How F1 can launch a fan ‘revolution’

While 50% of the world’s population is under 30-years-old, Formula 1 seems to be debating how best to appeal to a younger audience. The debate has continued within F1’s power chambers this year via Baby Boomer and Gen X leaders of teams, investors, sponsors and managers. The high-water mark may have been when F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone said that he isn’t that interested in a young kid with no discretionary income to spend on a Rolex watch.

There have been many calls for F1 to engage in social media methods to reach a younger audience via the tools they use most. If you consider Repucom’s snapshot of social media activity by age, nearly 85% were authored by people 35-years-old and above. Under 5% were authored by the much-hyped Gen Y crowd from 18-34-years-old. The under-17 crowd represented 10%.

Now, on the surface of it, you could argue that F1 has little impact on Millennials and are mostly a sport propped up by Boomers and Gen X. That’s probably true and it is also most likely true that the level of discretionary income is higher amongst this age group as well.

There are big dollars by volume, however, and if F1 appealed to the massive Gen Y population, they would stand to gain significant revenue due to its enormous size. Regardless, F1 doesn’t seem to have quite the sense of urgency other organizations do to get on top of a universal social media plan of engagement for Gen Y’s.

That, in the mind of some F1 pundits, is a mistake. According to Ferrari’s new team boss, Maurizio Arrivabene, F1 needs to do much more:

“There is a problem over the appeal of the races,” said Arrivabene. “We must keep working to give people spectacle and emotions. We must work to bring Formula 1 closer to the fans, otherwise we risk ending up racing on our own in empty circuits. We must know how to get the most out of the tools used by the new generation, which is how to attract young people and create the chances for fans to interact more with the stars of our sport. The Thursday of a Grand Prix weekend could, for example, be better exploited.”

An interesting point to Repucom’s snapshot—for me at least—is the under-17 crowd. They nearly double the Gen Z group in F1 social media activity meaning that if I were a strategist for F1’s future marketing team, I would focus very keenly on Gen Z. Not that ignoring Gen Y makes good sense but F1 would do well to create a program that incorporates both generations.

Ferrari’s chairman, Sergio Marchionne, says F1 needs a ‘revolution’ as AUTOSPORT notes:

“We must simplify and streamline and make the sport a lot more appealing for the world we live in,” he said.

“Otherwise we risk the possibility of just taking selfies and nothing more.

“We must, in fact, make a real revolution and work on this and I think we can do something on this in 2015.”

Gen Z, ultimately, may be smaller than Gen Y and that’s where the Millennials have the upper hand. As children of that other massive generation known as the Baby Boomers, they equal in size and commercial appeal for marketers.

What could be asked, however, is the political and cultural identity of Gen Y versus Gen X, Boomers and now, potentially, Gen Z. If F1 were streaming live on YouTube or burning up the timeline of Gen Y users via Twitter and Facebook feeds, would that appeal any more than it currently does? If, as Marchionne says, they can find a new way to appeal to Gen Y emotions, would that bring more of them to races or in front of TV screens?

They may be large but they may also not have as deep an interest in motorsport as their predecessors or even their demographic cohort, Gen Z. Gen Y represents 80 million people in America. There are 200 million in China. They tend to spend more than their predecessors if only by volume alone but not exclusively—a force, no doubt, to be examined for sure and Ferrari believe F1 should take it much more seriously than they appear to be.

Looking Ahead…let me visit my day job for a minute

If F1 wants to appeal to Gen Y and even Gen Z, perhaps taking a longer look at the particular characteristics of the changes that have occurred would be a good place to start.

One simple question that has been asked is:

“Why are we more powerful as digital consumers than we are as digital employees”.

It is a great question and the answer is usually staring us in the face. A recent Deloitte study shows nearly 10 percent of consumers look at their smartphone more than 100 times a day, nearly a quarter check more than 50 times a day, and almost half look at their phone more than 25 times a day. Three percent of consumers report looking at their smartphone more than 200 times a day.

If you also consider that 55% of consumers show interest in connected home technologies while 63% show interest in connected-car solutions, you can start to weave a decent map of where F1 could appeal and why.

That 63% number is intriguing is it not? Is there a more connected-car than F1? This is why many younger folks say they like F1…the technology. This is the pragmatic springboard that brought us ERS, KERS and hybrid power units. Did it work? I’ll let you be the judge of that.

Looking Behind

In order to understand the cultural identity of the “new F1 fan”, perhaps we need to understand the change in how we act as consumers but also how we act as employees. This will give a more holistic view of the landscape not only with fans but also with sponsors and investors.

In the past, we were primarily transactional employees. We were:

  • Process oriented
  • Data creators and hoarders
  • Low innovation blocks
  • Low engagement
  • Employment- had vast firm knowledge and were looking for a home (Tim has worked his way up from the mailroom, he knows everything about the company)

Today we are primarily Knowledge Workers. We are:

  • Information seekers
  • Data assimilators and sharers
  • Creative / innovative
  • Peer-to-peer thinkers
  • Employability- Multi-firm knowledge and focused on being employable

In the past, our work environments were designed for personal productivity and often left us unaware of what was happening around us and more isolated from those we worked with.

This change in how we work is reflected by the power we now harness via consumer technology and data. We realized that legacy network infrastructure was too complex and legacy delivery mediums such as broadcast, radio and CD’s were too restrictive to the way in which we wanted to consume products and gain information. The complexity and inconsistent design doesn’t fit our lifestyles like consumer technology does.

Why does this matter? Because many companies, including those who sponsor F1, are still working in transactional workplaces and often times don’t see or understand the need for a change—I guess that’s a good thing for my day job as a consultant focusing on technology integration in modern office design.

F1 would do well to recognize that fans are not following processes so much as following a cloud-based world of informational activity. What compelling strategy could take advantage of that very fundamental change?

It’s People, Not Technology

In the end, F1 needs to be user-focused, not technology-focused. I know that flies in the face of just about every poll taken regarding what appeals to fans in F1. They all say, “I love the technology”. Sure you do, we all do Chip.

Organizations that were user-focused outperformed the technology-focused companies, achieving 23% higher revenues-per-employee against peers. In this simple fact, F1’s pundits may still be missing the point. It isn’t about using “social media” more; it’s about making F1 more user-focused.

F1 shouldn’t simply start using Twitter more or Facebook more or jumping on every single social media platform they can find. It is about creating their own Platform as a Service (PaaS). Creating user-focused content delivering engaging information through superior design intended on removing the complexity of F1 is critical.

In 1976, the world held its collective breath to see if James Hunt could best Nikki Lauda. They did it again as Prost and Senna waged an on-track war that has become famous for its intensity and drama. No one was considering the ground effect of the car or the aerodynamic downforce or the size of brake calipers. Those who did had outlets for such information and there is a place for it but the answer, quite honestly, is plainly evident.

F1 might look to key technology strategies and marketing activations that surround a new PaaS they create—they control the content, method and delivery as well as the licenses. They’ll have to consider a new system and new technology intent on creating a user-focused experience based on story telling, people and emotional drive. Certainly Ferrari feel the same and I have always been impressed by Williams, Renault Sport and Mercedes by their approach.

It is a concept they will have to wrestle to the ground but the answers can be found in consumer and employee behaviors because most fans and potential fans fit one or both of those roles and have clearly shown us how they act and react in this modern world—to be honest, those who consume products or are gainfully employed to afford to consume products are the two markets F1 is very interested in.

Social Media is the global telephone system for the mobocracy. It’s a new communication system that has as much noise, static and insidious leeches trying to monetize, monopolize and regulate it as the phone system did in the early days. There is nothing new under the sun, just different and a wider reach. The last thing F1 wants to do is become yet another modern day telemarketer on the phone system of the mobocracy.

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