A winning formula: my day at McLaren

I’ve been a Formula One fan for over 25 years and a loyal supporter of the McLaren team. I was one of 10 very lucky fans (worldwide) to be chosen by the McLaren team, via Twitter, to visit their impressive headquarters in Woking as a VIP guest. They wanted to meet their social media fans and to gauge reaction to a new McLaren app that had just been made available on the App Store. As you can imagine, I was rather surprised to be asked and immediately jumped at the chance.

The day itself was an incredible experience which I won’t forget. I found it especially interesting from a brand standpoint and a few of my observations are noted below.

A compelling brand story

Our tour of the facility began with a moving video that tells the very human story of the vision of Bruce McLaren, whilst he ‘walks away’ from the accident that was to claim his life in 1970.

Matt Bishop, the head of communications (whom you may have seen on TV) then discussed the origins of the team and how they looked set to disband completely in the aftermath of Bruce’s tragic accident, but team member Teddy Mayer decided not to give up and to race again. So they did, and at the next race, they won. It was stirring stuff. You could have heard a pin drop as he told us this story, and Matt told us that all the facilities we would be looking at were formed as a result of that decision. And that is the McLaren spirit.

The powerful mission statement

The mission statement is very simple; ‘we exist to win’. Since arriving in the sport in 1966, they’ve won more Grand Prix than any other Formula One marque. This becomes very evident when you visit the trophy cabinet. I say cabinet, in actual fact it’s an enormous corridor that contains 639 trophies in glass cases, the largest collection of motorsport trophies anywhere in the world. Staff at McLaren are not allowed to eat at their desks – they have to visit the canteen three times a day. Guess which corridor they have to go through to get there? Yes, the trophy corridor. It’s a constant reminder of their purpose. The team has struggled on track for the last two seasons, but the desire to win is very clear and everyone we spoke to had an unshakeable belief and confidence in the brand. 

The power of presentation

From the moment you drive around the lake and see the ultra modern Norman Foster building for the first time, you cannot help but be impressed. It was aptly described as 90 percent Nasa and 10 percent Disney, creating an immediate wow factor. And it doesn’t stop when you get inside. There is a large ‘boulevard’ area which showcases a collection of racing cars from various seasons gone by. The attention to detail is mind-blowing and the consistently high standards of presentation extend to every area; signage, architecture, visitor passes, conference areas; everything has been given the ‘McLaren’ treatment. This consistent approach makes for a very powerful, memorable and distinctive brand.

As VIP guests we were lucky enough to be given a goodie bag containing two coffee table books and a McLaren cap, all impeccably presented. This is a team that is known for the fastidious approach to the way it presents itself. This is part of the reason why I like them.

As McLaren are now expanding into creating a range of road cars, we were also treated to seeing their car production facility. We were given the same five-star treatment as the lucky few who can afford to own one of their cars (and are willing to endure the six-month waiting list). We were taken to a special elevated viewing gantry which showed the entire factory. I say factory but it was as spotless as any laboratory. All the cars are hand-built, painted and tested so it was also incredibly quiet. Creating an impressive and memorable customer experience is clearly one of their goals, and it showed.

Active social media presence

What was also really interesting was to see that the team were very concerned about what their fans thought. They have taken a very proactive  approach to Twitter and have engaged their supporters in active dialogue. They asked our opinion about various issues in Formula One, including what we wanted the F1 car livery to look like, to how we would feel if Jenson Button was to leave the team … They also showcased a new app (one of the first Formula One teams to produce this) which we road tested on iPads.  They seemed genuinely interested in our feedback and from a fan's point of view it was amazing to feel you were contributing to the team! Then, when I thought the day couldn't get any better, they introduced us to none other than current F1 driver Kevin Magnussen! Our collective jaws hit the floor.

It was great to see the facilities, the wind tunnel, the testing bays and hear the roar of the engines being fired up, but I think all the visitors came away feeling that McLaren had built something far greater than just a car factory. It just felt special. A place with a strong spirit of dedication to winning. And we felt privileged to get a glimpse into it. As brand experiences go, I’m not sure it could ever be topped.