01 May 2012

Keeping NASCAR On Track

Do you know your customers or clients?  Or do you just know about them?

When it comes to understanding customers, or fans, maybe something can be learned from NASCAR (National Association for Stock Car Racing), even if you haven't been to the track for awhile.

According to news reports, "NASCAR's popularity has stalled."   In addition to dealing with phase 3 of a product lifecycle (starting, growing, maturing, declining, and dying),
NASCAR was severely impacted by the recent recession as fans pulled back from spending money to attend its races, including the signature Daytona 500 held each February. 

To try and get out in front of this problem and keep itself on the right track, NASCAR commissioned a $5 million study to find out what's going on inside the minds and lifestyles of a generation it does not know, but must in order to have a future. 

What did NASCAR discover?

In a meeting held in Charlotte, North Carolina in 2011, which included Roger Penske, Jack Roush and other racing team owners, NASCAR chairman, Brian France, presented a wake-up call, not just bullet points.  The comprehensive research found that:
  • Drivers, the lifeblood of the sport, were too predictable
  • Race teams and NASCAR were slow to embrace social media
  • Track owners were not doing enough to make attending races easier
  • Not enough was being done to attract Hispanics and urban youths to offset decline of older fans

A break in the pattern

As commentator Frank Deford, wrote, "A whole cohort of our young boys--and girls--have been growing up without any interest in messing around--tinkering--with cars."   What NASCAR discovered, Deford added, is that "nobody wants to do that anymore."

It's hard to believe young adults would give up their parents and grandparents historic love affair with the automobile in exchange for the latest mobile phone app, yet evidently this is the case.

"Things that can't go on forever don't," said the late Nobel Laureate, Herbert Stein.  Does this include having a dependable customer base? 

Taking action

Out of this year-long exhaustive research, which included 64 hours of focus groups, and observing how fans navigate racetracks, came a decision to hire Kim Brink from General Motors as head of the NASCAR brand and consumer marketing group. Brink was part of a team involved in the turnaround of Chevrolet and Cadillac, increasing retail sales in the U.S. by 40% over the past several years.  

NASCAR is already acting on a five-year strategic plan from the Taylor Strategy study focusing on:

  1. Growing the youth and Hispanic fan base
  2. Reaching the next generation of NASCAR fans
  3. Developing a wide-reaching digital and social media strategy
  4. Building driver star power
  5. Improving the at-track experience for fans
Maybe establishing customer loyalty is implied in this list but should it be explicit? 

What about your business?

NASCAR does not face an uncertain future alone. 

Changing demographics, aging customers, dissimilar values, poor service, and technology are upending businesses as diverse as retailing, dining, medical, legal, and financial services.

How people make their purchases is also part of the drama.  Just ask Best Buy whose big box design is being undone by the Internet.

While the 55+ crowd is financially worth pursuing, isn't this the time to be thinking about new market opportunities? 

Where to begin?

The "skein of thread" or clue for working through a digital labyrinth is first knowing your core values which provide an inner sense of direction. What is it you believe? What is it you stand for? What is it you're all about? 

In assessing this new external environment, begin with the marketplace, not technology.  Here are some questions from the Peter Drucker Assessment Tool to help get you started. It was Drucker who once defined the essence of marketing as "knowing what is value to the consumer:"

  • Who is our customer?

  • How will our customers change?

  • What does the customer value?

  • What knowledge do we need to gain from our customers?

  • How will I participate in gaining this knowledge?

  • How do we go about this process?


  • Something to think about 

    In a highly competitive marketplace, how does a company or nonprofit find new households whose values are a close match with theirs--without a seven-figure NASCAR research
    budget to inform the process? 

    To stay on the right track in an electronic world, how will new customers find you?   



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