A few weeks ago I got to spend a half-day at the nearby BMW Performance Driving School, racing a number of their very cool cars for an afternoon. Thanks to my friend Kamran Popkin, I saw firsthand how the BMW brand permeates the entire experience, and came away with a few branding lessons – as well as a track victory, some cool promo items, and an enormous grin.

BMW M3 - performance driving school

The BMW M3 that carried me to a :23.18 victory

For those of you who know me well, if it involves racing bikes or cars, you’ve got my attention. So I eagerly accepted Kamran’s invitation to test my skills on the tracks at the BMW Performance Center, driving an M3, M5, M6, X6, 3-series and 7-series BMWs. And what a rush it was! (Needless to say, I was absolutely thrilled when they announced that I had turned in the fastest time of the day on the M3 track at :23.18.)

But since that day, I’ve considered how well the whole experience spoke for the BMW brand. Here are a few takeaways that I think could apply to any brand interaction.

1. Make it memorable. Sure, sliding $65,000 sports cars sideways around a wet circle will stand out for a few weeks in anyone’s mind. But BMW went out of their way to make the whole experience memorable. For instance, rather than just letting us drive the cars, at the end of the afternoon, we got to ride with a professional race driver and learn how fast the cars could really go (whilst we were thrown about the cabin like rag dolls). Is there some way to make an interaction with your company or brand more memorable? Maybe it’s something you give to all visitors at your facility? Or perhaps some personalization during your ordinary plant tour? Or even a handwritten thank-you note after a purchase?

2. Repurpose good content. When we left, we got a bag full of goodies from BMW, including a nice slick magazine which I later realized was actually a year old. I’m guessing they had extras left over from that print run, but rather than pitch them, they gave them out to visitors. And I read it and learned something about their product line. Do you have content you can repurpose? Maybe video excerpts from a sales conference that you can post on a corporate YouTube page? Or white papers from your website that you can offer on your company blog? Or even branded items left over from a marketing campaign that you could give to prospects you meet?

3. Provide networking opportunities. When the racing was done, they had a great spread of hors d’ouvres, and plenty of time for networking. I talked with an old friend I hadn’t seen in a while, found someone else in my field who was looking for work, and met 4 new business contacts, as well as chatting with the BMW driving instructors. And every time I think of the folks I met, I recall that our initial meeting was at the BMW Performance Center. Are there ways for you to incorporate networking opportunities in your customer events? Lunch and learns at your headquarters? Events at tradeshows? Any time you can get your company’s personnel and your happiest customers networking with other prospects is a good thing.

4. Make your customers feel special. We walked away with cool personalized lanyards and badges, plus a custom hat designating that we had participated in a BMW Performance Center driving experience. Do you do something special for your customers? Even acknowledging their name and company on an LCD screen when they come to visit your facility is a start, but there are other ways as well – personalized promotional items, even a “for VIP customers only” ordering hotline.

5. Reinforce the brand. We didn’t go one place where the BMW logo wasn’t present, but more importantly, the quality you come to expect from BMW permeated the event. The food, the professionalism of the instructors, the attire of the staff, the facilities, the cars (of course), and even the restrooms all spoke for the BMW brand. Of course, the same applies to interactions with your company, which is why the phone manner of your customer service reps, the cleanliness of the restrooms at your facility, even the landscaping of your entrance are all critical. But the same applies to the professionalism of your collateral materials and trade show booth – even the way your product is packed and shipped. Make sure your brand is reinforced the way YOU want it to be perceived.

At the end of the event, BMW passed out a questionnaire which asked, among other things, if our perception of the BMW brand had improved as a result of that day’s experience. Of course, I answered a resounding YES. If you passed out a questionnaire after customers interact with YOUR company, would you get the same response?

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