While the following information isn't much of a secret or big strategic initiative, it sometimes seems like it is when you juxtapose it with what formula One is currently doing to promote itself.
The issue at hand is the lack of self promotion the sport does and this notion exists in the penumbra of a decades-old theory that the sport doesn't need promotion because it is big, massive and watched by almost everyone on the planet except Americans.
That's what I believe needs some serious reconsideration. Formula One has decided, against some folks better judgment, to come back to America. Not once per year but as of 2014, twice it will assault the shores of the United States of Consumerism.
Will it work? Maybe-maybe not. The problem, as we've discussed at painful length before, is Americans don't really know what to think about F1. That's your average American who watches football (with pads), baseball, basketball and several other "American" style sports. They don't see the appeal. Much like a fly doesn't quite understand the moth's fascination with the porch light.
The rabid F1 fans in America are often the sound of one hand clapping and it very well could remain that way unless F1 does something to change the perception in the States.
What should Formula One do? I'll go one better than just a few ideas on cornering the market in America. I'll argue these tactics should be done the world over because F1 will start to lose viewers eventually.
You can't shake a stick or read a bio on Twitter without being inundated with thousands of people calling themselves the Social Media "go-to" person or a Social Media Expert (what ever that means...I wasn't aware there were people who have already received their master's in Social Media and worked in the industry for 10 years already).
"Everyone with a laptop, mobile phone and Twitter account is a "social media expert" these days"
Let us call it what it is...a new medium for which people are rapidly adopting and trying out. First for personal edification and now for corporate strategy. In that mold, all the personal users now fancy themselves "experts" because they've lead a horse to water. Whatever...I'm not impressed.
No, what formula One needs to do is something very simple. Something it doesn't take one of these Social Media geniuses to do. Simply communicate, brand map and build a solid and consistent social media strategy based on these equations.
Where to start? Simple. Talk to your audience. Not sure who that is? Is it sponsors, teams, drivers, suppliers, creditors or those pesky fans who always seem to be getting in the way?
Fine. Create a strategy for each vertical. Not a big deal. I happen to think you that if you energize one, you will reap a knock-on effect so let's focus on fans because that's what I am passionate about.
F1 should start with the top 5 karting series in the world. Move to the feeder series like Formula Renault 3.5 or F2 and then to GP2 etc. They should start brand mapping the teams and drivers. Then create individual pages and Twitter accounts, as well as youTube, accounts for them. They then should work with the teams in Formula One to brand map their online strategy along with their sponsors and start working toward making the drivers human, the teams welcoming and open and the series tangible as well as engaging.
I liked the advertisement for Heikki where he was running with a horse on a frozen lake (don't ask) and that is the type of thing people like to see. Why does Mercedes do well with Schumacher and Rosberg ads? Because it is a fun side of them we don't get to see.
So Kimi isn't camera friendly or doesn't like to talk. Okay, have a driver branding site that caters to the things he does like (like wearing gorilla suits, eating choco-bars and falling off yachts) and make it special.
One thing I admire about SPEED's Will Buxton is his passion for GP2. He darned well should be. It's a great series with great racing and future drivers of F1 except no one knows anything about them...certainly not in the States. That is where Will is helping out. Trying his hardest to get Americans interested in the feeder series to F1. He's nice guy but only one bloke so he can't do it all himself.
It isn't an F1-only thing. The teams could be doing this as well as the sponsors and perhaps this is the issue...who will do it and who will pay for it. As long as people still show up to races and watch the series, F1 can't feel compelled to do this sort of marketing. They figure it is the driver and team's obligation but I say they're wrong.
"NASCAR [gets it] all the way to the bank"
If you want long-term staying power in the world of racing and you want America as well as the world to get excited and stay excited, you have to give fans access. You have to brand map your series and create a whole new platform of media outreach and fan interaction.
No team likes spending three hours answering stupid questions from hairy-legged farm boys from North Carolina with Dale Jr. Shirts on or dim-witted hipsters with a quick phrase from San Francisco. I understand that. No decent British gentleman working in the McLaren garage would relish spending the slightest portion of one minute entertaining a redneck from Alabama. I get it...but so does NASCAR. They get it all the way to the bank and have created a stranglehold on America's attention for racing for the better part of two decades by talking to Billy Ray for three hours.
That is something the big, bad juggernaut of Formula One can't say. It may have conquered the world without muttering the slightest peep about who they are or offering the barest of fan-friendly programs but that will change. Here's why.
Every single business I know is either tactically changing its business model from the old "core competencies" bullocks of the early 90's to something more aggressive, quick, agile, communicative and consumer-serving or they are dying.
Apple, Dell, Coke, McDonald's, IBM, US Bank, Nike, Ford, Pizza Hut and more. They are all changing but it is do or die time. The consumer model has changed radically and companies are struggling to keep up.
These companies are much bigger than Formula One. If they are having to change to keep their footing competitively, so too must Formula One. NASCAR already has. You know what they're doing? Everything I mentioned above. NASCAR CMO Steve Phelps is making a major press for social media and creating the stars of tomorrow and that is no joke. He gets it. He understands what it takes to keep your hand tightly gripped around the neck of America.
Indycar must change as well. ALMS seemed to be heading int he right direction and taking over the mantra of best racing series in America. What happened? Grand Am racing is now all the rage! Why? NASCAR owns the Grand Am series and I think that has something to do with the major impact ALMS took in the last 18 months.
"Professor NASCAR killed Mr. ALMS in the Library with the candlestick"
Formula One is not isolated. It will need to change or start to suffer a similar destiny. Mr. E may not think so but the teams already do and they're getting worried about it. The series have orphaned several fan-favorite circuits in favor of more money in Asia-Pac and those countries combined have as much racing passion and history as a three British people in a bar with a pint. They won't be paying for long if they can't get bums in seats.
The shame is that Formula One could own American hearts and minds if they would start tearing down the NASCAR-erected fence that labels them as European snobs. There may be snobs in Formula One but I find it comes form those working around F1 more than from within the series itself...at least that's how it reads.
Formula One has a huge opportunity in the next three years and it has to take advantage of that. It will have to change and embrace the new mediums and outlets for brand development and programs created to lure the fans in to the waiting arms of F1's live-bait trap. In the end, Formula One must understand that in America, they are going to have to teach people how to be F1 fans and stop assuming they know already. The last time they thought about being fans, they were rewarded with six cars circling the Indy 500 track in a circus of insulting bravado. Can you blame them?