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Brand Creation in Formula E

October 14, 2014

Formula E burst into the spotlight recently with its inaugural race in Beijing, grabbing headlines around the world, at least partly due to the spectacular last lap crash between Nick Heidfeld and Nico Prost. I was privileged to be there in my broadcasting role for ITV and it felt like an important occasion, a significant event to be part of and an event worthy of its global coverage.416316203_370

In truth though, the headlines were already being made long before the race even got underway and that was the result of a very deliberate and orchestrated marketing and media strategy by the series promoters, Formula E Holdings (FEH).

In the year building up to the first event, FEH drip fed the media with news, announcements of drivers and teams, venues and its plans for the fan experience.
Many of those deals were done long before they were released into the public domain, but the carefully staggered updates kept the new sport in the pages of the motorsport press and consequently in the minds of those who read such material.

As we approached Beijing, naturally hype grew and taking full advantage of Formula One’s enforced mid-season shutdown, FEH upped their media presence at a time when the biggest players in the traditional market were quietly sunning themselves on beaches, with F1 at the very back of their minds.
A new global marketing campaign was launched, entitled “Drive to the Future” and centred around a brand new television commercial; driver announcements and international broadcasting announcements; each accompanied by a host of ‘appearances’ and well placed social media interactions. News and footage of a full Formula E race simulation, including race start, appeared and one last official test day, open and free to the public, took place with an impressive and inquisitive attendance.

Formula E played a good game off track and despite not having turned a competitive wheel on it, built an ever growing wave of intrigue around the new championship.
By the time we headed out to China for Round One, it was almost impossible, whether a motorsport fan or otherwise, not to have at least heard of Formula E.

Alejandro Agag, CEO of series promotor FEH, spent a relentless few weeks on the campaign trail, a world he has experience of from a past life as a European MP. He appeared on news shows, technology shows, children’s shows, environmental shows and at business conferences, speaking enthusiastically and insightfully about his own show and some of the driving forces behind it.qa_alejandro_agag.jpg
He built a purposeful picture of interactive entertainment that would have kids enthralled; new age technology, with the promise of watching it morph before our very eyes into something life changing for us all; close, exciting racing in iconic and glamorous locations and all underpinned by an ambitious mission to save the planet. Who wouldn’t buy into that?

Formula E has a unique platform on which to sell itself. Credentials come from the motorsport world, already hugely familiar with global marketing, but specifically now the disruptive technology and sustainability elements to the project are opening a number of very interesting doors into new markets.qualcomm_fe_ad_unit
The variety of the company’s targeted approach to different media fields shows the spectrum of intended appeal of Formula E and the equally varied spectrum of channels in which to promote it.dhl_gbc_300x250_option2_dhlonly

From a business and marketing sense, a new audience means a entirely new world of opportunities and as promoters, FEH have done a pretty good job here, attracting relevant partners and sizeable investment.
What’s disappointed me and perhaps surprised me most, is that almost all the teams, bar one, maybe two, missed the chance to steal the moment, to build on the propitious foundations laid by the organisers and differentiate themselves from the field.

Most Formula E outfits are being run by existing race teams, of varying success in other disciplines. They’re used to competing in established championships like GP2, GP3 and Formula 3 etc, where drivers pay the bills and as such don’t have much, if any, bias towards a marketing strategy.

What the new formula offers everyone involved is a level playing field.Formula-E-cars-being-unwrapped-copyright-Robert-Llewellyn A blank canvass on which to draw up a set of plans. There’s a huge opportunity to establish a brand, create a new identity and forge strategic B2B partnerships enabling vested parties to grow into something instantly recognisable. All on a platform fixed upon by the world’s eyes, yet still too infant-like to have divided itself up into the major players and the also-rans.

The teams will all say they had too much on their plates in just being ready on a practical level for the first race, but surely it simply boils down to a matter of priorities?
If you’re the team that ends up as champions, then there’s your ticket, there’s a big part of your marketing plan written for you out on track. But only one team can capitalise on that and it’s a risky strategy that has to wait for race results before being put into action. If everyone takes that approach with prospective sponsors, nine out of the ten teams in Formula E will fail to deliver on their promises of success and likely fail to secure much investment in their futures.rsz_sir_richard_branson_centre_reveals_the_driver_line-up_for_the_virgin_racing_formula_e_team_with_jaime_alguersuari_left_and_sam_bird_right_3

The more shrewd tactic is to take advantage of the level playing field before the ‘on track’ winners are created.
With FEH having created such intrigue and excitement, on so many different channels, the chance for teams to create partnerships that would benefit them in a number of ways is huge.
Whilst none of the teams could target investors claiming to be the most successful Formula E team on the grid, or site their winning car as the premium advertising space ahead of Beijing, there are a number of other ways to successfully sell themselves.

In a field of ten new teams; close to identical in size and structure; in a new championship; with a new audience demographic on a global scale; the race to be number one, should’ve started long before cars hit the streets.
Formula E offers exposure in the traditional sense of large numbers of television consumers across many territories, it offers advertising opportunities to brands on the sides of race cars, drivers overalls, trackside billboards and everything that comes along with that. But with this project comes a new level of exposure on top of the traditional, an exposure that could be far more relevant and beneficial to the modern business world if utilised well.

FE teams have much more control at the moment over the amounts and type of content they release through their own digital channels, with fewer restrictions on audio and video based media and an embracement of platforms like Vine and Instagram. Social media isn’t just a bolt-on for Formula E, it’s an integral part of the strategy, something that the series has been built around and intends to thrive upon.

AmlinAguri-Wallpaper1-1600x900When almost every other motorsport discipline was created, social media didn’t even exist, so they’re having to try and integrate it into an already established model, something that some are finding easier than others.

Like it or not we now live in a social media generation. Formula E’s younger audience have grown up with it, businesses, both large and small, are finding invaluable ways to make it work for them and it’s something that, together with mobile technologies, gives direct access to the palms of consumers hands.

Establish yourself as the most visible; the most active and interactive; the most customer centric Formula E team straight out of the box and you’re instantly the most recognisable brand emerging from an otherwise confusingly bland array of competitors. A brand that those looking for direction in who to follow on this exciting new journey, will feel naturally connected to and supportive of. A brand that wrestles market share away from the rest without even turning a wheel and there are clearly a variety of ways in which to monetise and capitalise if you’re the market leaders. It’s a strategy that’s self perpetuating in its success, yet one that costs little more than a creative mind to initiate.

Sell that prospect, that ‘opportunity’ to a big and deliberately targeted ‘title sponsor’ and tap into their infrastructure, their expertise in marketing, their relevant technologies and their own network of consumers to benefit them and the team alike.
Form a partnership that can benefit both parties, allow the team to focus more on the racing and let the creative marketing experts do what they do best. Share and transfer knowledge in both directions and use the numerous channels Formula E offers, to shout from the rooftops about the excitement of the racing; the personalities and profiles of the drivers; the cutting edge technology and how its development will benefit us all in our road cars. Capitalise on the environmental benefits and the health benefits in city centres, there can’t be too many companies today that wouldn’t love to have that string to their bow.

Most of all, be creative, be inventive, do something that no-one’s done before and offer consumers a new experience. Make them feel part of the team and make your team stand out in the crowd. Use social media to create and share the type of content that Formula One isn’t able to offer because of its restrictive model.
Build a loyal fan base.

fanboost_newsWhatever people think of FanBoost in Formula E, the idea that fans vote for their favourite drivers online, giving the most popular three a short power boost in the race, it’s a opportunity for teams to gain a performance advantage for free and, according to Agag, it’s here to stay.
F1 teams spend millions looking for ways to shave off a tenth of a second a lap with their cars, yet FE teams have the chance of a significant speed differentiator and all they have to do to get it is campaign in whatever ingenious ways they can dream up for public support.
It’s surprising then, that very few have have taken up this new challenge to any significant degree.

Some teams were naturally more successful than others on track in Beijing, but it’s just as interesting to me how the correlation between Round One results, column inches and social media interactions don’t necessarily follow suit.

If we assume most teams are looking to be in this for the medium to long term, modern tradition would suggest success in the business sense, off track, is more likely to help secure success on it in the end and that looks like never being more true a sentiment than right now in Formula E.

Marc Priestley
@f1elvis

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