A letter to McLaren

The F1 season begins with the Melbourne Grand Prix on March 17th. Like all season starts, the preamble and build-up contains huge excitement to pique a fan’s interest in the foreplay of this spectacular international road show.

Vodafone McLaren Mercedes will, of course, finish victorious with both the drivers’ and the constructors’ titles returning to Woking. But their excellence in the factory, on the track and in the pit lane isn’t necessarily mirrored online.

Check out www.mclaren.com/formula1 and put yourself into a fan’s mindset. If you were head of their marketing/digital what would you do differently, even if football or cricket is your thing? Here’s some of my take in an open(ish) letter to the marketing and PR folks at McLaren:

Mobile web browsing is gathering apace. I would have thought that this is especially true of sports’ sites as people check on their heroes and teams while at work and elsewhere. I’m sure your analytics will be telling you that a growing percentage of visitors are viewing on mobile devices month on month.

McLaren.com needs to be optimised for viewing on the small screen, whether that’s trackside, or whilst at a kid’s party on a Sunday afternoon, or accompanying a TV viewer during the race as their second screen. Development resources should have tablet and ‘phone platforms at the forefront of their minds via responsive designs.

Personally, I find content the most disappointing area.  As fans, we visit the site to get more information, more insight and more fuel to stoke our passion for all things Vodafone McLaren Mercedes, yet I’m not really sure the site allows us to get our fix.

I see the content falling into nine main categories:

  • Video – everything from the latest car launch, to TAGHeuer adverts, to Peter Windsor’s Youtube interviews with Martin Whitmarsh.
  • McLaren Now – what’s happening in the team currently; this would obviously spike in volume of content and visits over race weekends.
  • Heritage – an interactive timeline of how the McLaren team arrived at where it is today.
  • Drivers – although they certainly cross over previous categories, drivers are such a draw in and of themselves they must surely warrant their own category.
  • Partners – a chance to show the world it’s not about the cheques that sponsors write, but their ability to partner and contribute to McLaren that helps shave the 1,000th second off a lap time.
  • My McLaren – interactive, bespoke, competitions, forum, Q&A, mobile McLaren.
  • Car – show us greater insight of the design, the FIA regulations, the evolution and philosophy behind it. I doubt we could ever tire of photos of your cars, in any and every situation.
  • The Shop – as it stands today.
  • Members’ area – an expansion of where it is now.

I’d like to offer some off-the-cuff ideas for site content falling into the above categories:

Videos are an extremely attractive online content, the ‘stickiest’ in web terms. The technology, colour, style and obvious quality of everything to do with Vodafone McLaren Mercedes is simply begging to be shown in video. The videos that are on McLaren.com are difficult to find and in some cases difficult to use because of the player choice.

Obviously, the options for video content are infinite but as well as increasing team information, I am sure more could be done regarding product placement without being too obtrusive. In a short video of Jenson Button being interviewed, it wouldn’t be offensive if fans were shown links to his team T-shirt and his stunning watch and the options to buy them where possible.

McLaren Now (effectively news)
This would show the latest information on the team:

  • If a team leader is interviewed by the press, it’s likely that fans will be told honestly about the team’s thoughts on the season. I’d argue that this running appraisal should be easily viewed on the team’s website.
  • A daily debrief on race weekends. In a similar vein, Martin Whitmarsh is incredibly candid in his media interviews on race weekends. Friday practice could close and a short video interview with Mr. Whitmarsh, the drivers and the drivers’ chief mechanics could be produced. This would be very insightful for the viewer without needing to reveal sensitive information to rivals. This could become a podcast pushed out to subscribers, social networks and to a Vodafone McLaren Mercedes app for mobile devices.
  • The BBC has done a wonderful job of improving viewer content on race weekends and some of this could be mirrored online by yourselves. A short video with graphics and photos of your wind tunnel process (as David Coulthard filmed for the BBC) and “Beginners’ guides” to brakes, or engines, or aero packages would be great. Existing content from the organisation could be neutered and redacted before publishing.
  • Time Span Videos: for example, the Technology Centre going up at a race, or a car being prepped for its carrier, or a wind tunnel test (obviously, nothing cutting edge would be published but content taken a year or so ago could be used and would look just as impressive from a fans’ point of view without revealing any intellectual property).
  • Follow a Pro – every race could profile a member of the team. It could be a transport driver or a marketer or an analyst, but all could live blog and tweet about their weekend. Go Pro cameras could be used by the pit team and the guns in practice. Again, a heavy nod to the sponsors could be quite easy to achieve without being too obtrusive to the interesting content.
  • The whole McLaren Now section could also be semi-corporate (without being stuffy) with ethics, CSR and other subjects being highlighted to help counter the anti-car mindset that may tarnish F1.

This is where we want to see the obvious bios, but I would suggest far more real life content – photos of last week’s physical training, their thoughts on the Mercedes road cars they are driving, what awards and events they are attending, their diaries, and so on. It could be argued that drivers are more open and understanding of this familiarisation thanks to Twitter and Facebook.

There needs to be added value on McLaren.com over and above the drivers’ own websites and feeds. This should be the anchor and main home for their (increased) content with any other digital real estate taking a secondary role. Perhaps a free chapter of their biographies could be available to download (I appreciate this is a publishing area and completely separate from McLaren’s business, but it all adds value) and other unique and valued content.

Every time your drivers talk to the press at race weekends, there’s a Vodafone McLaren Mercedes representative in attendance with a dictaphone. I propose these be published as audio files with small synopses of text – effectively, a blog post on their own.

Such rich content would need to live in multiple categories. For example, a video of Jenson commenting on the latest aero package would belong in the Drivers’ section but also in the McLaren Now section (because it’s new) and also in the Video section.

My McLaren
I see this as personalized area of the site without the payment needed to access full membership. It could have several threads:

Mobile McLaren – as well as allowing easier viewing on mobile devices, the site could help fans experience McLaren in the offline world with a ‘McLaren meet-up.’ Think of an Anne Summers house party for McLaren geeks (with far less underwear on display!). This might be at a café or bar, or at someone’s home, but the organiser could be rewarded in some way – perhaps a unique code to gain access to even more behind the scenes video online to share with his/her meet-up gang.

Download section – scores of wallpapers should be available here for every screen from mobile phone to A3 poster (I know there are some currently). Ringtones and text alerts of the engine or drivers would also be attractive for a huge audience at very little expense, making for some easy PR results.

Real time interaction – this could be online with a forum where fans chirp in with each other throughout the race weekend. I would like to see it combined with a Twitter stream running alongside which shows strong F1 voices and timely searches combined with your @TheFifthDriver. This mash up of content would be largely self-generating but the extra mile could be an ‘ask the team’ feature where a live help-style text box or instant messenger provides access to members of the team within the MTC.

Mobile mash-up – Radiohead allowed fans to film at their concert with mobile phones. These were then collated and edited into a film of the event with a professional soundtrack of the concert. Could fans film from the track of the home race and upload to an area of McLaren.com without stepping any rights issues with FOTA? The upload area could be heavily branded with Vodafone et al. A McLaren team, with the help of partners, could edit the content together for a short film of the weekend. The effect of this would be participation towards Vodafone McLaren Mercedes and outwards as fans share the finished article with their many social media connections. By its very nature, the project would be viral.

QR content – QR codes are becoming more commonplace but their use, certainly in the UK, is still seen as innovative. I’d suggest these be placed around the circuit and paddock and contain competitions, insights and giveaways. I can imagine video pop-ups, augmented reality, treasure hunts, gift tokens and loads of other captivating content.

This would increase interaction between F1 spectators and McLaren along with its partners, as fans of other teams will also scan the codes and enter the campaigns.

Personalised news – all news from Vodafone McLaren Mercedes could be categorised, and this is would be where my news stream would contain my prioritized categories (e.g. results, drivers, cars) ahead of other items (development, team news, personnel news, partner news, etc.).

This is obviously incredibly important to the team and its fans. As such, it’s a beautiful section to be within.

I’d like to see a two-axis search facility in this section: time and subject. Time would obviously allow a user to review the 1978 season, but the subject choice would allow them to view drivers over time, or cars, or race wins, or designers, etc.

Work for this could even be outsourced, perhaps to English graduates at university who would die for the right to say they’ve had work or articles published by Vodafone McLaren Mercedes.

A side note
A mobile app must be created and would become the de facto home for the hardcore Vodafone McLaren Mercedes fans’ information. More than a mobile view of the .com site it should house everything in simple to find submenus. A push facility would allow fans to stay instantly up to date without needing to check Twitter or McLaren.com.

A leaning towards videos, downloads and even games would keep this energetic and upbeat rather than a stiff news feed. The ability to log in and take your custom settings from McLaren.com would advantageous. This app needs to cater for the masses but a paid for element could allow for even greater access and content, perhaps interviews ahead of the main site publication, FOTA clips, and other fresh/exclusive content could live behind the paywall.

I’m sure several designers are already canvassing you for the budget to produce this and the opportunity shouldn’t be overlooked.

Today’s Facebook over-sharers are McLaren’s future hardcore fans. The rough proposals above are not simply a case of pandering to their needs, but a suggested evolution in the way Vodafone McLaren Mercedes communicates with current and prospective fans.

The marketing upshot of all this would see greater interaction with McLaren’s tribe. An increase in communication brings fans closer to the team and its sponsors. The more communication, the stronger the relationship becomes. Monetisation can only ever be achieved once a relationship has begun.

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