Victory lap

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For 75 million NASCAR fans, the race for information doesn't wait for a green flag. Days before the race, the loyal hordes can be found at Nascar.com (operated by TimeWarner's Turner division) searching for qualifying times, news, insights and promotions. But there is great variation within those searches - NASCAR fans aren't all interested in the same thing. "They're on the site because they're NASCAR fans, but they're bigger fans of the individual drivers," says Norman Miglietta, director of advertising and marketing at Turner Sports Marketing and New Media.

This was the crucial insight informing the rollout of a new online audio product, Trackpass Scanner, during the 2006 Talladega weekend. The NASCAR.com marketing team, which already knows the best way to communicate with fans is through e-mail, split their audience up based on those driver preferences.

The Trackpass Scanner allows fans to listen in on radio communication between the drivers, their pit bosses and other crew members, supplementing the TV coverage and deepening the brand experience. "If you're watching [NASCAR driver] Dale Earnhardt Jr. on TV and suddenly he comes in for a pit, you might wonder what's going on," says Miglietta. "With the Scanner product, you'd be in the know."

It's an easy sell for the fans who will get tattoos of their favorite driver's car number. But the NASCAR.com team decided to tailor e-mail communications to a consumer's favorite drivers' performance in hopes of resonating with a wider audience.

When fans register on the site - as about one-third of the site's 4 million monthly unique visitors do - they are asked to select the name of their favorite driver. So, the creative team developed different content for each competitor with the same message: Sit in the driver's seat with your favorite driver. The team also hoped this would resonate with newer fans hoping to learn more about the sport. "We recognize that if a fan is new to the sport, they don't know what is going on in the racetrack. They may have seen a driver or heard about them, and this helps them get into the sport even more," Miglietta says.

Prior to the Talladega race in October, the in-house team at Turner created different e-mails promoting a free trial of Trackpass Scanner for fans of each of the competing drivers. Depending on the driver that the user selected, he or she would get a different message rooting for that driver and teasing what an audio clip might sound like. "If Jeff Gordon came off a win," says Miglietta, "the creative would say something like æContinue to watch Jeff Gordon dominate this year.' And if Dale Jr. had an accident in the last race, we'd make mention of æListen to Dale Jr. bounce back from defeat' in the creative."

The team used Datran Media's StormPost software to distribute the creative to members of the NASCAR.com database.The software not only selected the right content and creative clip to send to a fan, but then followed up after the race. "They're using Storm Post to the full potential, and that means using the system to build value into the relationships that they have with subscribers," says Lana McGilvray, VP of marketing at Datran Media.

Datran also monitored delivery, from bounce-backs to click-throughs, and communicated with ISPs. "It does not matter how strong your brand is," says McGilvray. "Making sure that brands are white-listed with various ISPs and authenticated and managing relationships with those ISPs are critical to the success of everyone."

The campaign and follow-up resulted in tens of thousands of free trial acceptances and a 72% increase in Trackpass Scanner subscriptions. The team continues to use this technique to promote new products and communicate with fans. "With this campaign, we've maintained a tremendous positive ROI of every measure to date. We're maximizing our subscription rates and database so much so that we don't have to solicit or go off-site to communicate to NASCAR customers," says Miglietta.

"A lot of companies struggle because they have a brand that people have an affinity for and don't do everything that they can to communicate with them," says Rachel Bergman, SVP of client services at e-mail service provider Cheetahmail. "They're almost doing people a disservice if you're really not calling that out and making them feel special. If you segment smartly, it's pretty hard to go wrong."

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