Building impressions

Building Impressions: Stages and Platforms

“Building Impressions” is one of our organization’s lines of business. It’s also our two-word motto. Although we operate through multiple divisions, paramount is our purpose and mission stated in the simplest of terms: “More Than Signs, We’re Building Impressions.” It’s become a platform of sorts, for us. And if you haven’t identified yours, this article will show why you should and how it works through examples that demonstrate the use of both literal and figurative “stages and platforms” to build impressions that lead to more business.

In our profession, you and I provide creative visual solutions as a brand and image resource. There’s more to us than the obvious making of signs and producing printed graphics. The depths of our abilities go deeper than that. If you strive to build impressions, then there’s more value to hiring you than the average job shop. Are you marketing yourself that way? That’s the question that leads to this article’s topic of developing and using stages and platforms in your marketing strategy to stand out, inform, educate and win more business.

Branding the race event in the lawn inside Michigan International Speedway. (Photo courtesy LAT USA.)

Every sign, graphic, display or design becomes a stage to perform and provides a platform to showcase work. But the performance does not have to end with the completion of a project or the addition to a portfolio. The stage is larger and the platform wider than the immediate job in production or the ones shown on your website. The process of building impressions is continual. Its reach is broad. That reach is an extension of your stage and platform that helps tell your story and influences the attainment of targets and goals. 

Two highly respected and well recognized organizations that have been successful with creating and implementing strategies involving “stages and platforms” were willing to share their experiences for this article; Michigan International Speedway and Fastenal.

The Michigan International Speed-way, or MIS, is the track of “iconic speed” with a long tradition in motor sports dating back to its first race in 1968 and first NASCAR race in 1969. Racing is the platform for MIS, and in turn MIS has become a stage for other businesses.

Brad Kuhbander is the manager of media relations at Michigan Inter-national Speedway. MIS is located in rural Brooklyn, Mich., in the middle of field, wood and country along a two-lane road an hour and half from downtown Detroit. It sets on 1,400 acres with 8,000 campsites making it Michigan’s largest campground. Despite its size, Brad says they are part of a small town.

This “small town” is full of activity, not all of it related to automobiles and racing. In fact, Brad said that MIS considers itself more a “national park” than just a race track and that outlook is a platform for their promoting, marketing, and branding to that theme. MIS in its entirety is a stage in itself—one they fully embrace as they build a brand as being a venue of diversified uses. MIS is an event center, a place for observing nature, field trips, and conducting research and development for some of the world’s leading companies. Businesses entertain and host as well as attend and sponsor races.

Brad explained the importance of the experience for any visiting patron. That experience is partially how MIS expands its platform in order to bring that visitor back with favorable word of mouth bringing others. Part of the experience is visual. Signs and graphics are so important to MIS that they own and operate a small sign production shop that employs three people who make displays full time. They have another division called Corporate Partnerships that organize and assist outside providers with making and installing their client’s advertising signage within MIS.

Another interesting fact I gleaned from our conversation that emphasizes the impact of MIS as a stage for others comes from an economic impact study they conducted. One hundred thousand people attend each of their two NASCAR race events each year. And the races are televised—with replays. Aside from racing, they host many other events throughout the year bringing thousands to their race track and indoor venues. The value of the impressions, or the views generated by MIS for anyone advertising there, they estimate, is worth three hundred million dollars—the equivalent to the Super Bowl—annually. That’s one impressive platform in my humble Hoosier opinion.

When asked where else and what else does MIS do to build impressions through other forms of platforms and stages, Brad shared that they regularly exhibit at large RV expos, present through speaking engagements, and they listen to their fans. “We don’t just look at normal opportunities,” he explained, “but we look outside the box for new ideas. One way we do this is with a Fan Advisory Board established to generate ideas from the outside that we can implement. Then they see their idea when they return. Fans love it. We do too.”

The “Pre-Race” Stage at Michigan International Speedway. (Photo courtesy of Getty Images.)

Note: Listening to customers is a great way to use and manage your platform. And it can get you out of the box. 

Unique to MIS for this particular article is their Pre-Race stage. Not only do they use stages, but they own one. It was developed for highlighting promotions and events within the main event. It’s highly visible and decorated bringing lots of attention to the intended use. It has become so popular an item that businesses and other venues call MIS to rent it from them.

Question: What unique stage could you create that others would admire or pay for the use of? 

Now let’s shift over to Fastenal. If you fabricate signs or use hardware, chances are you buy from them. Their accomplishments since starting out in 1967 are extraordinary. This global company has no stage fright when it comes to their brand. They’ve even incorporated NASCAR and racing as part of their marketing platform to help drive growth of their business and brand. Like MIS, they too have developed some unique approaches that focus on customers and employees as the main characters.

“For Fastenal, our people are the brand,” says Mike Stienessen, Fastenal’s corporate director of marketing. “The employees make us what we are.” Mike and Sally Olson, the marketing manager, shared at length how the company spends an enormous amount of energy and resources on the people who work there. “The people of Fastenal become the stage and platform for the brand.”

Fastenal has used racing as both a sales platform to strengthen its brand in the market and also to increase employee engagement. Much of Fastenal’s marketing is aimed internally for recruiting and retention. Their efforts pay off in the form of loyalty, commitment and employees who have fun while working hard.

A recent example is an internal marketing campaign they conducted that allowed employees to compete to earn a trip to the NASCAR Sprint Series Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway and be a guest of Roush Racing. The campaign had a military connection where Fastenal would sponsor and decorate a team of three racecars. The winning employee’s name was applied to the cars along with the sponsor and themed graphics. They had over fifty percent employee participation.

Question: Are you engaging with your employees and involving them as part of your platform?

The people of Fastenal understand the brand as well as the mission; we are where you are. That mission is carried out in over twenty eight hundred stores in over twenty countries. Their brand’s platform is far reaching. They take advantage of that by being visible, interactive, and tangible. The world is their stage. From that stage they strive to perform according to their core values. They strive to be real—authentic and relatable. That way they assure their customers and partners that they truly are where they are. You can count on them. They are reliable.

Note: In order to build impressions, you need to be visible and strive to relate your message clearly. You need to take your stage to the customers.

Besides employees, the customers and vendors are also major players on Fastenal’s stage. The company brings all three together at their single largest annual event hosted at their main distribution center in Indianapolis, Indiana. I’ve been to one of these events. It is an amazing display. Vendor booths sprawl the acres of building and parking lot. Customers from all over the globe are brought in, flown in, and driven in to participate and experience the show. The take-aways are education, ideas, and a clearer picture of what all Fastenal can do.

David MacFadden, a Fastenal GM in Kailua Kona, Hawaii, with Jack Roush as the winner of an internal contest.

Suggestion: Bring people in to see your business and culture aside from a current project and turn your organization into a stage.

Fastenal takes advantage of traditional forms of stages and platforms including social media, exhibiting at several shows each year, and signage. They also have an in-house design and production team that makes signs and displays. Print and vinyl applications are crucial in order for you to actually see them where you are. 

I asked Mike and Sally what they advise in regards to marketing and promoting through stages and platforms. “Spend more money on marketing,” Mike replied lightheartedly, but also quite serious as many people don’t spend enough to get the job done. “Engage your people. Learn your market. Know and follow your core values. Be true to yourself as you go to market. That’s what Fastenal does and is. We are real. We are where you are.” 

As a writer and business owner, finding ways to improve or add to my palette of tools that widen my audience is important. Most likely it is important to you as well. My goal here was to equip you with ideas and to challenge you to create and use various forms of stages and platforms to maximize your company’s potential and opportunity, and your client’s. Why? Because businesses travel at the speed of sales. And we all need more sales.

The stage or platform can become dull and boring unless you keep them fresh and evolving. There are many ways to stay crisp and attractive. For starters, be sure you are exercising the use of social media. Consider launching an app or a new division. Create or change a tag line. Develop a product. Give it a name. Design it a logo. Enter and compete for an award. Give talks. Write a book. Get involved with a community event. Give to charity. Sponsor something or someone. Take on a unique project. Show it when completed. Spend money on marketing.

All of these become platforms that can influence the speed of your sales. But only you can dream up a stage where nobody is performing on yet. Hopefully I’m able to churn the juices of your brain to think outside the box to build your impressions.