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F1 Racing and Data: The Developments, Challenges & Rewards

Steve Olenski
Master Principal Sales Architect

[[This is a guest post from Jonathan Riemer, Director, Global Marketing Campaigns; Senior Writer for the Oracle Marketing Cloud]]

Modern Marketing Experience Europe kicked off Tuesday in London with a rousing round of opening keynotes.  First, there were the stimulating developments around where the future of marketing technology is headed; and second, the amazing stories from the thrilling world of Formula 1 Racing.

My quandary: How do I give an overview without leaning on racing puns? Pole position. Turbocharged. Green flag. C’mon! But, I’ll do my best by purposely mixing key elements from both and hope the analogies are obvious.  Gentlemen, Start Your…no, I won’t go there.


Keynote 1:      Oracle Marketing Cloud President, Kevin Akeroyd on the new digital dialog.

Keynote 2:      David Coulthard, the highest scoring British F1 driver of all time, popular BBC F1 Commentator, and Red Bull Racing star; joined by Mark Gallagher, racing team marketer and owner extraordinaire.  (For those not familiar with Formula 1, think the NFL’s Peyton Manning and Bill Parcells presenting together.)

“Data is the lifeblood of Formula 1,” says Mark Gallagher. “The steering wheel itself looks like a game controller on steroids.”f1 combined

Dave Coulthard adds, “When I first started as a test driver, I just gave my notes directly to the engineers, in person. Now, more than 80 gigs of data per car are recorded from every sensor imaginable, every week.”  While that much information is necessary to design, test, and run these astonishing vehicles, it comes at a price. “I would spend just a few hours a day actually behind the wheel driving,” says Coulthard, “But thousands of hours going over data with the designers and engineers.”

Is the huge influx of data worth it?

Only if it is gathered and analyzed in a centralized way, where the hundreds of variables from multiple sensors can be quickly applied to delivering on a single purpose: Going as fast as humanly possible while never losing sight of the overall goal.  Coulthard mentioned several instances during actual races where the two-way radio exchange with data-monitoring engineers allowed him to make real-time adjustments in how he was driving and braking. Pretty cool.

But what about us marketers?

How many data sources does your marketing team oversee or have access to today? It may not equal the number of sensors in a Formula 1 racer, but chances are it’s in the dozens. And why not? Every time a new initiative around mobile, display, email, or reporting arises, you can “get an app for that.”

The trouble, warns Kevin Akeroyd, is that all those nifty technologies (and the groups that are using them) hit the customer with many separate, repetitive and sometimes annoying messages. “The marketer’s ecosystem has become too complex,” says Akeroyd. “And the silos make it nearly impossible to deliver coordinated and meaningful customer experiences.”

If marketing could be more like the F1 engineers, we’d have a powerful, centralized way to gather and analyze data from all those channels. “This kind of real-time, consolidated view is the only way you can successfully inform and personalize the next communication and the next,” advises Akeroyd.

And how can you argue with the example he cited?  Just by removing data silos, a top retailer increased sales by 400%!

Teamwork – What it can deliver:

Just how far can you push a team to perform? Check out this wild example of technology and manpower taken to the limits: In the beginning years of Formula 1, the average pit stop lasted more than 20 seconds. “Drivers would barrel dangerously down the pit lanes at the fastest possible speed to make up the time,” remembers Coulthard.  That amount of time (or risk) is not acceptable in a world where hundredths of a second can make or break a racing season.

Technology and data come in to play, again. Every aspect of a pit stop was recorded and analyzed – how many moves it took to change wheels, refuel, etc. -- and a simplified, step-by-step method was devised. Even new tools and parts were created, such as wheels with the lug nuts attached and a jack that swivels. But parts and choreography only go so far. Each team member, from the lowest man on the totem pole all the way up  to the driver, committed to doing his role perfectly. Period.

The results are jaw-dropping.  In 2013, the Ferrari pit crew set a new record with a 3 second pit stop. And later the same year in Austin, Texas, the Red Bull team broke the 2-second barrier. “That’s not even enough time for you to shift out of gear,” quipped Coulthard.   10410853_542696699197355_698713862312025539_n

That simplifying of systems and processes applies readily to marketing. 

By getting once-scattered individual and group efforts focused and coordinated to meet clear goals, organizations have doubled and tripled the effectiveness of their promotions. Backing that human synchronization are tools and products that simplify, while empowering, the most harmonious of cross-channel communications.

And finally, the “Human factor” – Will technology take the spark away?

One of the questions from the audience made me think of a common concern creative types have about marketing technology. A very enthused F1 fan asked Dave Coulthard if he thought that all the gadgets,sensors, computers, engineers and real-time communication were ruining the exciting “seat of the pants” skills that true race champions bring to the track.  Dave thought about it for a moment and replied “I would put any of today’s tech-assisted drivers up against the super stars of the past. It still takes natural gut instincts. You just need to use new technology to better manage the risk.”

In marketing parlance it means that no matter how automated things become, there will always be the need for good old-fashioned human interaction.

Made it. Not one racing pun.

(You don’t know just how hard that was.)

For more event highlights, follow the event discussion on Twitter with the hashtag #MME14.

Main image source: files.khinsider.com

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