Imagine you have a large, passionate, and loyal customer base. They love what you do... but in order to keep growing, you need to attract new customers, find ways to engage casual customers and help them become passionate and loyal... all while interacting with them on different platforms and different media depending on their interests and level of engagement.
Sound like the growth challenge every established business faces? Sound like the growth challenge your business faces?
A constant challenge for any business with passionate fans (or customers) is to cater to those knowledgeable fans while still attracting new ones. In effect that means engaging two very different audiences, as well as all the people who fall somewhere on that spectrum.
It's a balance for us, as it is with any other sports league.
The common denominator is that our drivers and athletes resonate with core fans and are interesting for new fans and casual fans. Our drivers are the universal way fans of all type tend to engage with us.
The drivers' personalities, their abilities, their back stories, how they came to be racing in NASCAR, how they prepare to compete every week... our drivers are extremely compelling to our fans.
But never forget that for sports fans, whether of NASCAR or other sports, compelling on-track or on-field competition carries the day.
If there are amazing things happening on the track, that appeals to a fan no matter where they fall on the spectrum of casual to passionate.
Different leagues market differently. Generally speaking the NBA focuses on stars, while the NFL is more about the jersey than individual players.
We don't approach it, say, the NFL way. Our drivers are at every race every week.
That means we don't have geographical affinity like the Panthers or the 49ers. I'm a 49ers fan no matter who they're playing.
For us , the drivers is that unifying factor. And the great thing is that, unlike with most other sports, our fans get to see their favorite driver compete in every race.
Since there are all sorts of different reasons why fans choose to like one driver over another, our goal is to expose our fans to as many different drivers as possible.
That's another great thing about NASCAR. You can be a fan of one driver, but that doesn't mean you can't like and root for other drivers too, especially if your favorite driver is having a bad day.
As with most sports -- and businesses -- how you engage fans has changed dramatically.
Starting about eighteen months ago we began leading with digital and social content. Avid or casual, fans primarily consume digital and social . So we work hard to reach them through NASCAR.com, our apps, on social media like Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, etc... because that's where our fans are.
That's been a major shift for us. We will always have compelling TV creative. Fox and NBC are great television partners,and they'lll always have spots and inventory that showcases our sport... but are definitely focusing our efforts based on our fans' consumption patterns.
The goal is to go where our fans are, not expect them to come to us.
That requires a lot of data and analytics, though, especially if you already want to be where your fans will be.
We have a department that focuses on digital and social,and they're responsible for not only engaging our fans in current channels but also taking a look at the future and figuring out what will be the next new platforms.
It's our job to know that. We do everything possible keep a finger on the pulse of our fans. We've always used data to inform our strategy, and we just started a dedicated analytics and insights group. Part of their function is to keep one eye on the future to predict the next ways fans will consume sports and entertainment.
If you wait for the next hot thing to come along, you won't be successful. Fortunately we do know what our fans are doing. They're very passionate and very vocal. They tell us what they want, and we listen.
So how do you measure success?
There are several ways. Obviously we use traditional metrics: how many people use the app, how many are downloading, posting, engaging... those metrics are pretty standard.
We also have a fan and media engagement center that provides real-time social analytics. Our team constantly monitors the conversation about NASCAR, what makes fans happy, what they want to see more of, what they're most passionate about... and what performs well.
We look at what our fans are saying, and how they say it, but another critical piece is knowing when to engage, what drivers to use in certain situations... so we use a ton of that data to make decisions and constantly calibrate the best way to provide what our fans want, they want they want it.
How involved is the marketing side of NASCAR with the competition side?
We work closely with the competition and racing development group to analyze certain opportunities and give fans a voice. Certainly we're not the only voice, though, but we are a key component in the mix.
For example, take the Chase format. (Basically the Chase is NASCAR's playoff system that determines the season champion.) Fans were incredibly engaged with the Chase format in the Sprint Cup series, so we brought that format to the Xfinity Series and the Camping World Truck Series.
Fans have really embraced that.
You're in an interesting spot, though, because from a marketing point of view you can have great ideas but since the teams are independent they don't have to take your input.
That's not unique to some sports or even to businesses in general. Collaboration is always the key.
In our case, we work within the structure of our industry. We are a group of closely affiliated partners, but the teams are separate entities and even the drivers are. That makes collaboration even more critical because unlike some of the leagues that can make decisions for their ecosystem, our interactions are collaborative.
We have quarterly meetings with team owners, we put in place council meetings with drivers and tracks to share our marketing initiatives, to help them with their sponsor needs, to make sure they are aware of what we're doing... and we rely on them to amplify what they're doing.
We have to work together to really bring everything to life. None of us can do it on our own. We need each other.
Fortunately, we all have a shared objective. Whether it's watching our races, consuming our content on social channels... all of us want more fans to be involved with NASCAR in some way. Sometimes there business issues that pop up on an individual basis, but at the end of the day we all need the same thing.
That has to be an odd dynamic when something happens on the track that gathers a lot of attention... but maybe not the kind of attention that a driver or team involved might love.
Our drivers have a ton of personality. And there definitely are a lot more eyeballs on everything they do. That means we try to balance the different interests, but ultimately our goal is to make things compelling for our fans.
That focus on driver star power is something we're particularly proud of. We made a concerted effort to talk to drivers and give them the right support and resources. We work hard to help veteran drivers resonate with fans and showcase their talents and personalities... but also to identify and develop younger drivers. We've had some impressive success in bringing attention to younger drivers drivers.
The Chase fields are really a testament to NASCAR's youth movement. Our goal has been to make sure people know our younger drivers so they don't just burst on the scene. In the Sprint Cup Series the Chase includes Kyle Larson, Austin Dillon, and Chase Elliott... and all of them were part of our early development efforts.
The same is true in the Xfinity Series, with Daniel Suarez and Bubba Wallace and Erik Jones. In the Truck Series we have William Byron and John Hunter Nemechek. Most of them were relatively unknown before the last year or two, and all them have had some level of engagement with our driver development programs.
The youth movement is alive and well, but it's also the result of seeds we planted five years ago.
We've always had great personalities and great things happening on the track, but year ago we would let that happen more organically. Today we do some homework ahead of time so those drivers are prepared to be successful when opportunities do come around.
We want our fans to know our drivers before they become stars. That way you feel a better connection to that driver as a person. That way you're more invested in their success and in the sport.
Where do you see your opportunities to grow the sport?
We will continue to focus on digital and social and stay on the cutting edge of what fans want, even anticipating what they might want before they know it.
Communication and media change every day, so to stay relevant in a competitive landscape we need to stay on top of those trends.
Also making sure we bring NASCAR to the fans instead of making them come to us. That means providing compelling mobile applications so they can engage with us on the devices of their choice.
We also will keep focusing on providing a multi-screen viewing experience and ensuring NASCAR.com provides great content.
The best way to make any sport or business compelling is to reach as many fans as possible where they are.
But it still comes down to stories. No matter how we engage with fans, it will always be our goal to tell as many stories as possible to as many fans as possible so they can see inside our sport and really engage with the drivers.