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Q&A with McLaren’s Group Brand Director, John Allert

Can you explain how the McLaren brand has stretched from a motorsports team to a broader technology group?

Our recent name change to the McLaren Technology Group represents the on-going shift and diversification of the business beyond motorsport.

Whilst our success is synonymous with our 52 years of winning in Formula One (we have won 182 Grand Prix races and 20 World Championships), the diversification of the business actually started over 25 years ago when we designed and manufactured high-performance electronic car control systems. Such systems are now used by every team in Formula One, NASCAR and IndyCar.  Subsequently, we began to develop and manufacture road-going supercars, now a stand-alone company, McLaren Automotive.

More recently, McLaren Applied Technologies was established to harness all of our technical know-how and expertise from motorsport. The world’s racetracks have always provided the ultimate global marketing platform, however, and that’s why consumers have traditionally known us as a motorsport brand.  Today, our business continues to develop into a diversified high-technology company and our name change is now more representative of the many different stakeholders we serve—and the future growth areas for the business.

Do we have any sense of the reach or scope of the McLaren Technology Group today? Are they purely involved in auto engineering or do they consult on wide-ranging engineering projects?

The businesses under the McLaren Technology Group brand cover vastly differing fields—from motorsport and every conceivable area of engineering through to iconic super car design and construction.  Increasingly, our reach goes far beyond traditional areas of engineering and we are now applying our unique innovation to industries such as oil & gas, healthcare, pharmaceuticals, aviation and financial services.

As an example, the financial services sector is not something that you would traditionally associate with McLaren, but, via a recent alliance with KPMG, we will apply the same technology and predictive analytics that we use in Formula One to KPMG’s audit and consultancy division. The partnership enables KPMG to improve its service offering, whilst opening up a range of new markets and opportunities to the McLaren brand.

What challenges have you faced in the development of the McLaren brand?

Formula One traditionally commanded a huge global TV audience, but, over the past few years, audience numbers have flattened and this created pressure to perform across other areas of marketing. We recognised the need to broaden our audience base to include not only women, but also a younger demographic—one that consumes media across multiple digital channels. Our brand research at the time reinforced this.

Our brand research also indicated that consumers perceived the Formula One brand as being more  “unemotional” when compared to brands like Ferrari and Red Bull—brands that consumers associate with passion and entertainment. The challenge, therefore, was how to reach out to a new generation of fans in a way that was still relevant to who we are—a high-tech, high-performance Formula One racing team.

The solution was the creation of Tooned, a computer-animated series featuring the Formula One team, set in and around the McLaren Technology Centre. The first series ran on Sky and featured the real voices of Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button, who played their own characters. This was our first venture into the world of branded content, so there were many learnings along the way!

The series went on to be viewed by over 25 million people and a social media following of over two million also developed. A second series followed, as well as a spin-off show for one of our sponsor partners, Mobil 1.

Tooned has helped us engage with a whole new audience, as well as change the perception of our brand.

Can you define the company culture and behaviours—and how they relate to the business proposition?

Whilst the scale of the McLaren group of companies has grown over the years, the passion and commitment that drives it has never changed. Creating a race-winning Formula One car requires focus, ambition, imagination, flair, dedication and microscopic attention to detail. Winning is in our DNA and as we strive to continue to win, this ensures a culture of continuous innovation that permeates every part of our organisation. Every McLaren touchpoint is informed by these principles and they act as a code of behaviours for our employees. It is something that is reflected throughout the McLaren Technology Centre campus in Woking. The campus is neither an industrial unit nor a factory, but rather a home that makes a powerful statement about what we believe in and what we aspire to achieve. Consequently, employees are very proud of where they work and they take pride in everything they do.

What can other auto brands learn from McLaren?

Of course other leading supercar manufacturers also strive to win and be the best, but we never divert from our relentless pursuit of excellence.  This irrefutable tenacity has allowed us the unique opportunity of expanding far beyond the traditional realms of automotive and motorsport—and this is something that very few other companies, if any, have managed to do successfully.  It’s led to us partnering with other leading brands—brands like GSK, KPMG and CNN—brands that one would never have traditionally associated with motor racing or supercar production. The constant thread through all of these alliances is that each company is a leader in its particular field of expertise and, consequently, our benchmarks for innovation and inspiration today really have no limits.

If you would like to discuss any of the topics addressed in this interview, please send an email to hello@interbrand.com.

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