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How to Win Virtual Assistant Rejecters Over

Posted by Chris Neal

Wed, Jun 20, 2018

It seems like every week, tech giants are adding new features to their virtual assistant (VA) tech arsenal. See Google’s new Duplex technology—an AI system for accomplishing real-world tasks by phone. 

While companies are pouring millions into making their virtual assistants smarter and more integrated, most users don’t stray beyond its basic functions like asking for the weather.

Learn about the emotional and social identity dimensions keeping people from adopting and using this tech to its full potential, and what brands need to do to win the VA war.

CMB01_VA_Infographic_07_AW

Topics: technology research, Consumer Pulse, emotional measurement, AffinID, Artificial Intelligence

CMB Again Recognized Among Top U.S. Research Firms for 2018

Posted by Savannah House

Tue, Jun 12, 2018

 

Gold Top 50

We were recently named to the 2018 American Marketing Association's "Gold Top 50 Report" for the 6th consecutive year. The report lists the top revenue-generating market research organizations operating in the United States, and is the industry's benchmark for market research organizations nationwide.

"In a rapidly changing environment, CMB's continued growth is a testament to our vision and commitment to client success," said CMB's CEO Jim Garrity. "I'm proud of our incredibly talented team and honored to be recognized as one of the top market research organizations in the country", he added.

To celebrate our team's success and say "thank you" for their hard work and dedication, we took time to toast to our sixth year on the Gold Top 50 list.

AMA Gold Toast

CMBers Julia Walker, Laura Blazej, Caitlin Dailey, and Reed Guerino at yesterday's Gold Top 50 toast celebration.

CMBers at Gold Toast

And the celebration wouldn't be complete without golden cupcakes!

Gold Toast-cupcakes

A big THANK YOU to everyone who contributed to this year's success. We're fortunate to have such talented and driven team members, and couldn't have made the AMA Gold Top 50 list without you! 

Savannah House is the Marketing Manager at CMB who is looking forward to having a leftover cupcake for lunch today.

Topics: news and announcements

Why CrossFit Athletes Become Brand Promoters

Posted by Molly Sands, PhD

Wed, May 30, 2018

kettle ball

Earlier this year, 500,000 of my closest CrossFit friends and I came together for the Reebok CrossFit Open—the world’s largest organized sporting event. For five weeks, athletes would eagerly await that week's assignment, then head to the gym (for what I can only describe as some serious pain and suffering) to complete the workout under the supervision of a certified CrossFit judge. 

That type of commitment shows true customer dedication.

CrossFitters like myself have earned the reputation for being diligent promotors – a term used in market research to describe people that are very likely to recommend a brand to others. I often hear jokes like, "The first rule of CrossFit is to never shut up about CrossFit" (and it is). While I know not everyone wants to hear about my max back squat or the latest paleo craze, as a market researcher, I am in awe of how CrossFit has built and maintained its strong brand loyalty.

Here at CMB, we look at three key benefits that drive this type of brand loyalty. I may be biased, but The Open is a clear indicator that CrossFit has successfully capitalized on each of these benefits:

Functional benefits. Does this product deliver the desired result?

I’m not waking up at 5 a.m. to trudge to the gym in the snow to do handstand push-ups unless I see some dramatic improvements in my fitness. Not only can CrossFit be extremely effective for building strength and improving physical fitness, the program also concretely measures your progress to underscore these functional benefits. Athletes are encouraged to keep diligent records of their workouts so you can clearly see improvements over time.

Emotional benefits. How does this product make me feel? Does it fulfill my emotional goals?

There's a known link between physical health and emotional well-being, so it's not surprising a fitness-focused lifestyle would also deliver emotional benefits. However, CrossFit provides a range of emotional benefits beyond just an increase in general well-being, including increased self-efficacy, pride, and emotional strength. Additionally, positive emotions are associated with the sense of community the boxes (translation: box = gym) strive to create. All these result in an “upward spiral” of health and happiness that drives brand love.

Social Benefits. Are the other users of this brand like me? Are they people I want to be like?

When we choose a brand, we consider what the typical brand customer is like. Do we have anything in common with this person? Are we part of the same “tribe”? Are they someone we’d like to be friends with? CrossFit creates a tight-knit community of people who identify with and relate to each other. We regularly do team-based competitions and partner WODs (workout of the day) that help develop strong relationships with other members of the box (remember, that means gym). Everyone completes the workout together, and as we know from social psychology, mirroring physical movements can actually cause people to identify more strongly with each other.

And as you can see even from a few short paragraphs about CrossFit, we even speak our own language (e.g., box, WOD, AMRAP, EMOM, MetCon, etc…) All this helps to create a “tribe” that members identify with. Not only do lots of people love the brand, they also become ambassadors (promoters) that encourage others to use the brand, too!

Overall, CrossFit builds brand loyalty by inspiring measurable progress towards attainable goals, creating an “upward spiral” of health and happiness, and developing a strong sense of belonging to a community.

This is a valuable lesson for any brand looking to build a faithful following. While the desired functional, emotional and social benefits may vary by brand and industry, the importance of highlighting each benefit does not. Brands can utilize these underlying principles—and maybe even some of these exact strategies—(tall, venti, grande sound familiar?) to build brand loyalty in a base of dedicated consumers.

__

Watch our short 20-minute webinar to learn more about the three benefits that drive customer loyalty:

Watch Now

Molly Sands is on the Advanced Analytics team at CMB. When she’s not building predictive models, you can usually find her at a local CrossFit box or at least recommending it to somebody.

Topics: emotional measurement, customer experience and loyalty, Identity, BrandFx

Why We Still Use Facebook Despite Privacy Concerns

Posted by Kate Zilla-Ba

Wed, May 23, 2018

facebook (cropped)

The kids are on Insta and Snapchat, and even as those are a bit dated at this point, the question for Facebook seems to be how to stay relevant. But recent revelations about how Facebook had been using customer data have led to less of a backlash than might be expected. Why?

Complacency.

We humans tend to normalize things. What was scandalous the first time it came around, is less so over time, until we just expect it.

Why are we so complacent about Facebook? Well, for starters, we live on it. How many posts are things the poster could google, but instead, feels the need to ask the town group—when is the next trash pickup, or how do they get rid of the dead squirrel in front of their house, or… the list goes on. Facebook has become part of nearly 1.5 billion peoples’ daily lives around the world, suggesting most people have become okay (complacent) about how social media might be collecting, sharing and using our information.

And this shouldn’t be that surprising. Back in 2010 (and likely earlier) Mark Zuckerberg was clear that he felt privacy was no longer a social norm, saying, “People have gotten really comfortable not only sharing more information and different kinds, but more openly and with more people.”

We’ve come to expect less and less privacy, which is directly associated with the continued growth of Facebook usage—despite what happened with Cambridge Analytica.

We still care about privacy. Just not as much. Maybe if what happened with Cambridge Analytica felt individually targeted and less of a mass invasion of privacy, we’d care more. But it happened to a lot us, so what’s a user to do? Keep posting and sharing seems to be the net answer. Probably even in the EU, where strong consumer concerns about privacy has the EU setting standards for the world with GDPR.

Understanding consumers' psychology, such as Facebook users, is core to market research. What are they seeking to achieve? How do they express that in attitudes and actions? What barriers exist and what catalysts motivate them?

In addition to the normalization of information-sharing, users continue to use Facebook because of the functional, emotional, and identity benefits the brand provides. Facebook is a space where users can feel connected to other people (social identity), can find and share content that animates them (emotion) and is a convenient tool for things like selling your couch or getting recommendations for a reliable plumber (functional). Facebook has done an incredible job providing the right balance of these three benefits, which we know are key drivers of customer loyalty and advocacy.

Knowing all we know, we still use Facebook. We’ve normalized making public details about our lives we would’ve considered “private” 10 years ago—and that doesn’t look like it’s going to change anytime soon. For most of us, the benefits Facebook provides outweigh privacy concerns.

Will you share this when I post it? Like it? Love it? (No sad faces please!)

Kate is a FB user who loves to keep up with old friends and family but rarely posts. Her research background helps keep her eyes wide open (or so she thinks), to the privacy she has given away.

Topics: big data, consumer insights, social media, consumer psychology, data privacy

Consumer-Driven Ideas from Leaders at Keds, NYU, and Alibaba

Posted by Julie Kurd

Thu, May 17, 2018

Yale header-2A few hundred of us attended the annual #YaleInsights18 conference to listen to leaders at companies and universities including L’Oreal, Warby Parker, Keds, Alibaba, Yale and NYU Stern. Three of the sessions are recapped below. 

Are you seeding the clouds for earned impressions?  Keds CMO Emily Culp talks about the shift from the 2-minute “long form” ad to a more integrated digital strategy that incorporates quick five second video GIFs. This strategy pulls together media impressions from a mix of sources like celebrities (1M+ followers), regional influencers (500k-1M followers) and micro-influencers (1-100k followers). Keds understands that a celebrity can get 150,000 likes on a picture of them wearing Keds vs. the Keds website that can’t get the same brand heat and wholesale interest. Keds is seeding with bloggers and consumers with the goal of getting their shoes in the hands of influential people who will be loyal brand ambassadors. These shoe-wearers in turn create user generated content. Keds then builds on this digital native-first strategy by leveraging their website, social media, PR/seeding, emails, and their sell in/sell through data.

Are you using AI to personalize promotional offers? NYU Stern School Professor Anindya Ghose explained that mobile devices provide atomic levels of behavioral data because they are owned and used by a single person. Specifically, companies can “know” the device’s location with 91% accuracy and within three feet. He says that in addition to location, as researchers, we need to layer in time, context, crowdedness (how crowded the location is), weather, trajectory, social dynamics, saliency and tech mix to really optimize the “in the moment” promotional offers. For example, if I’m walking to the train station during my morning commute, I might be enticed by an offer at a coffee shop I never frequent.  In the evening when I return, I might be more likely to divert my habitual path for a different promotion, but not likely for a coffee. So, depending on the time of day, the offers that need to pop are different.  In fact, commuters are ALWAYS more likely to redeem an offer than non-commuters. 

Can you see the human in your consumer data or are they just IP Addresses?  Alibaba’s Lee McCabe talked about the future of commerce in a connected world. At Alibaba, they’re focusing on context, convergence and contact. Alibaba is fully vertically integrated so they can take data and consumer insight to a whole different level of identifiable, analyzable and reachable. They have real person identity, full dimension analysis (all the sites and businesses they own have a single sign on so they can see across browsing, social, media, purchase, pay, logistics, entertainment, travel) and measure all around touchpoints for the consumer. On 11/11, Singles’ Day, (think of Singles’ Day as Black Friday on a global scale), Alibaba sold 100 Maserati’s in 18 seconds and 350 Alfa Romeo cars in 33 seconds. In fact, 140,000 brands participated in Singles’ Day across 225 countries/territories, and consumers placed 812M orders that generated $25B in sales that one day.   

How are we all using multi-method and multi-source to grow our brands?  These are a few of the ways.

Yale often posts conference content to its YouTube channel to broaden its reach, and we will append this blog post if/when that channel appears.

Topics: consumer insights, conference recap, integrated data, Artificial Intelligence

5 Questions with Qualitative Moderator Eileen Sullivan

Posted by Savannah House

Wed, May 16, 2018

Meet Eileen_new_cropped

I recently sat down with Eileen Sullivan, CMB's newest Qualitative Moderator, to learn more about her experience, perspective on storytelling, and what she's most excited about in the world of qual.

SH: Tell me a little bit about your experience, what drew you to qualitative research?

ES: It wasn’t until my junior year of undergrad, when I studied abroad in Vietnam, that I discovered anthropology. The study of culture–and all the implicit and explicit ways it shapes human experience–was a perspective that immediately resonated with me. After school, I worked for some years as a buyer in the retail space, but ultimately returned to pursue my MA in medical anthropology, researching health outcomes associated with marketing “beauty” to women. A career in consumer insights became a natural extension of those interests. I feel quite lucky to spend my time digging into this dynamic space where psychology and culture meet to shape the way we live, how we think, and what we buy. Before I came to CMB, I was with LRW and later Basis LA, working with clients such as Chase, Estée Lauder, Facebook, Hulu, LEGO, and Whirlpool, among others.

SH: What qual tools and methods are you excited about right now?

ES: While qualitative has always been iterative to a degree–the ability to throw out a guide or revamp stimuli on the fly–we’re now making great strides to scope research that is agile from the outset. It’s exciting to execute studies that put consumer feedback at the center of research design–first identifying the problem and its root cause, and then hypothesizing solutions. Within this framework, there are some great digital tools that enable researchers to look over a consumer’s shoulder, fascinating AI tools that offer the potential for scalable qual, and innovative forms of “traditional” qualitative as well, like agile co-creation and ideation sessions. There’s been a lot of focus in our industry on “breaking down the glass” – putting clients face-to-face with their consumers. It’s critical for not only engaging our research clients, but their internal stakeholders as well. The reality is that great research is useless if no one uses it, but I think an agile research framework makes the process more inclusive and collaborative, and ultimately delivers greater benefit to both client and consumer.

SH: From your perspective, what makes a successful moderator?

ES: Moderators have different styles and traits that make them great, but for me, the two most important characteristics are a willingness and openness to connect, and an unquenchable thirst to know. “Respondents” are more than the sum of their responses–they are people, having good days and bad, but still showing up to give their time and thoughts. It’s very important to me to hold some space, to recognize and appreciate each participant before we even get in front of the glass. And as for curiosity, well, you stop living when you stop learning. Striving for deeper understanding, and asking questions – to me, that’s what it’s all about!

SH: How critical is storytelling?

ES: Humans are “storytelling animals.” Narrative shapes how we perceive and make sense of our world: from our macro worldview, to the personal brand stories we share, to the little stories we tell ourselves. As a moderator, it’s important to dig into participants’ stories – to unpack them and sometimes question them because insights don’t always neatly come through in answers to questions. If you think of all the ways communication extends beyond language (i.e., emphasis, volume, body language, pause), you realize the “story” is usually much broader than just what’s said. And storytelling is every bit as critical on the backend. For research to have meaning within an organization, it must find an audience – and that audience must care. Has anyone ever cared about a book or a movie, when the story just wasn’t that good? I think that’s an important responsibility that we researchers have – to bring our findings to life, to transform our participants’ needs and wants, pain points and delights, from data points to narratives. We must deliver insights that captivate our clients’ audience, with actionable recommendations to drive impact for their business.

SH: What resources help you stay connected to the latest industry thinking?

Information and inspiration can come from a lot of different sources. For instance, a friend turned me onto design thinking. I just finished Change by Design, and Sprint is next up on the recommended reading list she shared. I’m always tracking what’s going on in my professional network, and try to stay abreast of Quirk’s periodicals as well as Greenbook’s announcements/blog. WIRe and QRCA also sponsor some great events.

Topics: our people, qualitative research, storytelling, agile research

Emotions Run High with Virtual Assistants

Posted by Chris Neal

Wed, May 09, 2018

woman with VA

The pace of innovation and disruption is accelerating. Just 10 years ago Uber and Airbnb didn’t exist and the iPhone was still a novelty shown off at parties by overenthusiastic tech lovers. Now, we have a hair salon receptionist convinced she's speaking to a real person when in fact it was Google Assistant that was scheduling an appointment. While it might be hard for many of us to remember the last time we took a cab or used a flip phone, change is hardly straightforward and tech adoption raises critically important questions for brands.

Why do some people resist change while others embrace it? What emotions trigger true acceptance of a new technology and a new way of doing things?  What is that “a-ha” moment that gets someone hooked on a new habit that will be enduring? 

To help understand consumers’ journey with evolving technology, we applied our BrandFx framework to the broad virtual assistant category—measuring the functional, social identity, and emotional benefits that people seek from Siri, Alexa, Google Assistant, Cortana, etc. I shared our findings from the identity aspect here.

And while each of these three benefit types play a role in adoption and use—the role of emotion is profound.

We asked a lot of people about how they use virtual assistants—from information seeking to listening to music to planning and booking a trip. Then we ran analytics on the overall emotional activation, valence, and specific emotions that were activated during these different use cases. 

Our findings have broad implications for anyone in the virtual assistant category creating marketing campaigns to drive adoption, or product UX teams looking to design customer experiences that will deepen engagement.

Currently, virtual assistants are primarily used as information-seeking tools, basically like hands-free web queries. (See Exhibit 1):TOP VA USES CASES

Even though virtual assistants are evolving to do some pretty amazing things as voice-based developer communities mature, most people are only scratching the surface with the basic Q&A function. Asking Siri or Alexa for the weather forecast is a fine experience when they’re cooperating, but it can be extremely frustrating when you don’t get the right answer—like getting the current temperature in Cupertino when you live in Boston.

Meanwhile, watching TV or shopping through your virtual assistant turns out to be a much more emotionally rewarding experience, based on the analytics we ran. The problem for the industry as a whole is that these more emotionally rewarding use cases are among the least used VA functionalities today. Teams that market these experiences must motivate more consumers to try the more emotionally rewarding VA use cases that will deepen engagement and help form a lasting habit (see Exhibit 2):

Use, emotional activation, and emotions activated by use case v2

Listening to music and watching TV/movies yields high emotional activation in general—specifically “delight.” Our driver modeling shows that feeling “delighted” is one of the top predictors of future usage intent for a virtual assistant product (see Exhibit 3):

emotions that drive VA usage-2

As Exhibit 2 above indicates, using virtual assistants for scheduling and calendaring has overall moderate emotional activation, but is particularly good at activating feelings of efficiency and productivitythe single strongest predictor of use in this category.

emotions that drive VA usage-1

 

Tellingly, however, the scheduling and calendaring function also over-indexes on feelings of frustration because this task can be more complex—currently AI and natural-language processing (NLP) technologies are more apt to get these kinds of requests wrong. 

In general, “frustration” indexes high on more complex use cases (e.g., arranging travel, coordinating schedules, information seeking). This is a warning to the tech industry not to get too caught up in the hype cycle of releasing half-baked code quickly to drum up excitement among consumers. It also helps explain why younger demographics in our analysis actually experienced more frustration with VAs than older cohorts (contrary to my initial hypotheses). 

Younger consumers are attempting to do more complex tasks with virtual assistants, and therefore bumping up against the current limits of NLP and AI more frequently. This is dangerous, because they are the key “early adopter” segments that must embrace the expanding capabilities of virtual assistants in order for the category to become pervasive among mainstream consumers.

Consumers will quickly abandon a new way of doing things if they get frustrated. Understanding and activating the right positive emotions and minimizing the negative ones will be critical as brands continue to vie for the top virtual assistant spot.

Interested in learning more about the emotional dimensions of Virtual Assistant users? Reach out to Chris Neal, CMB's VP of Technology & Telecom.

Topics: technology research, growth and innovation, AffinID, Artificial Intelligence, BrandFx

Agile Innovation Begins and Ends with the Customer

Posted by Kathy Ofsthun

Tue, May 01, 2018

collaborating-2

It’s a daunting reality for today’s executives: consumers can provide feedback with the tap of a finger. Just ask United Airlines about the havoc social media can wreak. On the flip side, this empowerment is also a tremendous opportunity for innovators.

I believe we’re lucky to be innovating at a time when it’s so easy for customers to give us their ideas and feedback. Collaborating with customers at the front end of innovation is critical to building truly customer-centric products and services, making the most of your innovation dollars, and mitigating the risk of a public backlash or loss of brand trust and equity.

What starts at the front end can move through an agile process of ideation and development, one that integrates the customer through roll-out, communications, measurement and optimization.

At CMB, we help clients innovate through a Design Thinking framework—including the customer in all phases: Empathize/Define/Ideate/Prototype/Test. As Jeff Immelt, former Chairman and CEO of General Electric, urged the crowd of engineers and designers at last week’s Front End of Innovation Conference (FEI), it’s critical to “accelerate customers through the business model”.

As CMB’s VP of Strategy + Innovation, it was gratifying to hear that at FEI, “customer” wasn’t just a buzzword. In fact, there was an entire track devoted to “Customer Driven Innovation.”  In another keynote address, Dr. Peter Koen of the Stevens Institute of Technology, lectured on the incremental innovation that often comes from internal-only ideation—disruptive innovation comes from users, not corporations.” Consistent with that, manufacturing giant 3M has found its user-generated products are eight times more profitable than products generated internally.

Here’s how we incorporate Agile and Design Thinking to include customers at every phase:

  • Empathize: As you obsess your target, research and share all you know about them.
  • Define: A clear understanding of your target and their needs will help to inform a clear definition of the problem that needs solving. It answers, “What are the ‘jobs to be done’?” At least three presentations at FEI quoted Albert Einstein: If I had an hour to solve a problem, I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes thinking about solutions.”
  • Ideate: You might not find inspiration inside the halls of your office. Instead, we take you and your customers into a creative space for an engaging and collaborative workshop that utilizes System I and System II thinking. We diverge and converge to elicit dozens of new ideas, then narrow the list and envision the path forward.
  • Prototype: This begins during the ideation workshops. We use an illustrator at your workshop who can visually record the day’s conversation and progress—sketching the ideas that teams have brainstormed.
  • Test: Test qualitatively as you build out ideas with customers. Then, test quantitatively as you move towards commercialization.

Some organizations are more open to the principles of Design Thinking than others. So how can you prepare your organization for this? Encourage an environment grounded in collaboration, where failure is expected (not just accepted) and humility is rewarded. Design Thinking is more than a process—it’s a mindset.

Contact us to learn how to tackle innovation with your customers.

Kathy Ofsthun is the VP of Qualitative Strategy + Innovation for CMB. Her favorite vacation destination is Cambodia and her favorite class is Philosophy.

 

Topics: qualitative research, growth and innovation, agile research

What Amazon Can Teach Us About Delivering on Customer Loyalty

Posted by Ashley Harrington

Wed, Apr 25, 2018

 

amazon packages (resized)

I live in a historic Boston neighborhood rich in restaurants and charm, but poor in parking. If you have a car, you have two choices: spend a fortune on a dedicated monthly parking spot or drive in circles until you find free street parking.  I don’t like to waste money or time, so I don’t own a car.

I don’t own a car, but I do have two kids. So, I need stuff and I need it all the time. Enter, Amazon.

I use Amazon on all my devices and have multiple apps. I use it for both planned purchases and impulse buys. I Subscribe and Save for everything from baby wipes to granola bars. I order groceries from Amazon Fresh. I try on clothes with Amazon Wardrobe. I buy e-books. I watch movies and TV shows on Prime. I use Now to get emergency toddler bribes delivered in an hour.

On top of all that, I pay Amazon for the privilege of buying things with them with an annual Prime membership. If that’s not the ultimate sign of customer loyalty, I don’t know what is.

If I was responding to an Amazon loyalty study, I would certainly make it into the “Super User” group, checking all the boxes for how we might define loyalty: frequency of purchases, cross shopping, willingness to try new categories, likelihood to recommend, etc. 

My “Super User” status didn’t happen all at once—it was gradual thanks to the “Amazon Effect.” Over time, Amazon plucked one more category of our household expenses from another retailer.

I work with clients every day to help measure, understand, and improve their customer loyalty. While few companies have the infrastructure and the sheer breadth of product and services in such a frictionless way, there are lessons any brand can learn from Amazon’s excellence in curating a faithful customer base.

 Here’s how Amazon keeps me loyal:

  • Anticipates my needs: I wasn’t actively thinking about how great life would be with a paper towel subscription. But, I gave Subscribe and Save a shot and now we never run out and I can't imagine my household without it.
  • Gives me back my time: With Fresh, I can enjoy time with my family instead of spending it in the grocery store (if you enjoy taking your children to the grocery store, I nominate you for a Parent-of-the-Year Award!)
  • Provides me with flawless execution and problem resolution: Amazon’s apps and website are easy, fast, and intuitive. Once I order something, I know exactly when it’ll arrive on my doorstep. If there is an error, Amazon’s customer experience team is polite and fair in resolving an issue.

While I am a loyal customer, there are certain things I don’t buy on Amazon. Some because they aren’t sold (yet) (e.g., wine) and others because I enjoy shopping elsewhere. And there are Amazon services that aren’t for me. For example, I don’t need to tell Alexa to turn on my lights.

 So, even for this Super User, loyalty has its limits.

 Ashley Harrington is a Research Director at CMB who recently starting using “Amazon” as a verb and probably has goldfish crackers in her bag.

Topics: brand health and positioning, customer experience and loyalty, retail, ecommerce

NASCAR Races to Stay Relevant for the Next Generation

Posted by Brian Jones

Wed, Apr 18, 2018

As a stock car racing fan who makes an annual pilgrimage to the Daytona 500, I’ve experienced the evolution of the NASCAR brand from the seats of the iconic 2.5-mile track.

No place is the emotional connection between brand and customer more palpable than at an event where drivers enter the stadium in a gladiator-style procession before climbing into their cars for a 200+ mph chariot-like battle on a 31-degree banked asphalt track.

NASCAR 1

It is exhilarating.

But while NASCAR excels at creating an emotional experience for its current loyal fan base, the organization is challenged to deliver a branding experience that will attract the next generation of fans—while how people consume sports continues to evolve.

On top of that, NASCAR must motivate existing and new fans to view/attend/buy not only its own brand, but the myriad co-sponsors.

NASCAR is built on cobranded endorsements on all levels—including individual athletes (e.g., Dale Earnhardt and Jeff Gordon), teams (e.g., logo-plastered M&M’s Toyota racecar), tracks (e.g., Lowe’s Motor Speedway), and even the race series themselves (e.g., NASCAR’s Xfinity Series). More recently, at the 2017 Daytona 500, NASCAR rolled out Monster Energy NASCAR Cup SeriesTM—the latest sponsor of the premiere racing series.

So how is NASCAR adapting to meet changing consumer demands?

  • Less prominent onsite branding: At the 2017 and 2018 Daytona 500’s, gone were the prominent product swag and logo placements of its former series sponsors, Sprint (2008-2016), Nextel (2004-2007), and NASCAR’s 31-year relationship with RJ Reynolds (1971-2003). In its place, I witnessed Monster Energy bringing its next generation youthful appeal—less signage and more experiential, like offering fans ride-alongs on off-road vehicles.
  • New marketing channels: NASCAR is supplementing real-time coverage with exciting social media experiences geared towards the digital-savvy generation of younger driver-athletes.
  • Improved customer experience: The International Speedway Corporation (ISC) has invested $400+ million in a venue retool of Daytona’s Speedway and the surrounding property to improve fan experience.
  • Investment in content strategy: NASCAR recently created a Content Strategy Group to centralize its creative, digital, social marketing, and advertising operations.
  • Revamp of scoring system: Perhaps the most surprising change is NASCAR’s recent revamp of its point system. In 2017 NASCAR rewrote the rules for how drivers compete and earn championship points during the season. No other major sport has changed its product so completely in response to changing consumer opinion about how they want to experience their sports entertainment.

At the time of the Monster Energy deal announcement in 2017, Mitch Covington, Monster’s VP of Sports Marketing said, "I think you'll see a little more Monster at the Daytona 500. But at the same time, the sponsorship's not about painting it all green. It's really about doing some really cool things with sponsorship."

NASCAR 2

But last week, NASCAR and Monster Energy announced it’s “highly unlikely” the partnership will continue beyond the 2019 race season—a sign NASCAR is reevaluating its current sponsorship model.

To simplify sponsorship opportunities for brands, NASCAR may bundle its top sponsorship with the sanctioning body to include the tracks and tv partners, omitting series naming rights which has been used in the past.

NASCAR Chief Operating Officer Steve Phelps told ESPN, “Our competitive advantage is that our fans understand the importance of sponsorship and they go out and support our sponsors… we just think there’s a better model to make sure that sponsors want to stay involved more broadly.”

The future of NASCAR’s sponsorship model is still unknown, but Covington’s quote sums up their efforts. For sponsorship to be effective, NASCAR must strike a balance between honoring what fans have always loved about the NASCAR brand (+ sponsors) while embracing innovation and change.

Brian is a loyal NASCAR fan who also enjoys helping clients solve their biggest business needs using advanced market research methodologies like CMB’s Brand FX— a solution that measures the social, emotional, and functional benefits a brand provides to customers.

Topics: brand health and positioning, customer experience and loyalty, BrandFx