race and ultimately finishing eighth, she did not disappoint.  There were other storylines leading into the race such as the launch of the new Gen 6 cars, Brad Keselowski’s defense of his 2012 title and the launch of the new NASCAR brand campaign.

Many believe NASCAR and FOX will come away from Sunday’s contest as one of the most widely viewed races.  Early overnights indicate FOX earning a 10.0 rating, which is up 30% from 2012’s race (actual ratings will be released later this week). Online, conversation on Twitter alone drove more than 31 million media impressions in just 24 hours.1

Yet as with many sports, NASCAR faces challenges in an ever-fragmented entertainment environment. It is looking to face these head-on: how to reach new audiences, deepen fan engagement via social media, amplify live events and maximize the impact of sponsorship dollars.

So what can brands learn from NASCAR’s approach in 2013?

Leverage your stars’ power – NASCAR is focusing its efforts on the appeal and prowess of its drivers.  Patrick made history multiple times over the last week, intensifying attention not only on the race but the sport itself. Her relationship with Ricky Stenhouse Jr. also drives tabloid frenzy off the track.  She is one example of how to leverage star power to raise awareness of the sport. NASCAR is committing to highlighting driver personalities to appeal to broader, younger audiences, allowing them to reveal the real NASCAR through their stories.  The drivers are popular, relatable and authentic, especially when one looks back at 2012 champion Keselowski honoring his partner Miller Lite in Victory Lane.  And, well-known personalities like Jimmy Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr. rank among the top 10 most influential athletes in the US.  Using existing stars to amplify the brand allows any brand to increase its reach.

Connect with your fans, new and current – NASCAR knows it needs to both excite its core fans and to become relevant to new audiences.  While yesterday’s race made fans out of rappers 50cent and T.I., as well as New England Patriots’ Wes Welker there’s more to be done in connecting with new audiences.

NASCAR regularly calls out and connects with its fans on digital and social channels, particularly during the actual race itself.  Most of the conversation around the race in social channels is with fans themselves.  And, almost 50% of communication is happening via iPhone and Android devices as evident at Daytona, and conversations around #Daytona500.Yet its current fan base skews older and is primarily Caucasian.  For the sport to evolve, NASCAR knows it needs to reach new audiences such as Gen Y, Hispanics and Youths and is working on connecting with them, on the channels where they live. This year’s race marked another first as FOX Deportes broadcast the Daytona 500 live in Spanish with the first Hispanic spots by NASCAR also being revealed.  This is in tandem with the NASCAR Mexican series race taking place this weekend in Phoenix.  Understanding future and current audiences is key for any brand to maintain and grow their fan base

Know how your fans engage with you in digital and social – Knowing that 35% of fans engage in second screen viewing while watching races, NASCAR is placing a higher importance on that experience.  Enhancements to the Raceview product this year is one way to engage with fans during the race, ensuring they are up-to-speed on all the action.  But in 2013, NASCAR is going one step beyond in communicating and understanding their fans with the HP Fan Engagement Center, extending the dialogue with fans throughout the week beyond the days leading up to and after race day.  Knowing “where” and “how” to engage consumers is imperative for brands to drive deeper engagement.

Collaborate with your partners – The sport of NASCAR, as with many sports, hinges on partnerships and collaboration.  NASCAR is founded on a tight ecosystem of relationships, from broadcast partners to teams/drivers to tracks and sponsors.  Because of this, the ecosystem needs to bring forth a unifying message to who and what NASCAR is to reach new audiences and drive further growth of the sport.  Brands should focus on ensuring that all parts of their ecosystem are talking with a consistent voice across all channels, in essence assuring  “all ships rise.”

Showcase your unique selling points – NASCAR has many unique attributes. It’s a place where a town swells by more than 100,000 over a given weekend.  Where drivers face G-forces that rival those of astronauts.  And where no other sport can be compared to NASA, by NASA.

It’s behind-the-scenes access to its heroes that is unparalleled in any other sport.  It’s where one second can change everything – going from third to eighth, becoming popular by tweeting from inside a race car, where a friend becomes a rival (think Clint Bowyer-Jeff Gordon or Tony Stewart-Matt Kenseth).  It’s not just an event; it’s a one-of-a-kind experience.  NASCAR understands that and is putting these moments and stories front and center in its communications strategy and 2013 brand campaign, being unapologetic and authentic in who they are.  Brands should do the same and celebrate their uniqueness to connect with fans.

What are your thoughts on how brands can learn from NASCAR?


Image source: Still shot from the 2013 NASCAR campaign: Rival by Ogilvy & Mather

Disclosure: NASCAR is a client.

1 Keyhole Real-time Tracker: #Daytona500