Thursday, October 29, 2009

Core Benefit: Customer Aggrandizement

The need to feel important is universal. When it is satisfied via rational and healthy means, it is called self-esteem. But sports fandom is inherently irrational. There is no evidence to suggest that the success of favored teams and competitors is in any way correlated with the relative social desirability of their fans.

Social psychologists refer to self-aggrandizement as illusory superiority, a distorted opinion of one's social standing.

I happen to be a fan of the Indianapolis Colts. If the Colts should win the Super Bowl this season, then I will likely feel a sense of aggrandizement, as if I had something to do with the team's achievement. The illusion is one that I will be happy to indulge. The academic literature suggests that I am not alone.

The Jersey Effect

Don't bother looking up the name of this particular affliction; I made it up.

The Jersey Effect is the term that I use to describe the inherent marketing advantage that is enjoyed by sports in which the participants represent either a community or an institution.

For example, I do not identify myself as an NFL fan, but rather as an Indianapolis Colts fan. The NFL does not have to compete for my allegiance because it is effectively an economic cartel, a monopolistic Not-for-Profit institution that operates for the benefit of its 32 member franchises. Economists have reached the same conclusion regarding Major League Baseball, the NBA, the NHL, and the NCAA.

Fans of sports that are sanctioned by those organizations tend to be devoted to a single member franchise or institution. They identify not with the economic institution, but rather with the Jersey of a single competitive entity. These fans are aggrandized when the guys (or gals) in their favorite jersey are successful.

In my opinion, there is but one example of The Jersey Effect in all of motorsports. That, of course, is the Prancing Horse of Scuderia Ferrari. A good number of Formula 1 fans are in fact Ferrari fans. That the vast majority of those fans will never own a Ferrari is evidence of the inherent irrationality of their fandom. Ferraris are the fast and sexy trophies of the elite. Scuderia Ferrari therefore offers the many who are not elite a parasocial connection to the few who are.

Of course the connection is an illusion. But that does not make it any less real to those who choose to indulge themselves.

The Sanctioning Body Effect

Citizen John provided a comment in this space some time ago that really got me thinking. He noted that U.S. auto racing fans have traditionally demonstrated a strange and disproportionately strong connection to one sanctioning body or another. Having given the matter much thought, I tend to agree.

Might it be that the Sanctioning Body Effect is to racing what The Jersey Effect is to other sports? Is this the foundation upon which fans base their self-aggrandizement? I believe that a very compelling case can be made.

It's where the Big Boys race. NASCAR Fan is cool because his sanctioning body is by far the most popular in the United States. It's where all of the best American drivers go to prove themselves. The cars are heavy, have skinny tires, and are difficult to drive. It's macho and nostalgic. The fact that the fancy-shmancy folks in New York and San Francisco don't like it is only further proof that it's the best.

It's only for the smart, sophisticated and successful. ALMS Fan is cool because he likes what the socioeconomic winners like. NASCAR is the WWE and Wal-Mart. ALMS is the PGA and Saks. The cars are expensive, technologically advanced, and they race on road and street courses. Some events are even in major cities. It's for the hip, urban and successful. The fact that ALMS has a very small fan base is only further proof that it is superior. You can't be better than the crowd if you are the crowd, you know?

The IRL Effect

If there is such a thing as The IRL Effect, then we can say with certainty that it is not a source of aggrandizement. NASCAR has the best and most popular U.S. drivers and teams. Formula 1 has the best and most popular international drivers and teams. The cars are neither technologically interesting nor particularly difficult to drive. They are also essentially the same, the lone exception being that cars that are better financed are consistently faster than the others. The series appears to race wherever it can collect a check that is large enough to cover its costs. IndyCar is a relic, a once mighty warship that was decommissioned long ago.

The IRL Customer is aggrandized only at the Indianapolis 500, a storied institution that has managed to retain some luster despite its obvious decline in popularity. The market has made clear that the season championship is irrelevant. The few who continue to follow the sport do so primarily because they continue to associate themselves with the perception of a glorious past.

Aggrandizement: Core Benefit and Job to Get Done

IndyCar must become a source of aggrandizement to those who follow it. Watching an IndyCar race must indicate something - something that is irrationally great and desirable - about those who choose to either attend or watch on television. Every human being wants to feel that he or she is better than others. IndyCar needs to help some of them get that job done.

We should note that, although it is true the hunger for aggrandizement is universal, it is also true that not all people are satisfied by the same foods. Therefore, IndyCar must choose. It can not be everything to everyone, but it must be something to someone. Serving one market will likely require that we not serve others.

IndyCar must assist customers with the job of self-aggrandizement. It must give them reason to feel bigger, more important, and superior in some way. But how?

Which product attributes will help IndyCar customers get the job of self-aggrandizement done?

I look forward to reading your comments.


Wednesday, October 28, 2009

A Proposition of IndyCar Racing Core Benefits

"Our sports heroes are our warriors. This is not some light diversion to be enjoyed for its inherent grace and harmony. The self is centrally involved in the outcome of the event. Whoever you root for represents you."
Those words were spoken by Arizona State University Professor of Marketing and Psychology Robert Cialdini, a research pioneer in the field of sports fandom. You can read the entire New York Times article here.

Spectating is a discretionary activity that fans elect to do in lieu of many other entertainment alternatives. Consumers are permitted to indulge all of their biases, prejudices, insecurities, and fantasies when they choose to become fans. They can choose the sports, teams, competitors, and events that appeal to them. In other words, fans are permitted to have their reasons and to keep them to themselves.

Those reasons are what we call Core Benefits. I have adapted the prospective Core Benefits below from definitions provided by I believe that these are the kinds of "Jobs" that IndyCar must empower its customers to get done.

Prospective IndyCar Jobs

Aggrandize - to make the individual feel greater in power, wealth, rank or honor

Intrigue - to arouse curiosity or interest of the individual via unusual, new, or otherwise fascinating or compelling qualities; appeal strongly to; captivate

Thrill - to cause a sudden wave of heightened emotion or excitement, as to produce a tremor or tingling sensation through the body

Affirm or Validate - to substantiate or confirm an individual's belief that something is true, good, important, and morally right

Participate and/or Belong - to take part or share, as with other like-minded individuals

I believe that these words encompass most if not all of our previous suggestions. I have intentionally chosen words that are deeply personal. Choosing one activity rather than another is, after all, a personal choice. Again, people have their reasons. Frequently, they have something to do with at least one of the definitions above.

As always, I invite and encourage you to submit your thoughts, opinions and constructive criticisms.


Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Defining the Core IndyCar Product

Frequent visitors to this site tend to be serious about IndyCar racing. One might imagine that we have a solid understanding of the core benefits that consumers can and should expect to extract from the IndyCar product.

Perhaps, like me, you are more than a little surprised by the difficulty of the task.


Several posters have suggested that "entertainment" is one of the primary jobs that IndyCar consumers are trying to get done. I tend to agree.

However, channeling my inner Socrates, I then ask myself: What is entertainment? Is entertainment really a job? Would we not be more accurate if we were to determine that entertainment is a category that encompasses many different and highly variable jobs that consumers are trying to get done?

The following definitions are from
Entertainment - 1. the act of entertaining; agreeable occupation of the mind; diversion; amusement. 2. something affording pleasure, diversion, or amusement, especially a performance of some kind.
I did not find these definitions to be particularly helpful. Once again, we are dealing with proximate categories, namely diversion, amusement, and pleasure. Our task requires more granularity.

The Law recognizes the differences between proximate causes and direct causes. We should do so, as well.

First, we must identify core "jobs" that enable us to be diverted, amused and pleased. Then, we can determine which of those "jobs" IndyCar might enable its customers to accomplish.

Daredevil Drivers & Harrowing Escapes
For example, prewar Indy competitors were promoted as "Daredevil Drivers." The notion of overcoming perceived physical limitations and danger was a strong driver of "entertainment" at that time

Frank Lockhart, the 1926 Indianapolis 500 winner, is considered by many to have been the dominant U.S. racing driver of his era. The preeminent escape artist of the same era was Harry Houdini. Might these two heroes of the Roaring 20s have been popular for similar reasons? I will argue that, indeed, they were.

Both were confessed mere mortals who appeared to have mastered the complex machines of their time. Neither Lockhart nor Houdini claimed to possess any mystical power to manipulate nature. They amazed and astonished consumers because they were ordinary men appeared to cheat death as a matter of course.

The Jobs

It is clear that both Frank Lockhart and Harry Houdini successfully "entertained" their customers. The relevant question, then, is: What were the "jobs" that Lockhart and Houdini enabled consumers to accomplish?
I believe that the answers to this question are very important. The Spectator Sports Industry was in its nascent stages in the 1920s and 30s. Houdini was a throwback, a legacy act that was derived from traveling circuses, minstrel shows and religious revivalism.

Conversely, racing, boxing and baseball were just beginning to replace those types of acts as staples of the spectator-supported events industry. AM radio, the disruptive mass communications technology of the era, unleashed abundant pent-up demand for entertainment that was based on athletic and sporting competition. In 1939, the NCAA, heretofore a small rule-making committee for intercollegiate athletics, entered the event promotion business with its inaugural men's basketball National Championship.

Level of Analysis

This is the type of analysis that I believe we must produce. We must ask "what" and "why" - the two interrogative forms that can not be answered with a yes or a no. The challenge is daunting.

And, so, we begin.

What do we mean when we say that IndyCar must "entertain" its customers?

I look forward to reading your answers.


Wheldon back with Panther Racing in 2010

According to Curt Cavin of the Indianapolis Star, 2005 Indianapolis 500 winner Dan Wheldon will return to Panther Racing in 2010.

The Englishman, a former IndyCar Series champion, and the team led by John Barnes will join forces once again despite having had a very disappointing 2009 season. Their undisputed highlight together came at Indianapolis, where they finished second to Helio Castroneves and Team Penske.

Wheldon had hinted that he would be exploring other options for 2010. However, fans should recall that IndyCar is a sport in which teams generate approximately $.25 of market value for every $1.00 of operating costs incurred. It is therefore likely that Wheldon's other options were in fact slim and none.

Monday, October 26, 2009

IndyCar: The Core Product

Understanding the core product of IndyCar racing is paramount if we are to determine parameters of the whole product.
A marketing professor at the University of Delaware was kind enough to post some helpful class notes on the web. They include a succinct explanation of how to determine the core product that corresponds with our guiding Maxim - jobs that customers want to get done.

Core Product - marketers must first define the core BENEFITS that the product will provide to the customer.

Therefore, the Core Product (or service) is that which generates the core benefits that enable customers to complete the jobs that they want to get done.

Our Task

We need to brainstorm.

I ask that readers and contributors submit two lists.

  1. Elements of the IndyCar product that generate core benefits to customers.

  2. Jobs that those elements enable customers to get done.

Those who are new to this process are advised to read IndyCar Maxim #4. In addition, I have discussed the "jobs" approach to product development in this entry.

Please submit your lists in the comments section below. I will then organize them and bring them to the top of the next post so that we might give them all due consideration before we make our initial selections.