Digital lessons from pro-wrestling pt.1
Every Saturday morning my grandfather would come over, we would have Egg McMuffins, and we would plop down on the couch to watch the latest episode of WWF Superstars of Wrestling. He absolutely loved Jake 'The Snake' Roberts and every time he would bring out Damien. I loved Rowdy Roddy Piper, because he was as punk rock as they could be at that time. And we both would shout 'Hoooooo!' when Jim Hacksaw Duggan would come on. It was the perfect way to spend a Saturday, and it bonded us.
Today, I'm still a fan. I love the nostalgia I feel when an older wrestler makes a guest appearance. And I love the ridiculousness of current story lines, and picking out guys my grandfather would have rooted for. But today's WWE is a lot different from the one I started to follow in 1987. It's a multi billion dollar media conglomerate, with the chairman Vincent McMahon flashing a $1.2B net worth. This kind of success doesn't happen by dumb luck, and as a student of marketing and advertising, it was apparent how I've learned some lessons in a very non-traditional way from this growth.
FIRST IMPRESSIONS COUNT
You have less than 15 seconds to make your first impression with your audience. And so do most wrestlers.
Enter The Shockmaster.
And...exit The Shockmaster.
The Shockmaster (Fred Ottman) had recently departed from the WWF for WCW where he was supposed to be one of the hottest wrestlers. Setting him up for success he was going to team up with legends Sting, Dusty Rhodes, and Davey Boy Smith to go against another formidable team. But an unfortunate placement of a support beam tripped him and treated him to the floor before he could even hit the canvas. His helmet popped off, and his recovery was awkward at best. Overall it was painfully obvious that the idea of The Shockmaster was completely ridiculous since his gimmick was to play the role of a tough and glittery storm trooper from Studio 54, but it also was the unfortunate end of Ottman's career as everyone knew it. Trip or no trip, he was never going to recover from this one.
What I learned from that moment is to never underestimate the planning that goes into launching a brand. If you have even one misstep or hiccup it could be all over before you even get your stride. Make sure you have crossed every t, dotted every i, and don't put any support beams at shin level.
GRASSROOTS CAN DO THE WORK FOR YOU
Daniel Bryan by all accounts should not have become one of the most popular wrestlers ever, and he certainly should not have had one of the biggest Wrestlemania moments ever. But what helped was a grassroots movement on the internet and in the stadiums that he performed in. Bryan would enter the stadium running down, fingers pointing to the sky, and chanting the word 'Yes!', he would broadcast his finishers by doing the same, and before you knew it, an entire arena would be doing chanting 'Yes!' in unison. It was incredible to watch the momentum build. One word simply became a campaign and a call to arms for fans of this highly skilled performer. One word became the idea of 'I think I can' and turned an underdog into a champion.
ONE WORD! That's all it took. And that's sometimes all it takes for a brand as well. If you have the proper rally cry, a grassroots movement will emerge and your brand will reach the right people at the right time. Think of how Just Do It or Think Different became anthems in their own right. There's no need to over think it, if it fits your brands like a glove, then it will do all the work for you.
KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE - SEE YOUR PROFIT
John Cena is the face of the WWE. He's certainly not my favorite wrestler, but he's the favorite of most little kids. And as a result, the man changes his entire purchasable wardrobe 2-4 times a year. A complete overhaul of hats, shirts, wrist bands, towels, and more. And kids (through their parents) eat it up. It's also why John Cena will remain the face of the company, and will have at least one annual championship run.
The WWE knows that every kid wants some John Cena gear so they oblige. And it's smart, the range of swag isn't about trying to get them to buy every piece, it's about ensuring that everyone can get just a little piece. It's brilliant really. If you know your audience, and what they want or need, you can keep your cash flowing in the right direction. When John Cena's run finally runs out, the fans will let WWE know, not from their cheers, but by their wallets. And at that moment just like the WWE you have to be ready to replace Cena with the next best thing.
YOUR USE OF TECHNOLOGY NEEDS TO BE SMART
In 2014 the WWE launched the WWE Network, a multi-platform network built on the backbone of MLB TV. The content that is available for $9.99 is unheard of, from archived matches to pay-per-views to original programming, the WWE introduced a plethora of content to it's fans. The reach of the WWE doesn't end there though, it extends to Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat and other social channels, showing the importance of a properly laid out content calendar. But more importantly, this all shows how dialed into their own audience the WWE is.
It's about delivering content quickly and efficiently to an audience that is notorious for having a short attention span. It is about knowing where the audience is so they don't waste efforts on channels that would not have impact. Technology is the best friend of the WWE, but the intelligence of how they use it is just one example of why they are one of the biggest entertainment companies in the world.
So it's not all entertainment for me (yes it is), there's actually been some lessons to be learned from a few decades of following pro-wrestling. And I would encourage anyone to follow for a few weeks just to see what happens or at least enjoy watching someone get thrown off a 20 ft cage and put through a table.