What Your Business Can Learn from the Indy 500

Winning Business Lessons From the Indy 500

This weekend I’ll attend the Indianapolis 500 for the 26th time, joined by hundreds of thousands of fans and a global audience.  The race has run every year since 1911, with the exception of America’s involvement in two world wars.  

What makes “The Greatest Spectacle In Racing” great?  How does an event stay relevant for over 100 years?  Here are business lessons from the Indy 500 you can use.  

Embrace Change

The Indianapolis 500 was founded by visionary Carl Fisher as a proving ground and promotional venue for the automobile.  It grew into the biggest one day sporting event in the world.  Indy gave us the first rear view mirror, Janet Guthrie -the first lady driver, and SAFER barrier technology to lessen impact should a driver hit the wall.  

The Indy 500 salutes tradition while constantly evolving to be relevant tomorrow.  After a century, will your business still be evolving?

Do the Hard Work of ReInventing

World War Two nearly killed the 500.  Lucky for us Indiana businessman, Anton Hulman, purchased the dilapidated grounds.  

Mr. Hulman invested his money and himself into rebuilding the icon.  A shy man by nature, he left his comfort zone to become a promoter for the historic event.  He also imposed a deadline, proclaiming the race would resume in May, 1946.  It did.  

Reinvention is never comfortable or easy.  Which is why most businesses don’t do it.  

Are you willing to put money on the line, make yourself uncomfortable, and stick to a deadline?  

Connect Emotionally and Customers Come Back

Between the playing of Taps and Back Home Again in Indiana, adults cry.  Then the green flag drops.  Fans cheer.  Memories are made.   

There’s a reason so many race fans go year after year.  They, like me, have an emotional connection with the Indy 500. 

What can you do to create an emotional connection with your clientele?   

Don’t Insult Your Customers

In 2001, Steven Tyler took creative license with the Star Spangled Banner.  A military veteran next to me was visibly incensed.  He wasn’t the only one.  On Memorial Day there are certain things you do and don’t do.  Bastardizing the national anthem is on the don’t do list.  The Indy 500 has not allowed a display like Mr. Tyler’s since. 

Lesson:  People don’t pay to have their values insulted.  

Let Fans Tell Your Story

“Word of mouth advertising” really means: “word of reputation earned over years of doing the right thing for customers.”  

That’s the Indy 500.  A century old event that still works hard to satisfy it’s customers.  Those loyal customers become ambassadors for the brand. 

Do you have clients who love you so much they tell your story on your behalf? 

Milk The Media

Chances are, you’ve seen images of an Indy winner dumping milk on his head.  That’s not accidental.  Indy leverages it’s size and power through the power of media.  Beyond TV and radio coverage, the race is everywhere, including social media.  

Are you using media to build up your brand?  

Utilize All Your Assets

Some people don’t dig racing.  For them there’s the new Snake Pit concert venue sponsored by Coors Light.  The infield was always a party, but was it profitable?  Indy capitalized on it’s resources to turn a corner of the property into a profit center.  The bonus: some of those 22 year olds partying at the concert might be next decade’s race fans. 

Are you capitalizing on all your resources?  Selling something to all your potential customers?  Creating next decade’s bigger client with a smaller offering today?  

Sell the Experience

You can live without the Indy 500.  Just as you can live without a cell phone, heated car seats, and organic artichokes.  So, how do you build rabid fans for an auto race, unnecessary though it may be?  Make it an experience.  Then market the hell out of it.   

No place does this better than Indy.  Air Force flyovers, music performed by Kelly Clarkson, and thousands of balloons lifting off just before they announce “Ladies and Gentlemen, start your engines!”  

Look at the advertising and it’s obvious, they’re selling an experience, not an automobile race.  

Customers increasingly pay for experiences, not goods or services.  Are you delivering your clientele an experience?  

The Checkered Flag

In the race to do business better apply these lessons from the Indianapolis 500 and you’ll be in the winner’s circle.  

Damian Mason is a Businessman, Speaker, Writer, and Indy 500 Fan. www.damianmason.com 

Angie Carel