Can Social Marketers Learn Anything from NASCAR?
Can Social Marketers Learn Anything from NASCAR?
Can Social Marketers Learn Anything from NASCAR?

Admission time: I’m a NASCAR fan. If you met me in the coffee shop, it wouldn’t be your first guess, but it’s true. I record every race and watch every lap. *whew* Feels good to get that off of my chest. But why am I getting that out in the open? Because I think there are important lessons we marketers can learn from the sport.

Wait, brands learn from NASCAR? Unless your fans are spending hours of their time with your brand/content, and truly enjoying it, yup.

Lesson #1: It’s Exciting

NASCARI have run an embarrassingly large number of social properties over the past several years, often juggling many, perhaps too many, at one time. The last thing that I wanted to happen…something exciting. But that’s because I was the driver. If you’re the driver, I highly doubt that you want anything exciting to happen on your page. Slow, steady, and expected are usually a good sign for us. But put yourself in the shoes of your fans. In NASCAR, anything can happen at any time: a crash, debris, a blown tire or engine, an in-race fight. That’s the selling point of the sport. Anything at any time, so keep your eyes on the screen. As a fan of several brands, I have a really hard time thinking of any that provide this level of excitement (or really any level of excitement). Slow and steady, repetitive and expected, single-file and spaced out. That’s incredibly unexciting. Maybe today is a good day to shake things up and bring your fans to their feet. They’d sure appreciate the action.

Lesson #2: It’s About the Crew

Those less obsessed with the sport might believe that the driver is pretty much 100% responsible for the outcome of any particular race. Not by a long shot. Yes, the driver is super important; yes, the driver has to keep the car on the track; yes, the driver plays a critical role in positioning him/herself for a win. But the support crew, I would argue, is just as important. If the pit crew misses a lug nut, has trouble with the fuel, or violates any number of rules, they can sink a driver in mere seconds. If the spotter misspeaks or a crew chief takes a bad gamble, disaster is imminent. Though the driver has hands-on-the-wheel control, s/he would be nothing without the crew. Yes, you may be the person physically controlling your brand’s social channels, but where would you be without your team? NASCAR drivers generally do an excellent job recognizing the work that their crew does. Today would be a mighty fine day for those of us on the front lines to do the same. Maybe buy them a coke, or spray it in their face if they helped you to a win. The recognition will be appreciated.

Lesson #3: Consistency is King

Going back to Lesson #1, excitement, or at least the possibility of such, is a great technique for keeping eyeballs on the track. However, if you live by constant excitement, it’s likely you will die by such. No driver wants to get caught in a wreck every race, and no fan wants to watch 300 caution laps. Excitement is key, but so is consistency. Winning a big race certainly means an awful lot, but it doesn’t win the trophy. To win it all, there is nothing more important than steadiness. Finish every race; finish in a good position; get better as the season continues. Winning a battle…HUGE. But winning the war is the ultimate goal of every driver…and marketer. So take time to shake things up and take smart gambles, take some time to celebrate momentous wins, but recognize that to win the season, there’s a lot of hard work and keeping your eye on the prize. In social, that prize is up to you, but I can guarantee that you won’t win if you don’t even qualify for the race. Today, make sure you at least have a shot at the win.

Lesson #4: The Rules Change

If you watched 10 laps of a race seven years ago, then again two years ago, then again this year, you’d likely believe that the sport is static. But that’s far from the truth. NASCAR is constantly changing the rules, from in-car track-bar adjusters (implemented for the first time last week) to this year’s radical changes in pit officiating. The teams that don’t keep up are simply sunk. Thankfully, there are no officials in social media, handing out penalties to brands (though that’s really not a bad idea…), but the bottom line remains: lose track of the quickly changing rules, and your brand will fall woefully behind. And once you get two laps down, it’s awfully difficult to catch back up. Maybe today is a good day to set aside some time to review and/or learn the rules of your chosen social outposts. You just might be surprised how much things have changed.

Lesson #5: The Track Changes

Similar to Lesson #4, environmental change is a constant in NASCAR. From the track rubbering up to track temperatures fluctuating, every little variable affects the way the car handles. Keeping up with (and keeping ahead of) these changes is vital to a victory. Those who can predict when the wind is going to shift (literally) can surge ahead of the pack. Sound familiar? Social is nothing if not constant change. If you don’t know what’s around the next right turn, you might just end up in the wall. Today would be a great time to stop looking in your rearview mirror and start thinking a few laps ahead.

Lesson #6: It’s All About Sponsorship

It’s almost impossible to succeed in NASCAR without major sponsorships. Every once in a blue moon, a grassroots team will make some noise, but victory lane is almost exclusively populated by big brands and big money. And in exchange for that funding, the sponsors get a lot of airtime; NASCAR drivers are nothing if not vocal about the sponsors. It’s an imperfect analogy in social, as the driver (you or your brand) is the one ponying up the cash, but paying for sponsored posts and social advertising is becoming a must on virtually all platforms. And in many cases, it’s those sponsorships (aka sponsored posts) that lead to the reach and engagement needed to make a difference. We can debate all day about whether pay-for-play is smart, necessary, or even fair, but the fact remains that there is only so much racetrack, and its space is limited.

Lesson #7: It’s Waaaay Harder than It Looks

As the white flag is waving on this post, I’ll keep this one short and sweet. NASCAR is not as simple as turning left, and social marketing is not as simple as doing it right. The complications are endless, so take time today to thank your team, be their cheerleader, and maybe even give them a standing ovation. Because in this social marketing race, there’s no end in sight.

SME Paid Under

About the Author

Matt Hollowell
Matt is a lifelong student of design, marketing, publishing, and content creation. His passion sits at the intersection of content and design; in fact, you can often find him there with a cup of coffee in one hand and a notepad in the other. As SME's Creative Director, he supports both the brand and clients, which helps to satisfy his lifelong love of never knowing what's coming next. When not at his desk, you'll find Matt serenading his two amazing daughters, reading gritty British poetry, or obsessively listening to podcasts. Send him your podcast reccs here: @mhollowell.

VIP Explorer’s Club