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FORMULA 1 AND THE DRAMA OF DATA

BY ROBERT DYER, CRM PROJECT MANAGER.

As an avid sports fan, I love the thrills and spills of Formula 1.  As a self-confessed geek, I also love the sport for its production of – and reliance on – data.  There is probably no other sport out there which is so reliant on real-time data to direct the course of events: during a race weekend, countless decisions are made by each driver and their team, often with many millions of pounds at risk, and almost all are closely linked with cold, hard data.  The approaching F1 season may be admittedly more thrilling for some than others but it can teach us some valuable lessons about CRM.

The times, they are a-changin’.  With lots of changes to rules, regulations and personnel this season, F1 is a very different beast to its incarnation of mere months ago.

Likewise, CRM is an ever changing landscape, and the cutting-edge quickly becomes redundant.  Technology and processes develop at breakneck speed, so doing something which works and dominates the landscape now may not work quite so well in the future. Keep an eye on the competition and don’t be too proud to admit if there’s anything there which might improve your own performance.

Technology is important. It’s not everything.  You can’t put your average Joe in an F1 car and expect them to be the next F1 champion, or we’d all be moored up on our superyachts in Monaco. Likewise, you can’t unpack a CRM system out of a box, plug it in and expect the result to be an effective department, communicating perfectly in line and in time with customers’ preferences and inspiring prospects to devote themselves to your brand. In both cases, what’s far more important is that there are highly skilled human beings at the heart of what’s going on, reading datasets, making decisions that make the tech work as effectively as possible. The most advanced piece of kit can produce useless information if you instruct it to, or do nothing with it.  Ever hear those stories about people following their sat-nav in to a river?

Follow ‘the Racing Line’.  Or, put another way, ‘maximum’ is not always the same as ‘optimum.’ Sending  10 emails a day to a customer may keep them in the loop, but is a sure-fire way of turning them off who you are and what you do. 

There are plenty of brands whose products or emails I’ve really enjoyed, where my engagement with them has been forever tarnished by my feeling of being bombarded, and my sense of excitement has turned to thinking “oh no, not them again”.  Using your data to find the ‘optimum’ path in your communications should be one of your end goals. 

It’s a team game, after all.  Not that you should flood your marketing department with CRM staff necessarily, but there may be more work to be done than a single person can handle on their own.  It might be entertaining for a while to watch an F1 driver jump out of their car every 30 laps to change their own tyres, but systematically this would be a long way from being optimised, and the right people with particular skills therefore need to be in place to make the overall operation work.  For every F1 driver on the track, there are multiple analysts staring at real time data on screens, miles from the heat of the action, making decisions on how best to run that race – often capping a  driver’s speed in order to boost longevity of the car. 

Personalisation of F1 hardware and software comes from human decisions made by driver and team, fed by data from technology.

Plan A sometimes goes out the window.  And this can happen for any number of reasons.  Maybe a competitor does something you were about to do, or does the exact thing you just did but gained more from it.  Or perhaps something just goes wrong for no apparent reason, when you were miles in front of the competition.  The wheels come off – sometimes literally.  As the new season approaches, F1 is now in its official pre-season testing phase, and across the globe there are teams of engineers rehearsing pit-stops over and over, testing equipment or trying to find flaws in engine parts that you or I might consider otherwise inconsequential.  So, as marketers, think through the potential pitfalls in your strategy: identify potential points of failure, plan what to do when things go wrong, and while you’ll always try to catch mistakes before they happen, sometimes you just have to react – which is okay as long as you have considered this beforehand, and ensure your plans B, C and D go about things in the right way.

We live in a world of incremental gains.  Marginal details can make massive differences when you total them all up and they are allowed to take effect over long periods of time.  Sir Dave Brailsford’s work with British Cycling in recent years is probably the headline sporting example which jumps to mind, where tiny fractions of improvement in multiple areas ended up making wholesale differences.  The same is now true in many sports, including F1, and all thanks to richer data in greater volumes being intertwined with sophisticated thinking.  This all applies to CRM as well, and doing a multitude of things slightly ‘better’ in some way can end up making a difference greater than the sum of their individual parts.  British-owned team Manor will sadly not be on the starting grid when this season’s race opener begins, largely because of going in to administration in January – had one of Manor’s two drivers finished one place higher in the final race of last season, they would have had an additional $15m in prize money, and would probably have lived to fight another day.  So tiny details can end up making a significant difference even if the end result isn’t the big prize you’d hoped for.  Look around any F1 garage nowadays and you will see white painted floors, or engineers wiping down parts of a car during pit stops, all to ensure the removal of imperfections and gain tiny improvements in aerodynamics – the same applies to cars at the back of the race, not just the front runners.

Finally, it’s all about me.  By which I mean “it’s all about you.”  Never underestimate how important you are – you are integral to what you do, but also to what others do.  Formula 1 without drivers or the countless ‘behind the scenes’ staff wouldn’t work.  But, crucially, without the spectators it wouldn’t work either.  And in a similar way, CRM is as dependent on its customers to thrive as its marketers. 

Data is at the centre of everything we do at Response One.  The same is true of CRM more generally, and likewise with the world of F1.  But none of the above would be what they are without the people at the heart of it.