Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Five things brands can learn from the fastest woman on the race track (spoiler: it is not driving a car really fast)

(Note: I have no affiliation with any of the brands or organizations mentioned in this post)

You may have heard of Danica Patrick. She is one of only a few female racing drivers, and the only one to have won an Indy Car race (she hates being called a “lady driver” as she stated in a recent Speed Network interview). She is now also the first woman ever to have clocked the pole position at the Daytona Speedway 500 race opener for the NASCAR season 2013.

That is no small feat, as all teams are launching into the NASCAR season with new cars, and in many cases, new car/driver combinations.

But that is not what this post is about… I want to talk about “Brand Danica” which seems to me to be very well managed, and even more so, extremely well communicated. Other brands can learn from this.

One of the biggest challenges that brands face is to find their authentic voice via the channels utilized for a brand. And it is here that Team Danica do a great job.

It all starts with a good website.

I hear you thinking that websites are a thing of the past, unnecessary in this day and age of social media with the potential of gaining a billion followers on Facebook. You are wrong. If people search on Google, which a lot of people do, then searching for “Danica Patrick” delivers 76.5 million results. And it is clear that SEO and SEM are managed well, as the top returns look like this:

As you can see, there is the website that shows up almost at the top of the results. It is pushed a little lower due to the trending topic of Danica on pole for the big race, but that is entirely appropriate.

The Danica Patrick website is the hub to all things Danica. I would say it is exactly what people looking for Danica want. 

There is the stuff you would expect, like the latest news, links to her sponsors, and information about upcoming races. And it also incorporates Danica's live Twitter feed.

Let’s take a moment and look at her Twitter feed. 

It is entirely authentic. It is Danica herself tweeting to her fans and friends about her extraordinary life and experiences, giving everybody access to her world. It is, as far as I can tell, not run by a PR agency or Celebrity Agent. It is her in her own authentic voice – and so it should be.

Back to the website: If we scroll further to the bottom we discover even more ways to connect with Danica:

At first glance you could ask if Danica and her digital team have fallen for the same trap that many advertisers fall for, and that is to be on “everything”. I remember that when I started at AB-InBev in 2009 I did so by reviewing what we were doing in Marketing Communications across our most important brands. I found several Twitter feeds.

When I asked why we had those, and what role they played in the marketing mix, the answer basically boiled down to “we do Twitter because it exists, and other brands do it so we thought we should do it, too.” Or: “our digital agency said we should.” And there they were with 219 followers, 27 tweets and no further ideas on what to say. Or to measure the impact of what they were doing for that matter.

Today, brands struggle in the same way to figure out how and why to be on Pinterest, Tumblr, Vine, Instagram, etc. Many utilize a new platform because it exists and seems to be the hot thing and they have convinced themselves or their agency has convinced them they should be there.

Danica’s use of social however appears to be genuine and authentic.

On Facebook (where she has 317,000 likes compared to close to 800,000 Twitter followers) she shares pretty much the same content as on her webpage. It is a relevant mix of TV and video appearances and other news updates. The content is managed by her team and it is pretty fresh and updated regularly.

On “the other social network” she does pretty much the same. Google Plus is important for search results and so the team keeps the information up-to-date there too.

And the same is true for Tumblr:

Danica is also on Pinterest, but the content here is more diverse and personal, showing links to things like places, music and books she (allegedly) likes. And it is more commercial, showcasing links not only to her sponsor activities but also to her merchandise with direct links to her webshop. As Pinterest is evolving more and more to a digital platform for window shopping this seems entirely relevant as content.

Finally, and most importantly, Pinterest provides the broadest link to celebrate her fans. This is very clever and totally appropriate because it drives likability and approach-ability. I am sure the image of the little boy (see below) connect her fans at a very high emotional level (and judging by the comments, it does).

Is it all good? No. 

If I have one point of criticism, it is for her YouTube channel. What we see here is a fairly limited amount of content which appears to be mostly driven by her sponsor GoDaddy. Not that there is anything wrong with that. But given the amount of content she must generate, especially since her pole qualifying session, the videos should be coming from everywhere. I see more video’s on Danica’s Website, Facebook page, Tumblr page and even G+. Why not on YouTube? Perhaps it is a rights issue… And where are the fan videos, no matter how amateurish, to create some further engagement and authenticity?

I hope you noticed the consistency in branding while Team Danica at the same time recognize the nature, function and tone of each of the platforms.

One other thing you may have noticed: all platforms link to all other platforms. This is not only smart to drive engagement but also to influence the all-important Google, Bing and Facebook search algorithms.

So what can you learn from all this? 
  1. Figure out the right mix of platforms for your brand. 
  2. You don’t need to be everywhere, but if you choose to be active (a) find your voice within that specific medium; and (b) keep it up-to-date and relevant. 
  3. Build your website as your hub. 
  4. Cross-post what is relevant while keeping the specific audience of the platform in mind (Pinterest is different from Facebook; Twitter is different from Tumblr). 
  5. SEO and SEM matter. In fact, it should be your first marketing investment before you allocate any budget anywhere else.
In the end, Danica Patrick is an incredibly fast racing driver. And clearly she and her team are equally fast brand communication practitioners.

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