I’m a fan of NASCAR, specifically of its top tier, now called the Monster Cup Series. For my non-gearhead friends and readers, don’t knock it until you’ve tried it, preferably in person (bring earplugs!).
Some big news came out of the NASCAR world yesterday and it prompted a thought that is applicable to any of us in business. Dale Earnhardt Jr. is retiring after this season. Only 42, he’s been NASCAR’s most popular driver ever since his dad died on the last lap of the Daytona 500 in 2001 and leads an enormous fan base known as Junior Nation. Full disclosure: I’m a member. He’s really the spiritual leader and one of the last remnants of the NASCAR of old. As a USA Today article on his retirement stated:
A kid of means sent to work in an auto dealership by his father until he began racing, Earnhardt Jr. spoke the language of the fan, in a Carolina accent pleasing to the grassroots folks, was sponsored by a beer company and projected enough hell-raiser vibe to endear himself to the masses. A historian of the sport, he cited the exploits of Cale Yarborough or Richard Petty or Darrell Waltrip with a sharp recollection of fan and provided a generational and cultural bridge for NASCAR.
In other words, Junior isn’t corporate, is authentic, and because of that, is beloved. That’s really a lesson for any of us. Consumers adore personalities but only if they believe that what they’re seeing isn’t an act. Any of Junior’s interviews will show you that he’s real. His language is sometimes salty, often grammatically incorrect, and is definitely not the creation of some media trainer’s badgering. Consumers can tell when a brand is inauthentic just as any of us can see it in a person.
This is why I rant sometimes about engaging in conversations with and not in advertising to our consumers. It doesn’t mean boasting about how “real” you are but it does mean defining what your brand means and sticking to it. The definition should be expressed in the language of your consumer and be relevant to why they’d engage with you in the first place. It means participating in social interactions with your fans, not in demanding or leading them.
I guess I’ll need to figure out where my driver loyalty heads next. It seems that NASCAR needs to figure that out as well. As a long-time fan, I’ve watched them migrate from their Southern roots and identity to something much more vanilla, at least that’s how I see it. Junior is the last bastion of the old, authentic NASCAR. Wherever they go next, I hope it at least half as real as he is. Now ask yourself if you’re “being real” too.
Since this is a slow week for most of us, I’m going to use it to review the most-read posts of 2011. I’m going to start with a post that actually was written in 2010 but through the long-tail seems to have been read a lot over the past year as well. The inspiration was a piece on Milli Vanilli, the infamous muscial duo, and it deals with being authentic. In reading the piece again, I’m struck by how little things have changed since I’ve written it. But you tell me.
“It’s not about being authentic anymore, it’s about entertaining,” says the man whose Grammy for best new artist was revoked 20 years ago — the only take-back in Recording Academy history. That’s a quote from an article this morning in USA Today which I thought was about more than music. In fact, if you read between the lines, there are some great business lessons in there which have nothing to do with making music! Continue reading
I’m sitting here watching the ceremonies before the final game at Yankee Stadium. It’s been fun and emotional reliving a lot of memories and great moments. In fact. some of my earliest childhood memories are of Yankee Stadium. You know Yankee Stadium: the place they ripped up in 1974. Continue reading
One of my favorite movies is Barry Levinson’s Tin Men. Made in 1987 about 1963, it’s the second in his trilogy about Baltimore (Diner and Avalon are the bookends) and it’s my favorite of the three, though all are terrific. Great cast, great music, great cars!
Given that it’s all about sales and integrity, there are dozens of business lessons (I’m sure that was exactly what Mr. Levinson had in mind) in this picture. One of my favorites comes as Tilley (played by Danny DeVito) and Sam (the inimitable Jackie Gayle) are driving around and Sam speaks of an epiphany he had:
Sam: You know when I saw ‘Bonanza’ the other day, something occurred to me.
Ernest Tilley: Eh?
Sam: Ya got these four guys living on the Ponderosa and ya never hear them say anything about wanting to get laid.
Ernest Tilley: Huh.
Sam: They don’t talk about broads – nothing. Ya never hear Little Joe say, “Hey, Hoss, I went to Virginia City and I saw a girl with the greatest ass I’ve ever seen in my life.” They just walk around the Ponderosa: “Yes, Pa, where’s Little Joe?” Nothin’ about broads. I don’t think I’m being too picky. But, if at least once, they talked about getting horny. I don’t care if you live on the Ponderosa or right here in Baltimore, guys talk about getting laid. I’m beginning to think that show doesn’t have too much realism.
What Sam is really talking about is the need to be authentic. Every business needs to resonate with its consumers. In Authentic Leadership, Bill George defined the concept as understanding your purpose, practicing solid values, leading with your heart, establishing connected relationships, and demonstrating self-discipline. In other words, not presenting a false corporate image or trying to emulate the leadership style or characteristics of others. I think of it as passing the BS-sniffer test that our readers, fans, consumers, or clients put us through.
Get Sam in your head – is your ranch real?