On August 5, 2014, you could hear the sound of the engines and feel the air moving around the track as the cars passed by. NASCAR has a long and storied history of reaching out to and cultivating a near religious experience with its fans. It has translated those efforts into one of the most recognizable global entertainment brands. Brian Moyer, Managing Director for Market and Media Research, shared his thoughts in a recent webinar on how research has been used to engage the NASCAR fan base.
Fan Intelligence is the term used by NASCAR for their customer-based research efforts. For background, the organizations manages 11 racing series, including three on the international level. The family-owned company sanctions over 1,200 races in North America and Europe each year.
NASCAR is feeling the effects of the empowered customer, a trend in the consumer products and retail sectors that has jumped lanes into the entertainment space as well. The rise of social media and methods other than just television have allowed fans to follow, and to some degree influence, their favorite brands (or perhaps drivers in this case). This is consistent with the movement from a one-way communication stream to a two-way dialog.
One of the key challenges facing NASCAR and its research efforts is the high degree of stakeholder involvement. There are numerous groups both internal (e.g. ticket sales and fan experience) and external, including the racing teams, individual drivers, team owners, commercial partners and non-profit causes that research needs to support. They began the process in 2008 by moving resources away from traditional research design toward an insight community, which allowed for more timely insight (though not quite as fast as a pit crew can change tires). According to Brian, their community now has a wait list to join and is focused on connecting with their core fan base. He indicated they use other means for speaking with casual fans and those new to the sport.
Keeping the community alive and fresh is a difficult task. NASCAR employs several tactics for keeping their community members connected. They do not employ incentives, but do allow these engaged fans to express their feelings. They give the inside perspective back to the audience with quarterly newsletters and timely communiqués, such as a congratulatory email when their favorite driver wins a race. Research team members have been known to pick up the phone and call fans after receiving a note from the panelist. The end result is a group of research respondents who are proud to be part of the official fan council.
The key takeaways are that researchers should work to integrate the fan (or insights) platform with the primary brand. Highlight member suggestions and show how they are being implemented. The research team has created a monthly spotlight on the primary brand website which shines the light on one of the fans.
Have these efforts worked?
NASCAR panelists consistently rate their panel experience in the 8.0 – 8.2 range (on a 10-point satisfaction scale), and they routinely provide response rates which exceed 50%.