Whether you're a NASCAR devotee or a casual fan, you're accustomed to seeing cars whizzing around the track at nearly 200 miles per hour. Even with the dizzying speed, it's easy to spot the brand logos and decals on each car (and on each driver's uniform), especially if you're watching at home on an HD television.
There are few brand relationships more personal than that of a sponsor and a NASCAR driver, and it takes an experienced and savvy marketer to establish those promotional arrangements. Tad Geschickter started out "selling soap" at consumer products giant Proctor and Gamble; in the '80s, the company decided to experiment with race-car sponsorship. Tad ran Southeast sales for them, and quickly became well versed in the business of racing.
Now he and his wife, Jodi, own JTG Daugherty Racing—the team that fields two Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series teams with drivers AJ Allmendinger and Chris Buescher. After years putting together brand activations and sponsorships, Tad created what he calls the "Brand Activation Maximizer," or "BAM," a software tool that connects brands, events, and retailers.
I invited Tad to Marketing Smarts to share the story of how he went from consumer products marketing to owning a NASCAR team, and how he refined his approach to brand partnerships and NASCAR sponsorships over the years.
Here are just a few highlights from our conversation:
All fans are not created equal: NASCAR fans exhibit more loyalty to team sponsors (05:00): "The interesting thing about NASCAR is, first of all, from a brand equity perspective, if you put a billboard in a football stadium for your favorite football team, the fans may or may not realize that you're helping pay the players and put the team on the field. NASCAR fans are very aware that these teams cannot run without sponsorship, so they really see it as their contribution to the sport; they love to support sponsors' products. There's just a tremendous amount of brand loyalty among the 80 million NASCAR fans out there.
"From a consumer packaged goods perspective, every time we come to town, we bring $120 million into the local economy. Most of the people camp out all weekend or at least tailgate, so they're going to go grocery-shopping. The retailers are really excited about bringing those extra footsteps into the store when all that extra money's in the economy. It's a pretty nice proposition to say, 'Let's put together a promotional plan to bring those fans into stores and display our sponsors' products on the shelf.'"
Drivers don't just need to win in the era of social media: they need to be nice (07:32): "The amazing thing is the things a sponsor asks you to do have changed so much over the years. We used to do a lot of sampling, hand-to-hand, store by store with show vehicles. Now our drivers can hit a button on social media and influence more people than we ever could in a whole year of show car appearances. The world keeps changing around us."
"You want a driver that's obviously going to be very competitive on the track, but when you put a brand logo on their chest and ask them to speak on behalf of the brand, they really become corporate spokespeople. So it's a pretty long process to pick a driver and get all the sponsors to agree that that's the personality type and the presence that they want out in the media with their consumer base. They're as important as a marketing tool as they are driving a race car. I tell my drivers, 'You better be really nice or really fast, and if you can be both, we'll make a lot of money.'"
You build your fan base one person at a time (10:08): "We have corporate partners that come out and share time with us at the racetrack every weekend. They're down in the garage and pit area and doing hospitality with us. They do meet-and-greets with the drivers. Many of our sponsors do sampling and events out in the midway amongst the fans where we do question and answer sessions and autograph sessions. I think you build your fan base one person at a time. If you can look someone in the eye and shake their hand and talk to them when they want to talk to you and take that picture... over time, you build a nice following."
Brand activations and event sponsorships can help local businesses to compete against online retailers (16:00) "[The Brand Activation Maximizer] is a combination of doing what I've been doing for 34 years in the consumer goods industry. As we talk to our retail customers, they're just getting attacked from all sides. Think about Amazon and Ship-to-Home, you think about these gourmet services like Plated or Blue Apron that now ship gourmet meals to your house, you think about European retailers...that are bringing private label offerings to the U.S. There's just more competition for that shopping basket than ever. I think the retailers realize they have to create that shopper affinity locally, and the Brand Activation Maximizer allows us to find those events, market by market, to actually do that for them....
"It's like a Google or a Match.com for brands, so if they have keywords in their brand message, they type those in and it looks among over four million events to choose from. They narrow down what kind of events would be most relevant to their target shopper. The final step is they can click on which retailer they're trying to create a promotional event for, and we have data in there on what the retailer interests are, so it keeps narrowing down that search until you find the three or four ideas that are exciting to everybody."
Event sponsorships provide a fast-track to the consideration stage of the buyer's journey (19:00): "That's one of the more fun things to do with sponsorship is to bring a new brand or a new product to market, where you have to create trial and awareness at the same time. I think events, whether it be NASCAR or street festivals or summer concert tours, are a great way to do that."
Tad and I talked about much more, including how the team handles NASCAR drivers' personal brands and their social media presence and how the race-day experience is evolving, so be sure to listen to the entire show, which you can do above, or download the mp3 and listen at your convenience. Of course, you can also subscribe to the Marketing Smarts podcast in iTunes or via RSS and never miss an episode!
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Music credit: Noam Weinstein.
Tad Geschickter, owner at JTG-Daugherty Racing, the team that fields the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series cars of AJ Allmendinger and Chris Buescher. Follow the team on Twitter: @NASCAR47. Learn more about Tad's Brand Activation Maximizer at ActivateBam.com.