70-Year Old NASCAR Drives Re-Invention with Data and AI

In 1949 on a Sunday afternoon, over 13,000 spectators attended the first very NASCAR Cup series race in Charlotte, North Carolina. The enthusiasm was at a fever pitch from the very start, with space limitations turning away thousands of eager fans. After nearly 200 laps, Jim Roper took home the top prize in his 1949 Lincoln model. For over 70 years, NASCAR has become a household brand because its unique style of racing continues to shake fans. And although the races themselves have not needed to change, the world around it invariably has. The Internet and smartphones have overhauled the way we consume experiences, and NASCAR has had to keep pace with an audience that has drastically different expectations from those in 1949.

In the story of NASCAR, the next chapter will be driven in large part by technology. We have seen that in the last decade, some legacy brands have vanquished for moving too slowly in the digital era. NASCAR observed this trend early on, championing a multi-prong strategy that embraced new technologies to evolve the fan experience. Part of this was a subsidiary set up in 2013 called NASCAR Digital Media, a group focused on driving digital efforts and partnering with technology vendors. NASCAR’s use of Adobe Experience Cloud for instance, provided teams a set of analytics and personalization tools to help deepen connections with loyal fans and engage new ones. NASCAR has shown how a legacy brand can move quickly in digital and lead in customer experience management (CXM).

Same track, different laps

The NASCAR digital experience shares similarities with the race itself: while the track never changes, each lap feels a little different. When fans visit nascar.com or interact with the mobile app, each individual experience holds distinct qualities. The content that visitors receive over time will shift through hyper personalization efforts. NASCAR knows that some fans enjoy videos and content about their favorite drivers, while others prefer a quick way to access schedules and scores. To achieve this, teams are constantly analyzing data to uncover the most popular user journeys and optimizing the experience accordingly. In a typical month, hundreds of tests are run, and small but impactful changes are made across digital properties.

AI and machine learning play a helping hand in understanding a massive data set, such as identifying anomalies and contributing causes in real-time via Adobe Sensei. For fans, this type of experience puts NASCAR on par with the best retail and social media services online, where each visit feels personalized and more compelling. The results have been incredible: video views across NASCAR’s digital platforms are up 18 percent year-over-year (YoY) and visits to the mobile app are up 16 percent. Fans are more engaged as well, with the amount of time spent across digital channels up 10 percent YoY.

According to Tim Clark, Chief Digital Officer at NASCAR: “We have the best fans at NASCAR, and we want to show them that we value their time and enthusiasm. Each time someone engages on the website, on mobile or in-person at a race track, is an opportunity for us to create a deeper connection. We know that if someone comes to nascar.com to discover new content, they will be less inclined to come back again if the experience two days later is exactly the same. Our team is constantly loading up new digital experiences to prevent this, testing and re-testing to see what works best. Our partnership with Adobe Analytics has helped us better understand customer journeys and drive impactful experiences that are more personalized and intuitive. We are able to look beyond simple metrics, tapping our inner creativity to pull out the right stories within our data. This approach has allowed us make important changes in the customer experience that has helped us retain fans, while expanding NASCAR to new audiences.”

A culture built around data

For brands that have invested in an analytics platform, some struggle with driving real action across their organization. In many cases, decision-makers will favor pre-conceived notions over insights, rejecting data if it goes against their core assumptions. NASCAR has largely avoided these types of issues. With the creation of NASCAR Digital Media and other company-wide technology initiatives, the brand has been able to build a culture where data became the great equalizer. Teams agreed on a standardized way to understand data across channels and made it a starting point for any major decisions around the customer experience. Assumptions were constantly tested and benchmarked, to determine if campaigns were successful over time.

Being data-driven extends beyond the four walls of corporate headquarters. The same insights that help make experiences on nascar.com and the mobile app feel more personalized is also extended to the local race tracks. These partners are able to leverage data (over gut instinct) to inform their overall marketing strategies. It empowers these teams to drive more impactful and targeted campaigns, which can help increase ticket sales as a result.

NASCAR uses Adobe Experience Cloud and its analytics, AI/machine learning, data management platform (DMP) and personalization tools to become a true Customer Experience Management company. Learn more here.