Some call it “sports entertainment”, others call it “professional wrestling.” Regardless of how do you want to call it, it has left an ineffaceable mark on popular culture. Thanks to the generation-transcending reach of professional wrestling, popular faces like John Cena, Roddy Piper (R.I.P.), Ric Flair, Stone Cold Steve Austin and The Rock became household names.
WWE, the company synonymous with professional wrestling, can teach several lessons about digital marketing, while still entertaining its millions of fans.
In all honesty, since I was a kid I have been a fan of professional wrestling. Along with my younger brother and my father I grew up watching it and since then I never quite shook the habit. As a matter of fact when I was in college, I started dating this guy and the only way I ever agreed to hang out at his place on Monday nights was because he agreed to get cable and I had the opportunity to watch my favorite characters on Monday Night RAW.
What got me hooked as a kid was the appeal of sweaty, beefy, larger-than-life dudes that shouted intimidating, yet funny threats at equally vivid opponents. Now, I have started to appreciate the marketing and business wizardry behind sports entertainment as well as the product.
An extremely smart marketing model and business lurks underneath the veneer of muscular and loud guys beating each other in a ring that can aid your efforts in developing a solid approach for your clients and agency. This solid approach includes “listening” to your audience using data, then reaching them using the same data via audo-visual, social and written content and also using few other tricks too. A creative inspiration can be found by digital marketers in one of the unlikeliest of places, by taking a deeper dive at some of the lessons professional wrestling and WWE teach us.
Listen to the Audience, Research the Audience, Poll the Audience.
So what exactly keeps audiences engaged, given the fact that unlike MMA’s unscripted displays of athleticism, the WWE’s form of athletic competition is scripted? Despite the audience overlap with UFC, WWE is focusing its attention on conduction extensive research analyses of its current sub-groups and groups of fans.
In order to gain a better comprehension of its fan groups and sub-groups, WWE looks for professionals who are capable of analyzing data and conducting in-depth surveys, according to a recent job posting for a Marketing Research Analyst.
They are looking for critical thinkers, not “numbers people,” who can draw logical conclusion based on the data they took and with that same data they can tell stories. Numbers can feel sterile and one-dimensional. However, you understand where your audience is coming from and begin to find common ground once you start using those numbers to build portraits of individuals based on their favorite characters and wrestlers, marital status, household income, geographic location and age. In general, you can surprise your audience or keep them happy once you have fully understands it. That’s why it’s necessary to know how to reach your audience, because based on the 2014 annual report of the company, the business of WWE is extremely dependent on growing and retaining their audience. It’s not difficult to assume that the majority of WWE’s fans are males, but in reality 35% of its audience is female and those fans who are under 18 make up for 24%.
Often, WWE polls fans through the WWE Fan Council, in order to keep a bead on the interests of its wide audience, providing them with the chance to participate in short surveys, in exchange for an opportunity to win gift cards and provide them with a sense of belonging to an exclusive community of fans.
WWE has managed to anticipate and/or respond to the demands of its audience and continually keep pace with them by using critical thinking, quantifiable means of measurement, statistics and surveys.
However, apart from statistics, WWE possesses one important advantage in that, they can measure fan reaction at live events. Stephanie McMahon, WWE’s Chief Brand Officer, said in an interview with Inc.com that the secret to the company’s success are the fans. If they don’t like something they are booing and if they like something they are cheering and if they don’t care about something they don’t say a word.
So, you might not be able to hear boos or cheers if you are a digital marketer, but you can gauge sentiment by looking to social media. In addition, you can use sophisticated or simple tools for your personal needs. In order to poll your audience, you can use SurveyMonkey on a regular basis or you can create user personas by going through Google Analytics. Both tools can help you in understanding the needs of your audience and after that with closed loop reporting you can tie it all together in order to determine the most efficient ways of reaching them, along with your investment’s return.
Use Digital Media Effectively to Reach your Audience
With smart use of social media, the WWE managed to extend its reach by acknowledging that their fans are their lifeblood and piggybacking off of company’s knowledge of their audience. WWE won 3 Shorty Awards in 2014 for their mobile apps, YouTube content and innovative use of social media. Moreover, this award is far more impressive given the fact that there are only 10 people in the social media team of the company and as we all know WWE is a massive organization.
On Twitter and Facebook, WWE has its own presence, but apart from that the majority of its wrestlers have their own profiles on social media and they are quite active there. Amongst the Most Social Brands in the World, they are ranked at number 6.
- Over 100,000 followers- 87 WWE personalities
- Over 500,000 followers- 47 WWE performers
- Over 1 million followers on Twitter- 26 WWE personalities
- Top 100 most-followed athletes on Facebook- 26 WWE personalities
This help fans get to know or interact with the faces that are part of the WWE brand, it provides their employees with a personal stake in prolonging their own storylines, increasing merchandising revenue, and growing their own fanbase within the WWE universe to contribute to the overall bottom line.
Today, social media provides something very important called “free advertisement” in taking scripted feuds and storylines between wrestlers that we see on television and prolonging those same stories through social media. Every comment and tweet back to WWE or a wrestler helps in getting better understanding of fan sentiment along with keeping fans invested and on the edge of their seats. Moreover, it makes the fandom more interactive and unique, thus building trust.
By correlating merchandising revenue with social listening, WWE can determine which wrestler is most popular among fans and it can also determine the most successful storyline so far.
This strategy can be adopted by digital marketers for their clients and their agencies. If you want to build long-lasting partnerships and relationships with people from your community or you want to attract bigger clients to come and work with you, then you have to show them that you are the real deal. You should take some of the responsibility off from your social media team and allow them to share where they’ll be speaking, events they’ll be attending or work they are proud of.
You have to make sure you have set guidelines, before you set your employees loose on social media, so that they know what can’t and can post and how often with regard to promoting your clients or agency. Apart from client confidentiality, which is a must, in the works you should also keep a tight lid on projects before they have come to realization.
People on social media might not respond well to messages that aggressively promote your product or service, but they will respond to engaging, human posts that present a client or agency as approachable and real.
In addition, a lot of WWE personalities, especially those who have retired from active ring duty but are still affiliated with the brand (“Hall of Famers” and “Legends”), have podcast shows where they interview key figures within the organization and members of the current roster. Also, these podcast shows target additional audience segments in some cases. For example, Stone Cold Steve Austin has one R-rated language podcast for adult wrestling fans and another separate PG-rated podcast that is family-friendly.
Digital marketers deal with a product that is way different than the one offered by WWE. However, no one is stopping digital marketers and businesses from putting a face to their clients or agencies by encouraging podcasting and use of social media.
Podcasting allows you to share knowledge and speak with others in your network for marketers and their own clients. People who are listening can just put their headphones on and tune in.
In addition, you can target different audiences by taking the approach of Stone Cold Steve Austin of audience-specific podcasts. One podcast might target the next generation who is interested in learning more and breaking into the industry and another one might target experienced professionals in the marketing sphere.
You’ll have a better comprehension of what resonates with each audience segment, if you follow the methods to analyze your potential and current audience. You have to make sure that you are using the right tactics in order to get the right audience to find your podcasts.
Short-Form Content and Video Power
Short-form content has been a huge part of professional wrestling dating back to its earliest years. Frequently, the wrestlers would address their opponent and the crowd with a short speech also known as a “promo” by grabbing a microphone in order to create storyline feuds that transform to entertaining matches.
It isn’t enough to just have big muscles. In order to make the feud in the ring more convincing, a lot of wrestlers have to be “good talkers.” Moreover, in certain cases where a professional wrestler is a great athlete but not so good with the microphone, ”managers” were assigned to these wrestlers in order to act as their mouthpiece and give these punchy and short speeches while they look menacing by standing behind them.
Wrestlers only have a couple of minutes to get the action going, tell your story and try to win the crowd over.
In order to address their audience, wrestlers have promos, while digital marketers have the ability to make content that meets the needs of the audience.
Though digital marketers consider short-term content to be something related to humor product blurbs and display ads, professional wrestling is an example that a short-term content is as good for your product as long-term instructional or informational content.
Apart from promos, the production team of WWE is highly skilled in compiling short video packages. The themes included in these packages are:
- Putting together highlights of feuds between wrestlers leading up to main event matches, creating “hype” and tension for pay-per-views that air exclusively on WWE’s pay-to-stream network.
- Engender sentiment and nostalgia by honoring a wrestler who recently passed away or to honor a retired wrestler with short retrospective video about his career before his induction to the WWE Hall of Fame.
The concept of content includes so much more than just words written on a page. The word “content” also includes visual assets, such as video and digital marketers know that. Instead of gambling on on-the-go audiences, who has to read the emotion via print, video puts a human, emotive face to those words and because of that video has become quite popular among other forms of content.
However, copywriters are not going to be put out of business because of the video content. Instead, it forces content writers to improve their set of skills. With a visual element in mind, they are encouraged to write. In order to create something emotional and dynamic, it forces content writers to work together with other professionals. In order to create a concise piece that from a variety of angles hits the audience, the writers’ talents, such as music coordinators, editors, videographers, and on-camera talent are pooled.
Though this might sound all dandy and fine for producing videos for B2C clients, for a B2B audience, there is still hope for producing such a video conent. Today, over 80% of decision-makers and senior executives watch more online video in comparison to one year ago, according to HubSpot. If you take some time to explore your audience, their needs, and wants at the end of the day, whether your audience is comprised of wrestling fans or senior executives, they are all people and they would appreciate an entertaining content.
Be the Advocate and Voice of Your Client
You have to make sure that your message is loaded for bear and to-the-point and you have to make an impact with your first impression, whether you are crafting a message to introduce a new member of your team, trying to push a video you’ve created to go viral or you’re pitching editors for a guest blog spot on behalf of your client.
This is the moment where digital marketers can take some advice from Paul Heyman. He is known as the best promo guy in the industry, throughout the world of professional wrestling. He is a manager not a wrestler, the fore-mentioned mouthpiece for a particular wrestler who on behalf of his client “advocates.”
While Paul Heyman’s client is a giant, 6’3”, 295 lb. brute of a man known as Brock Lesnar, your client may be an entity in the B2C or B2B spheres. In order to promote Brock Lesnar, the job of Heyman is to act as the hype men and verbalize the fright he wants to plant in the hearts of his opponents.
All right, if you’re a digital marketer that probably doesn’t sound too familiar.
However, the approach of Heyman is one-of-a-kind. It hits his client’s rivals and audience fast and hard with several memorable, well-chosen words.
Usually, these promos every time begin the same exact way: “Ladies and gentlemen, my name is Paul Heyman and I am the advocate for my client, Brock Lesnar.” After that, depending on the style of execution said and who Brock Lesnar will be destroying, the destruction might include (submission maneuvers, multiple suplexes, steel chairs, etc.), the promo alters accordingly.
In order to create a promo, Heyman explained the three parts to his approach in an interview that aired on WWE Network, on Stone Cold Steve Austin’s podcast. You can use these to create your very own outreach messages to influencers, bloggers and editors who will help share and promote the message of your client. You can definitely learn from his approach, though you might prefer to be not as insulting as Heyman, because he is one of the best guys in the business:
- Tell them who you are.
- Tell them on whose behalf you are speaking.
- Tell them why your client is here and what he is about to do with the person who you are targeting with your words.
By being brief, yet personable, you are honoring that person’s time in doing so. By telling them how much you love them, you’re not treating them in a condescending way. Every day influencers and editors receive hundreds of emails. When someone emails them, they know that they probably want something most of the time. You have a greater chance of them considering your proposition and continue reading your email, by respecting their time and them as well.
These are just a couple of the lessons digital marketers can learn from the WWE and professional wrestling. You should always try to keep an open mind, whether you’re a fan of sports entertainment or not, and for creative inspiration look to unexpected areas.