Tag Archives: dale jr.

A Lesson From Junior

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!).

      NASCAR.com

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.

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Patience

Big Brown won the Haskell Invitational yesterday.  For those of you not into horse racing, Big Brown won the first two legs of the Triple Crown this past May and failed miserably in the Belmont Stakes.  Yesterday’s win, while against a weaker field than the Belmont, was a win in a stakes race nevertheless and put to rest a good chunk of the doubts about this horse’s ability.

I bring this up because this is typical of what goes on in the sports world as well as the business world (maybe politics too but we don’t go there in this blog!).  An athlete or business person puts on some unbelievable performances and is elevated to “all time great” status immediately.  Maybe they repeat the performance for a little while at the same superlative level.  Then, they stumble.  The media, the public, maybe their peers give up on them.  They question if the prior performances were due to luck or drugs rather than ability.  Finally, like Big Brown, the former star puts on a good performance – maybe not at the superlative level of before but certainly good enough to demonstrate that the earlier performances were not flukes.  Big Brown is one example, Michelle Wie is another (although she really should have played in the Women’s British Open this past weekend and not against the men).  One can argue Dale Jr. is another.  I can cite a number of examples in business.

If you’ve read this blog before, you know that I believe in making rapid, informed decisions especially when dealing in areas such as digital that are constantly changing.  However, there is a difference between making a rapid decision and making a rash decision.  Rash decisions ignore prior facts and are delivered in a tone of “this is written in stone.”  Writing off anyone on the basis of a single poor performance is rash.

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Filed under Reality checks, Thinking Aloud