You can’t swing a dead cat in the marketing world today without hitting the word “brand.”
Brand brand brand. It’s all about BUILDING THE BRAND. But what the heck is that? Well, it’s WAY more than just your name and logo (think Nike and the swoosh).
Advertising giant David Ogilvy described brand as: “the intangible sum of a product’s attributes.” Think of brand by asking yourself this question: “What comes into my mind when I hear a company’s name?”
With the aforementioned Nike, for me it’s top athletes, top performance and hip/cool athletic fashion. All I gotta see is the swoosh and all those good things come into my mind. As a smart-but-slightly-crazy boss of mine once said, branding is about creating “tribes” and making those tribes attractive enough that people want to be identified as in your tribe via owning your product, and then want to recruite others to your tribe because they think it is so cool/beneficial.
A fantastic example of the tribe thing: Apple. Forbes magazine estimates the Apple brand ALONE is worth $100 BILLION and ranked it as the most valuable brand in the world. Number 2: Microsoft. Number 3: Coke. Peruse the list and you’ll see the big dogs of brand equity.
The Apple brand isn’t super valuable because its products perform tasks with incredible ease and efficiency. That’s part of it, but just chat up a hard-core Mac Person and you’ll understand the value of the brand-as-tribe thing to create incredible loyalty and advocacy for the products that has them actively recruiting others to join the tribe. Just post "Mac or PC?" on your Facebook page and watch the Mac People go into a frenzy trying to convince you to join their tribe.
Companies spend billions to try and create the brand they want. Brand-building efforts impact everything from product design, packaging, marketing and customer service. It also takes years of patient work to build a brand. Apple, for example, didn’t just show up last week and say “here’s what our brand is about!” and have people become the Mac Shock Troops they are today. Steve Jobs maybe didn’t use the word “brand” a lot (or maybe he did), but doing the comprehensive list of things you need to do to build a brand was his genius. Apple has been building and maintain their brand better than anyone for decades and you see the big revenue result.
Given that long preamble, I was thinking about racing brands the other day, which led me to ask myself “what is IndyCar about right now?” In other words, what are IndyCar’s “brand attributes?”
So, without out much more than 5-minutes thought I came up with:
IndyCar: (in no particular order)
- Very different looking (exotic?) cars
- Indy 500
- Precision driving and pit stops
- Diver adaptability to widely different tracks
- Many very different venues (gorgeous facilities)
- Strategy which includes timing of pit stops and conservation of tires and fuel for use at critical times
- Cerebral, sophisticated, smart-guy/girl racing
- Polite, low interpersonal conflict among competitors
- Rules continuity
Because IndyCar is primarily a road and street racing circuit now -– especially when you treat the Indy 500 as separate brand that doesn’t transfer to the rest of the series and that virtually all of its drivers come from road-and-street backgrounds -– that’s the brand identity for IndyCar for me at this moment.
I put “Indy 500” in the series brand attribute list because when the majority of the public thinks of IndyCar it begins and ends with the 500. Even for those of us who realize there is a whole schedule beyond Indy, the 500 is so much huger than any other race it impacts the brand heavily. I don’t think the brand attributes of the Indy 500 itself transfer to the IndyCar series, however. Why? Because there’s a huge disconnect with many fans between Indy 500 and the rest of the season. Because Indy is so unique, it’s become a one-off in a lot of ways. Therefore, while Indy 500 is a household name, a lot of people are oblivious to the fact that IndyCar runs many other races in the year, and the races beside Indy are so different than Indy that the 500's brand equity doesn't transfer.
“Continuity” has to do with IndyCar having relatively few changes in rules on how races are conducted and what’s legal and not legal (blocking, contact, etc.). We may argue about the enforcement of said rules and if you dive into the anality you can find changes, but to the random fan the rules have been remarkably consistent. IndyCar hasn’t gone the way of the Lucky Dog, green-white-checkers, Chase for the Championship etc. Also, IndyCar drivers don’t seem to get in each other’s grills or even say a lot of bad stuff about each other, not publicly. It’s the Polite Racing League.
Is all that good or bad? Depends on what you want as a fan and who you want to attract as a customer. If IndyCar is looking to attract fans who appreciate those brand attributes, it’s perfect. So if you want your league to be “thinking man/woman’s racing” with very sporting competitors that relies on surgeon-like skill, concentration and control, and that doesn’t change rules willy-nilly, IndyCar seems spot on. If you’re trying to attract someone who loves bruit speed and the adrenalin rush of drivers facing danger and/or beating on each other on the track, it misses the mark.
So what about NASCAR’s brand attributes? I’d go with: (in no particular order):
- Recognizable cars
- Contact and (often spectacular) crashes, chaos
- Hell-yes Americana
- Less thinking and more doing
- Good Old Boys & Girls
- Unpredictability/willingness to change
The unpredictability part has to do with NASCAR’s fetish for changing the rules and doing strange stuff in the race, like (allegedly) phantom debris cautions to set up five-lap finishing sprints. Whether you think that’s good or bad (or even happens at all), I would (and did!) list it as a brand attributes.
The “hell-yes Americana” is primarily delivered by NASCAR’s fans who get a lot of air in NASCAR promos. Blue collar, work-hard-play-hard type stuff. Think Larry the Cable Guy. Endurance has to do with the duration of the races, which are long. There’s a big element of endurance involved in winning in NASCAR.
All of this is interesting for a marketer like me to consider. The zillion-dollar question is: will your brand attributes get you the revenue and growth you’re looking for? And if not, will trying to change your brand attributes chase off more current customers (fans) than it gains in new ones? People who make way more than me ponder these questions. Plus, changing a brand takes years of focused, disciplined effort, which I don’t think IndyCar is capable of. So it just maybe that IndyCar’s brand is what it is.
Brand note: every company has one, whether it was built intentionally or not. Customers form opinions about your reputation, etc. and that becomes your brand. Smart companies try to influence that brand in a positive way whether through simply being honest, treating customers well and having integrity through or more formalized, multi-pronged efforts. Dumb companies think brand is overrated, treat customers shitty, get the resulting reputation (brand) and deservedly (eventually) go out of business.
The good news for consumers (fans) is there is noticeable difference between IndyCar and NASCAR. There are some similarities, of course, but the brands offer very different attributes. There are even more brand-attribute choices if you throw in F1, Sprint Car racing, etc. Choice is fun-tastic for consumers. In fact, on some days IndyCar brand appeals to me, and on some others it's NASCAR's brand, HENCE my consumption of both. Once upon a time, my brand loyalty to IndyCar wouldn't let me consider watching NASCAR, but (alas) those days are gone.
Play along at home! Just stop and think about “IndyCar” and/or “NASCAR.” What immediately comes to your mind? Don’t over-think it. And don’t stop to think if those attributes are good or bad or what you WANT to immediately come to your mind. It’s kind of free association! A brand attribute can be anything. Fan tweet-ups, driver access, pretty green grass … anything. GO.
You can see the problem. Brand attributes are extremely subjective and can vary widely from individual to individual. That’s why companies pour billions of dollars and years of effort into doing things that encourage a core set that they want to make everyone’s list.
Before you can try to build your brand attributes you have to determine what you want them to be. So, has IndyCar done that? Hard to say. I don’t think they’ve done so intentionally, but who knows? Maybe we’re in year-two of a 10-year brand building plan. It’s possible. Again, it’s like a giant marketing lab experiment. Feel free to discuss.