You can learn a lot of important lessons about creating a successful content marketing strategy from the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR).
Yes, even content marketers in other fields can learn things from NASCAR, the privately-owned company that is best known for stock-car racing.
If you’re skeptical, then ask yourself, “What do I know about NASCAR that I didn’t ‘learn’ by watching movies like “Herbie: Fully Loaded” (2005) or “Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby” (2006)?”
Be honest, Hollywood stereotypes die hard.
So, here are five things that you need to know about NASCAR’s business challenges and marketing structure before I list the eight things you can learn from their content marketing strategy:
The term, “NASCAR dad,” was used during the U.S. presidential election in 2004 to describe a demographic group of roughly 45 million white southern males, who were generally middle-aged and usually working-class or lower-middle-class.
This group of men supposedly enjoyed watching NASCAR races to see car crashes. However, the deaths of stock car drivers Adam Petty, Kenny Irwin, and Tony Roper in 2000, and Dale Earnhardt in 2001 were a “wake-up” call for stock car racing fans.
In response, NASCAR made aggressive changes to its safety measures. How did the so-called NASCAR dads react?
Well, according to an article, “UI study finds fewer fans watching NASCAR for the crashes,” which was published in 2011:
“A study by a University of Iowa economist finds that many car race fans do, indeed, watch NASCAR races because they want to see car wrecks, but more of them have been tuning in to see who actually wins the race since the circuit adopted its Chase for the Cup championship series in 2004.”
Unified Content Group
According to a story by Sahil Patel, “NASCAR revamps its content group to meld edit and content marketing,” which was published in March 2018 by Digiday:
“As a sports league that both produces a ton of its own content and needs to market its brand to younger and newer fans, NASCAR exists as both a publisher and a marketer. It’s forced the league to restructure how it approaches its editorial and marketing content internally.”
“Last summer, NASCAR created a new 40-person content strategy group to oversee the league’s editorial and content marketing operations. Previously, NASCAR had separate teams dedicated to its website, social pages, video production, creative design, advertising partners and entertainment marketing efforts. These were individual business units, with their own, often overlapping goals, which created natural inefficiencies with how NASCAR created and distributed videos and other content across platforms.”
According to a story by Carla Johnson entitled, “How NASCAR Drives Better Storytelling With a Unified Team,” which was published in July 2018 by the Content Marketing Institute blog:
“Enterprise content marketing is an exercise in collaboration. Planning, creating, distributing, and promoting content typically involves people on more than one team. It also leads to overlapping or conflicting priorities that can slow everything down.”
“That’s the challenge Evan Parker faced when he set out last year to lead NASCAR’s new content team. The mission was daunting: to engage NASCAR’s fan base beyond the racetrack and win new fans among a generation that seems to watch any screen but television. But the results his team ultimately achieved – hundreds of millions of online views, a Facebook docu-series, a broader audience – earned him a nomination for Content Marketer of the Year.”
Marketing for a New Generation
According to a story by Jameson Fleming entitled, “NASCAR Hopes Marketing a New Generation of Drivers Can Lure Fans Back to the Sport,” which was published in February 2019 by Adweek:
“Nascar has suffered some of the largest declines across major American sports during the last two years. In 2016, Monster Energy Cup races averaged about 4.5 million viewers, but that number fell to 4.1 million viewers in 2017 and just 3.3 million viewers last year. All but a few individual races saw viewership declines, year over year. In addition to the dropping ratings, some individual tracks have had trouble filling seats. Notably, fan favorites like Charlotte, Daytona and Richmond have torn out tens of thousands of seats to avoid mostly empty grandstands.” He added, “Despite falling viewership and attendance numbers, Nascar’s top marketers tracked its brand health through a number of key markets from 2017 to 2018, which experienced a ‘big bump,’ according to NASCAR VP of brand marketing Pete Jung. Heading into the 2019 season, NASCAR plans to leverage its crop of young phenoms—who he called the greatest influx of new talent the sport may have ever seen—in its marketing, tap new technology and improve the in-person racing experience to boost fan interest in the sport.”
Increased TV Ratings
Finally, according to a story by Dave Caldwell entitled, “NASCAR Finally Gains Some Measurable TV Ratings Traction,” which was published in August 2019 by Forbes:
“With appreciable enthusiasm, NBC Sports reported Tuesday that 2.919 million watched Kevin Harvick win the NASCAR Cup race at Michigan on Sunday, a notable and impressive 14% increase over the 2.566 million that watched same race in 2018 — and the biggest audience for a Cup race on cable in nearly two years.”
“It is too early to declare that NASCAR has finally hit bottom, and NASCAR won’t ever be what it was. And not slamming up against pro golf helped. But a 14% bump is still a 14% bump.”
So, NASCAR’s content marketing strategy has helped to successfully turn around a struggling brand.
Now, that’s a story that content marketers in other fields can learn things from. Let’s examine eight of these important lessons.
1. Utilizing NASCAR’s Star Power
As I mentioned above, NASCAR optimizes its videos and metadata to feature the top-of-the-line talent they have available. Big stars often drive traffic through search and suggested videos.
NASCAR’s content marketing strategy is focused on:
- Knowing their audience: They understand which stars and races resonate most with their audience. How? By using tools like Google Trends to figure out what search terms to highlight in their metadata.
- Being true to their fans: While certain drivers may spike in search trends, NASCAR doesn’t feature them if they don’t appeal to their audience. Highlighting topics that aren’t interesting to their core fanbase (even if they are broadly popular) can lead their best viewers to unsubscribe.
For example, “NASCAR fans roar after Dale Earnhardt Jr. finishes fifth, honors father: Darlington Raceway,” is optimized for the search term, Dale Earnhardt Jr,” even though he finished in fifth place.
2. Using What Makes NASCAR Unique
NASCAR understands that its unique access to drivers or team owners can be a powerful tool. If you got it, flaunt it!
So, their content marketing strategy emphasizes:
- Showing something new: Most fans don’t get a chance to see what goes on behind the scenes. NASCAR has found success by bringing this previously unseen side of sports to their fans.
- Letting a star’s personality show through: NASCAR encourages its top stars to showcase their personalities in new and fun ways. This includes Austin Dillon, Jimmie Johnson, Daniel Suárez, Kyle Busch, and Ty Dillon, who have started their own YouTube channels to reach fans.
For example, watch “Chase Elliott offers inside look of motorcoach at Darlington: 10-Minute Tour.”
3. Programming for the Off-Season
This year’s NASCAR schedule started on February 10, 2019, and ended November 17, 2019. And next year’s NASCAR Cup Series schedule starts on February 9, 2020, and ends November 8, 2020.
But, even though drivers get an off-season break, NASCAR’s YouTube channel doesn’t.
NASCAR has found that keeping a consistent flow of 2,604 uploads a year – an average of 50 a week – month in and month out is critical to cultivating a lasting audience.
Here are some additional elements of their off-season programming strategy:
- Planning ahead: The off-season often means limited access to drivers and team owners. So, NASCAR makes sure to shoot what it needs before everyone heads for the beach.
- Reviving library videos: NASCAR thinks about ways they can rework what they already have. And they create compilation packages or highlights of memorable races will keep their feed active without requiring brand-new footage.
For example, “Chase Cabre ready for big things in 2020 | NASCAR Home Tracks,” talked about next year’s season right after this year’s season ended.
4. Being Quick
NASCAR knows that speed is key when their audience is looking for something specific, like the results of the latest race or a multi-car wreck. So, they upload clips of highly searched events as soon as possible to capture every potential view.
Here are some additional things that help make this content marketing strategy successful:
- Putting their workflow in place: As mentioned above, NASCAR has streamlined its upload process to turn clips around quickly. For example, they’ve created a preset metadata template and a library of great thumbnails can make the process even faster.
- Utilizing their social media channels: Once NASCAR uploads a new clip, they communicate that to fans on all the social channels they use, including Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
For example, “Bowyer and Newman go at it on pit road after All-Star Race,” was uploaded to YouTube on May 18, 2019, the same day that Clint Bowyer walked up to Ryan Newman’s car on pit road and started throwing punches after the two had a confrontation in the All-Star Race.
5. Powering up for Tent-Pole Events
NASCAR races dot the calendar from February to November. But, the most important “tent-pole” events are:
- The Daytona 500 in February.
- The GEICO 500 (fka Winston 500) in April.
- The Coca-Cola 600 in May.
- The Southern 500 on Labor Day.
NASCAR often builds a programming schedule that centers around the events people want to see.
For example, the Daytona 500 is regarded as the most important and prestigious race on the NASCAR calendar, carrying by far the largest purse. This year, the race was held on February 17, 2019.
But, according to Google Trends, both Google and YouTube search interest in “Daytona 500” started in mid-December of 2018. So, that’s when NASCAR uploaded “Dale Jr. to drive first-ever Daytona 500 Chevy pace truck.”
For this “tent-pole” event, NASCAR uploaded 30 videos with “Daytona 500” in their titles during the 10 weeks before the race was held.
NASCAR uploaded 5 videos on the day of the race and another 7 videos the day after the race. And NASCAR uploaded a video a day over the next four days during the week after the race.
Here are ways that content marketers in other fields can use this content marketing strategy:
- Checking out recent trends: Google Trends has Google search data from as far back as 2004 and YouTube search data from as far back as 2008. So, you can investigate events from previous years to see how much search traffic they drive each year in your field.
- Avoid waiting for the top of the wave: It may be tempting to wait until search traffic peaks to upload a tent-pole video, but by then the opportunity may be gone. So, upload as the search traffic starts to rise to optimize your video’s chance of being seen by a large audience.
6. Thinking Outside the Box
Funny, genuine, and unique clips work well with YouTube audiences. Fans often share clips that make them laugh or leave them astonished. The more strongly your audience feels about a clip, the more likely they are to share it.
For example, watch “Daytona’s biggest moments told with toy blocks.”
Here are some additional things that content marketers in other fields should do:
- Staying informed: Keeping up-to-date with the memes and popular videos that are dominating YouTube takes time. And what’s trending typically change frequently. But keeping a regular eye on what’s popular on YouTube can be fun and rewarding.
- Collaborating with established YouTube creators: Your target audience is already watching and engaging with video content created by popular YouTube influencers. So, identify the right influencers, find the right engagement tactics, and measure the performance of your programs. But, be original. YouTubers are naturally skeptical of traditional endorsements. So, think of a clever (and transparent) way to involve a creator with your brand. And be authentic. If the audience doesn’t believe the collaboration is authentic, then nobody wins.
7. Scoring Big by Building Community
Many video content creators have conversations with their fans to create a community.
NASCAR created the Official NASCAR Fan Council in 2008 to allow fans a way to communicate directly with the NASCAR organization, providing feedback on things that matter to them with the sport.
NASCAR also cultivates an invested fanbase by engaging with viewers on and off-screen.
For example, watch “Engine in the Brain: One fan’s incredible story.” It features Christian Sanchez, an amazing NASCAR – and Daniel Suarez – fan with autism.
Here are some additional things that content marketers in other fields should consider doing:
- Asking fans for their help: Solicit direct feedback from your audience to find out what they like and what they may not be as enthusiastic about. Asking specific questions often yields a large number of responses.
- Rewarding their engagement: Rewarding your best fans is easy. Whether you shout out their name or invite them to meet their favorite star, let your biggest supporters know they’re special. It’s a terrific way to keep them engaged with the community.
8. Convert Drop-By Viewers into Loyal Fans
Finally, you should optimize your channel for long-term viewership.
You should use general best practices like end screens, calls-to-action, and channel trailers to help convert viewers into subscribers. Why?
Because subscribers typically watch twice as much as non-subscribed viewers.
For example, the current trailer on the NASCAR channel is “Six minutes of ‘Seven-Time’: Watch Jimmie Johnson’s career unfold.”
Why feature this video to visitors who haven’t subscribed to the channel yet?
Because 7-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson has just announced that the 2020 season will be his last, so viewers won’t want to miss a single one of his races next year.
Here are two extra things that you incorporate into your content marketing strategy:
- Adding end screens: End screens are a powerful tool that allows you to promote up to four elements. They can point viewers to other videos, playlists, or channels on YouTube; ask viewers to subscribe to your channel; and promote your website or merchandise. You can add them to the last 5-20 seconds of a video and they appear on both desktop and mobile devices.
- Creating cards: Cards are preformatted notifications that appear on desktop and mobile devices which you can set up to promote your brand and other videos on your channel. You can choose from a variety of card types like merchandise, fundraising, video, and more.
So, how do we know that NASCAR’s content marketing strategy helped to successfully turn around a struggling brand?
Well, according to Tubular Labs data, NASCAR uploaded 2,185 videos to their YouTube channel from mid-November 2017 to mid-November 2018.
These videos got 28.6 million views and 472,000 engagements, for an engagement rate of 1.6%.
And NASCAR uploaded 2,604 videos to their YouTube channel from mid-November 2018 to mid-November 2019.
These videos got 28.7 million views and 540,000 engagements (comments, shares, and likes), for an engagement rate of 1.8%. That’s a slight increase in views, but a significant increase in engagements.
And, what’s strategically important is that 26.7% of this audience is 18-24 years old, 30.6% is 25-34, and 14.7% is 35-44. No, these are not your father’s NASCAR dads.
This is a new generation of stock car racing fans. And that’s why NASCAR’s content marketing strategy can teach us a lot of important lessons even if we are in other fields.