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What Formula One can teach B2B marketing

by adrian nicholls

August 27, 2021

Formula One (F1) and B2B marketing don’t seem like they have much in common. But inspiration and useful lessons can come from some unexpected places.

When you think about marketing and F1, a few things might come to mind. Timing sponsored by big name watch brands like Tag Heuer and Rolex. Cars emblazoned with Marlboro or Lucky Strike. The car manufacturers themselves using it as a playground to establish their pedigree racing credentials.

But despite such strong associations with branding, the sport itself has wrestled with its own image problems in the recent past. F1 had garnered a perception among fans that compared to the ‘old days’, it had become bogged down in technicalities. That technology trumped competition between drivers. Put bluntly – that it had become a bit boring.

Whether this perception was fair or not, F1 viewership dropped from 600 million to just over 350 million worldwide between 2008 and 2017. Their audience among younger viewers was especially concerning.

In 2018, however, as part of a wider strategy to connect with younger fans, F1’s new owners (Liberty Media) commissioned a Netflix series called ‘Drive to Survive’.

The show is a behind-the-scenes look at everything that goes into an F1 championship, which typically you never get to see. Unlike the races, the show reveals the rivalries, politics and showmanship through the lens of the drivers, engineers, strategists and more.

And the shift has been dramatic. F1 has posted year-on-year viewer growth after a decade of consistent decline, and the growth of its social media following (in terms of percentage increase) has been the highest of any major sport worldwide.

Their success is no surprise; people are attracted to stories. It’s a universal truth applicable to every kind of marketing. Narratives capture our interest and produce psychological and chemical responses that promote engagement in a way that simply stating rote facts can never achieve.

In an arena that frequently struggles to balance the technical and the human, those in B2B should sit up and pay attention to the lessons that F1 learned. It showcases the dangers of focusing too much on overly complex details and the overall end product rather than what can be gained from exploring the emotional and human side that underpins it.

F1 may be seen as an automotive tech playground, but it wouldn’t have half the impact it does if you were to strip away the human element with its storylines and conflicts. B2B marketing can harness the same principles to drive engagement by taking the time to explore customer and even employee stories to humanise and show another side of your business.

If you’re at the end looking for the SparkNotes, here are our three key takeaways:

1. Never sell yourself purely on the technical.

Detail may convince people logically, but emotion is necessary to motivate them to buy in.

2. The inspiration behind what you do can be just as compelling as what you do.

Customers aren’t just interested in what makes something tick – taking the time to showcase how and why broadens marketing scope and appeal.

3. Don’t be afraid to showcase the stories of your users and customers.

What others feel and experience is more convincing than simply being told what something should do. Reviews and customer stories lend credibility and inspire confidence.


B2B Brand Strategy
B2B branding
B2B Campaigns
Formula One (F1)