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Driving on Ice: BMW Branded Content and Bobsleds: 8 Marketing Tips

BMW, known for producing the “Ultimate Driving Machine,” could also be known as the “Ultimate Branded Content Machine.”  This Sunday, I took a break from watching football to catch the BMW produced documentary/commercial “Driving on Ice.”  This short film provides a behind-the-scenes view of how BMW worked with the US Bobsled and Skeleton Federation to completely redesign the two man bobsled for next month’s Olympics in Sochi.

Was it a compelling story?  Absolutely.  Will it result in a gold medal?  We’ll find out.  But as the New York Times summarized, what “Driving on Ice” absolutely shows is how BMW continues to advance the use of branded content in its marketing.  It also provides us B2B marketers with eight cool tips.

BMW and Athletes Both Have Something to Gain

Since 2010, BMW has been the Official Mobility Partner of the US Olympic Committee.  Aside from financial support and advertising, both sides have gained from vehicle-to-athlete technology transfer.   The bobsled team leveraged BMW’s expertise in light-weight materials and aerodynamics to improve the twenty year old previous design.

BMW marketing has delivered a compelling branded content story that cuts through the clutter of the myriad of car commercials and provides an emotional response to the BMW brand.

High Stakes Promotion of the Ultimate Sliding Machine

This is the third time that BMW has used technology transfer to help the US Olympic team.

swimmer underwater-79592_640In advance of the 2012 London games, BMW provided USA Swimming with underwater camera motion tracking system.  The system tracked the performance of six body parts as swimmers exploded off the walls with powerful dolphin kicks.  US coaches used this data to find how to shave off every last hundredth of a second in time from their starts and turns.

One one-hundredth of a second makes all the difference.  Just ask Michael Phelps.  That was the margin of victory as he out-touched Serbia’s Milorad Cavic in the final stroke of the 100m butterfly in the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

BMW also provided real-time velocity measurement to USA Track & Field to help optimize the performance of long-jumpers.

With this technology transfer, the stakes are higher, both for the bobsledders and for BMW.  The US hasn’t won an Olympic gold medal in two man bobsled since 1936.   The first two cases of technology transfer were behind the scenes software.  This time, with the focus on aerodynamics, control, and materials, there’s a direct connection to vehicles.   So the corresponding impact to BMW’s brand will be huge.

Eight Cool B2B Marketing Tips

Here are eight points from “Driving on Ice” that relate to B2B marketing.

1.  Know the Customer Experience First Hand

Before taking on the bobsled work, designer Michael Scully rides in a two man sled on a real course, to experience the violence, vibration, and G forces involved in the sport.   Nothing beats direct exposure to the buyer’s pains, persona, and journey.

2.  Focus First on the Critical Few Metrics

Scully focuses the redesign on two areas.  He improves the aerodynamics by making the sled smaller and narrower.   And he modifies the weight distribution of the sled to improve handling.  Numerous modifications follow as the details are addressed, but all of the tactics support these goals.   Similarly, B2B marketers align their tactics to big major goals, like revenue contribution.

3.  Start with a Low Risk Trial

The first prototype of the new sled is done on the relatively tame course of the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics.  Of course, the first trial results in a myriad of modifications.    Similarly, B2B marketers get customers started in a low risk way with freemium models.

4.  Iterate Often, based on Customer Feedback

The designers get input from the athletes after each run.   Like in agile product development, the changes come fast and furiously.  The athletes receive prototype #2 with no time to practice on it before their next  race.   More work is clearly needed.  An improperly placed steering cord causes the driver to crash into the wall immediately after starting.

5.  Uncover the Underlying Need

After the unsuccessful run, designer Scully meets with veteran driver Steven Holcomb to discuss the steering problem.  Holcomb wants more of a range of motion, but Scully isn’t sure whether that means on the steering handle or in the runners.  By clarifying the underlying need, Scully is able to make the right adjustment.

6.   Creative and Analytical:  You Need Both

One set of skills is not enough.  At the US Olympic Trials, driver Elana Meyers emphasizes the need for mental toughness, as well as physical strength and skill.  All of the work in the gym and on the track must be augmented with calm and courage.   Similarly, B2B marketers must be both creative and analytical.

7.  Adjust on the Fly

Optimizing performance is a continuous effort.  At the Olympic Trials, constant tinkering is done to the sled to fine tune its performance based on real-time track conditions.  B2B marketers must make similar adjustments to their demand generation and awareness tactics based on their own real-time metrics.

8.  Keep Your Eye on the Prize

With a month to the Olympics, the redesign appears to be on track. The US is ranked #1 in the World Cup standings.   But success will be defined by who gets the gold in Sochi.

I think BMW achieved its goals with “Driving on Ice.”  The BMW commercials interspersed throughout the film relate directly to the points in the film.  As cars drive through snowy roads, messages of the technical proficiency, advanced materials, and handling are clearly reflected by what was shown on the bobsled track.

What do you think of BMW’s branded content strategy?  Want to pull 5 Gs in turn 8 on the Sochi course?

 

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