The Ultimate Marketing Experience

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As I was walking to my car after work the other day, I heard the somewhat unusual sound of squealing tires and revving engines in the distance. This initially struck me as odd, but my powers of recall connected the dots— the BMW Ultimate Experience event was taking place next door in the parking lot of the Arlington International Race Track.

The BMW Ultimate Experience is a 7-day event that travels from city to city over the summer. BMW lugs over a dozen new BMW models to each location, offering test drives, autocross lessons, driver control clinics, teen driving clinics, and a fairly impressive showroom. The event tagline is “Driving is Believing”, and after this event I was certainly a believer. As someone involved in media/publishing/marketing I want to share this experience to help you up your marketing game. What BMW has done with this event is truly incredible and I was majorly impressed from a marketing standpoint.

Hassle-free Marketing

I mentioned powers of recall earlier because a few weeks before this event I had gotten an invite by email to attend. Apparently owning two old BMWs (or maybe it was the frequent trips to the parts counter at my local dealer) qualified me for the marketing message. I dismissed the invite at the time because I was supposed to be out of town that day. That trip ended up being cancelled, and here I was, just a couple hundred feet away from the event. I had to at least check it out, right?

Before I knew it I was signed up for a free, zero obligation, 2-hour autocross driving clinic that was to start almost immediately. The sign-up required only my driver’s license number, name, email and mailing address, birthdate, BMW model of interest, and my preferred/local BMW center. No SSN, no credit info, no auto insurance info, no occupational or income info. The staff and signup forms were very clear on what they were collecting and how everything was funded, at no time making me feel that there was any type of “catch”. Knauz BMW, my dealership of choice, now simply knows that there is a living, breathing human being who likes driving BMW automobiles, is at least mildly interested in buying a BMW in the future, and has just been immersed in BMW driving and shameless propaganda for 2 hours. In exchange for this slight bit of basic personal info, I got to take one of their brand new cars and drive it violently around cones in a parking lot.

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Encouraging Word-of-Mouth

BMW never asked how close I was to buying one of their cars, or about how qualified I was. And that’s fine. Great, actually. In my case I’ve already owned 5 of their vehicles. I don’t need to be convinced that a BMW is the Ultimate Driving Machine; I’m already totally nuts about their products and brand. In fact, the vast majority of the group were current BMW drivers. Maybe the play is that I’ll share the experience out with my peer group even if I’m not ready to buy any time soon. Perhaps BMW is not betting the bank on me as a lead directly, but hoping the experience will be so great that I’ll spread the word to others. Heck, I am writing a blog post about it after all.

Integrating the Sales Pitch into the Experience

They started us off with some straight-up content-rich marketing material. We were ushered into a really neat looking “igloo” shaped structure, a name appropriate not only for the outside appearance but also for the interior temperature. Ultra-cold AC kept us alert as the lights dimmed and the entire dome above us was painted with high-def BMW imagery and video. Sound, not surprisingly, was provided by Harmon/Kardon. Nice dual branding for HK neatly piggybacked into this BMW piece. And, of course HK sound is an option in BMWs so you’re getting exposed to HK as a BMW feature as well.

The video was great and was followed up by an in-person explanation of handling basics (oversteer, understeer, weight transfer, sightlines, etc.) by a BMW driving instructor accompanied by informational slides on the screen. The entire presentation was short and sweet, yet informative while still containing solid branding elements.

We were also encouraged to take pictures and video and share the experience with others, using a pre-arranged hashtag. Their marketing people would be monitoring any tweets and putting you up on the big screen in the showroom if they picked yours. Nice incentive to share the experience.

Right after that presentation we were escorted over to the autocross track. This is a “track” essentially defined by cones and lines in a big parking lot. The idea is to run a car through very tight turns in a very small area. 6 identical 228i coupes sat in the staging area next to the track and 6 instructors gave us their introductions and background. They were all extremely qualified professional drivers and gave us a brief explanation of the program and what we were about to experience.

After that brief intro we were assigned to the cars, this first round being driven by the pro drivers. They took us through one slow lap, explaining the turn-in, apex, and track-out points in each turn (marked with different cone colors). Following the slow lap, the instructors ran 2 full-speed laps with us in the cars. It was absolutely incredible how fast they took the cars through the course. I emerged from my car after that run with a certain giddy feeling not unlike the first time I drove a high-speed go-kart as an adult. Pure joy.

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Make it Easy to Share the Experience

Next up was us actually driving the cars. Before we drove the cars we were each issued an iPhone temporarily. We put our email address into the phone and handed it to the driver who mounted it up under the rearview mirror of the car. This iPhone would video our run, both inside and outside the car, parse it up into a short film with music and effects, upload it to YouTube, and send us an email with a link to the video… all while we were still there. I literally got the email before I left the event! Incredible. Another opportunity to “share the experience”.

And what an experience it was. I flung that car through the course as skillfully as I could, amazed at what these cars are truly capable of. It was no-holds-barred, too, as the instructor encouraged me to floor it in the straights, brake hard for the turns, and glide through the apexes efficiently. Tires shrieked as the car clawed for traction in the course and the turbocharged 4 cylinder powerplant happily pushed us forward. After a few laps behind the wheel I left the car, again, totally blown away by the experience. Driving IS believing.

The Promotion should Accentuate the Brand’s Values

This was also a great demonstration of the company standing by their product. These were off-the-shelf, stock vehicles that had already been romped on in several cities before getting to ours. The drivers said all they have to change are tires and brake pads. That’s it. The cars just take the abuse day in and day out without so much as a shrug. I remember thinking that it would be interesting to see what some other brands’ cars would look like after a few days of this torture, much less an entire summer of it.

After the initial solo runs, we were divided into teams. Each 6-man team had to go through a relay race, timing runs and driver changes. Two laps per driver. All of a sudden these 12 strangers became friends, rooting for each other and high-fiving as we each tore through the cones. Great fun, though my team did lose due only to a technicality— one of our drivers hit a cone (2-second penalty).

We did a quick recap and informal awards ceremony, and that was it. I strapped back into my 14-year-old BMW with an entirely new perspective of what it was capable of outside of my daily commute, and that’s not even accounting for the substantial addition of horsepower that my car has over the ones I just drove.

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The Full Marketing Loop

This was an AMAZING example of content marketing and an incredible experience. I was taught useful information and given a thrilling experience essentially by a brand. The content is the instruction and the experience and at the same time I’m qualified as a lead and handed right over to my local dealer.

Oh, and let’s not forget the $1000 coupon I received if I were to buy a new BMW within 60 days from the event, which would close the marketing loop definitively. I’ve never gotten a $1000 coupon before, and as great as that is I still have to figure out how to come up with the other $74,000 for a new ///M3!

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VP of IT

In addition to being the VP of IT for Scranton Gillette communications, Joel is a competitive water skier, family guy, guitar player, and tinkerer. Joel also enjoys photography, comedy, music,...

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