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How Racing Made Me a Better Marketer (& I Didn't Even Know)

How Racing Made Me a Better Marketer (& I Didn't Even Know) Blog Feature

April 19th, 2018 min read

“I live my life a 1/4 mile at a time” -Dominic Toretto 

via GIPHY

Some of you may recognize this quote from, The Fast & The Furious. Some of you may not.

Quoted by car enthusiasts everywhere, the quote was actually a true statement for my career at one point.

Having worked closely with a professional drag racing team for a five years, I did literally hang on every pass down the drag strip. (Which is the aforementioned 1/4 “quarter” mile.)
My background isn’t a typical one for someone in inbound marketing, but it is definitely an interesting one.

I grew up near Bristol, Tennessee, for anyone who knows racing, they know it’s home to two very special race tracks.

Growing up around the race track with my father, who was our small town’s mechanic, my life revolved around cars, racing, and Braves baseball (but I’ll save that for another blog).

It was here, working with team and drivers, that I got my very green-feet wet in marketing..

I would coach them on social media, later produce content, and do a lot of things in between.

Realizing I had a knack for social media, in late 2008, I drove in head-first into seeing who I could connect with to get my first real marketing gig.

My first gig was pro bono. GaryVee has always said that’s what you have to do to get your foot in the door, and I did just that,  connecting with a manager who had several drivers he was working with through Twitter.

Since then, I’ve worked with 2017 Indycar Champion, Josef Newgarden, NHRA 7-time National Event Winner AND US Nationals Champion, Alexis DeJoria, her Father John Paul DeJoria (you may have caught him as a guest shark on Shark Tank), and many many others.

Regardless of the type of racing, I’ve found that many of the marketing skills and insights I learned are applicable across the board, and now that I’ve moved into agency world here at IMPACT, I’ve found this even more so to be true.

It’s an interesting intersection, but one that makes a lot of sense when you look at it from my point of view.

Here are four lessons I learned in the racing world that have made me a better marketer.

1. Know Your Fans -- aka Your Buyer Personas

New drivers are just like startups and veteran drivers are the companies who waited too long to get started with digital marketing and are trying to play catch up.

Both of these types are equally challenging situations to even the most seasoned of marketers, however, it’s much more a moving target when working in the racing industry.

Fans are the buyer personas of race teams, drivers, and series and before I knew what inbound marketing was, I was already using some of the same best practices to research audiences and help my clients build a fanbase.

Race fans are fickle and with races almost every week, one bad finish or after-race interview can swing your strategy from one side to the other.

This is especially true for new drivers and researching their racing series’ audience.

Just like with any buyer persona research, figuring out fans likes and dislikes, which social platforms they prefer, and their age range come into play.

Despite all these similarities, however, buyer personas in racing did have their differences.

For example, most race teams aren’t driving traffic to their website. They are driving fans to their merchandise trailer or to their social media accounts, or how many fans are wearing t-shirts walking around the track.

These unique goals added another dimension to our buyer personas that made researching and appealing to them that much more difficult (but also fun).

2. Develop Playbooks & Procedures

Just like with any corporation or brand, strategy is very important to ensuring that everything stays on track in race marketing (no pun intended).

Developing a strategy for how to best spend your time is the same no matter who you market for.

I learned to develop a “typical” race day strategy and then determine backup strategies depending upon all the “What Ifs” that could happen that day. This flexible approach is very similar to the Agile Marketing we practice at IMPACT.

Furthermore, some races are bigger than others throughout the year, just like certain campaigns.

Developing campaigns for the bigger races and keeping a “typical” strategy for the others (what we’d call a standard playbook in the office) helped tremendously for focusing budget and bigger time-consuming tactics.

For instance, the NHRA has 24 race weekends a year to develop strategy for, and of those there is a handful of “big” races.

Overall that equates to 74 days on track a year if you count two qualifying days and race day. Now teams work far more than 74 days out of the year BUT that’s 74 days of all-day nonstop content that must be developed and delivered to fans.

Anyone can utilize this type of cadence by balancing standard campaigns with larger ones. This is the only way to really let bigger campaigns shine and also remain efficient.

3.  Humanize Your Team

Content creation has become one of the most effective ways to build a fanbase in the racing world.

Teams have so many dynamic personalities within them, there is an almost unlimited amount of content that can be created highlighting their backgrounds, interests, strategies, etc.

If you have ever seen the movie Talladega Nights: The Legend of Ricky Bobby, you will understand the variety of personalities that a race team can have. (Well, kinda)

via GIPHY

On any given race team, there are probably 15-30 people.

Some are usually more apt to being on camera than others in fact, the drivers and crew chiefs are very used to it, making video content an easy foray.

Allowing your audience to get to know your brand by showcasing the people who are behind it is THE best way to build brand trust.

When we would sit down to strategize an upcoming campaign, we would always make sure to include faces, names, job title. All these things tie the person back to what their job is on the team, helps the audience build a connection with them and helps them recognize them when they see them again.

They know more than just who does what. They know Adam is the Clutch Assistant, but also that  he loves Pasta, or they know Cody is the Blower Specialist, and he LOVES the movie Step Brothers.

Creating content about those who are behind the scenes, or your buyers who can’t be there to see your day-to-day happenings, allows them to feel included.

Feeling including makes you feel like you actually know your people, like them, trust them, and you like to work with people you trust, right?

4. Analyze Your Efforts

Analyzing your marketing campaigns is crucial no matter if you are creating them for a race team or for your dog food company.

In racing, this usually came down to tracking how many new fans you had on social media or if we had spikes in merchandise sold.

Correlating campaigns to these spikes, we could determine what fans liked and replicate it.

The same correlation can be made while analyzing an inbound campaign; checking for a spike in blog traffic after social media promotion, or a first time send of a new email design.

Replicating and coming up with new ideas that can create even bigger spikes is the fun part for me. Seeing the needle move and knowing that I had a hand in creating this tremendous social following really warms this inbound marketers heart.

Checkered Flag

Thinking on my toes and allowing myself to not only think like a marketer, but like a fan, is what really made me successful as a marketer within the racing industry. Putting myself in the buyer’s shoes!

Learning from this unique perspective has really allowed me to be very creative when it comes to approaching marketing for clients in my new role.

Thinking differently about how to approach a situation, is sometimes the hardest part of being a strategic marketer, but my fast-paced learning on the race track has made this a way of life for me.

Do I miss the smell of race gas and tire smoke? Uh, yeah! But now I get to help so many other companies with the knowledge I’ve gathered over the years.

(And now when I go to the race track I get to be a fan!)

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