Pro wrestling fans are everywhere. They’re prolific on social media, where they talk incessantly about their shared interest in sports entertainment. This community of fans is among the most unique and united in the world. In fact, the bigger part of them call themselves the “WWE Universe.”
World Wrestling Entertainment. WWE. It’s a name every digital native has heard before, regardless of race, social status, or personal preferences. Kicking off as a gimmicky show in the 1950s, the WWE is now regarded as an entertainment giant. It’s a billion-dollar industry with $700 million in annual revenue and fans in 180 countries. The company delivers content 52 weeks a year in 25 languages to almost 650 million homes worldwide. Indeed, no one can ignore the WWE’s encompassing reach. Its influence is so strong that the pro wrestling industry is equated with it.
As an entertainment powerhouse, the WWE has transcended generations. It has certainly left an indelible mark on pop culture. To many, it’s more than just a brand but a way of life.
Marketing Lessons from the Squared Circle
What many businesspeople don’t realize is that some marketing lessons can be found in the unlikeliest of places. We’re talking about the wrestling ring. Brands who want to be as successful as the WWE should follow its footsteps by using progressive marketing tactics and public relations strategies.
By looking at the pro wrestling industry from a marketing perspective, you’ll uncover secrets that you can apply to your business. Here are some of them:
1. Storytelling must sit at your brand’s core.
The WWE calls itself “sports entertainment,” so it’s not really a legitimate sport. All matches are driven by predetermined storylines, and most of what happens inside the ring are choreographed. The business relies heavily on developing great personas and crafting winning storylines. In essence, the squared circle is where athletics marries theatrics.
Since storytelling lies at the core of the WWE, they market each superstar’s brand individually. Everyone gets his or her own entrance music, ring gear, signature pose, signature moves, and even a unique moniker. For example, when Bray Wyatt makes his entrance, people take out their flashlights and wave them through the air. When AJ Styles performs, fans pray for an Ushigoroshi. If none of this makes sense so far, perhaps you’d be familiar with John Cena, the grown-up man famous for his denim shorts, or The Undertaker, who’s always menacing in his Dead-Man costume.
But how exactly does this translate to your business? It’s simple: tell an authentic story that will make your audience care about your product. Give meaning to everything you do so that your audience will have a reason to invest emotionally in your brand. The only way to differentiate yourself from competition is to constantly bring something fresh to the table.
2. The audience dictates what comes next.
What the WWE has that you should have too are data-driven storytellers. The company listens to fans to determine what to do next. As WWE Chief Brand Officer Stephanie McMahon said, “Our fans are the secret to our success. They tell us what they like by cheering; they tell us what they don’t like by booing; and worse, they tell us what they don’t care about by being silent.”
The WWE conducts extensive analyses to determine what appeals to their target market. They use quantifiable means of measurement to construct portraits of fans based on variables. You should do the same in your business. Gauge your audience’s sentiments so you can provide relevant content. Know what makes them tick so you can please or surprise them at will.
3. Digital media is the king of communication.
The WWE’s social media team is composed of only ten people, but that doesn’t hinder them from performing at the top of their game. In fact, the WWE garnered three Shorty Awards in 2014 for its innovative use of social media, YouTube content, and mobile apps. Podcasts are also a good form of content to promote the WWE brand, and so are YouTube videos. However, what really pushed the company to the top is its own streaming service, the WWE network. Reaching over a million subscribers in under a year, the network has inflated WWE’s international popularity.
So, what’s in this for you? As you know, social media is a must for all brands. You can use different digital platforms to appeal to your audience’s emotional side. Provide sneak peeks into behind-the-scene actions, and give your followers something to hold on to. Interact with them the way you would with a friend. Also, try to create a medium of your own—a company blog, for instance—to cultivate a loyal customer base.
4. Adapt to the changing times.
If there’s one thing the WWE got right, it’s that they constantly evolved with the times. One of the most important decisions they made was the improvement in the portrayal of women. Until recently, female wrestlers or “divas” were considered accessories—no one took them seriously. When the Four Horsewomen came, however, women’s wrestling was revolutionized forever. Instead of “divas,” female wrestlers are now called “superstars,” like their male counterparts.
Another progress they made was the blurring of the lines between kayfabe (i.e. the fiction that happens in the ring) and shoot (i.e. reality). Before, it was considered a sin to break kayfabe, but today, the injection of reality in storylines makes the turn of events more interesting. Fans love the gray area where reality meets fiction.
The WWE’s adaptive nature enabled it to reach audiences outside its demographic. From a majority of male audience, the company’s viewership has now grown to include kids, females, and non-sports fans. Its versatility opened huge opportunities for mainstream sponsorship deals and merchandise sales.
So, what has this got to do with your brand? Obviously, you can take this lesson of versatility and apply it to your business. You can’t keep playing the game unless you constantly find ways to be relevant. If one thing doesn’t work, try another. Don’t stop until you succeed.
5. Nothing sells better than passion.
WWE superstars are just people living their dreams every day. For most of them, pro wrestling is life. They joined the WWE because they were fans as kids. You’ll rarely see a lifeless superstar in the ring—everyone shows charisma in his or her work.
A notable superstar who has entertained the crowd for the last eight years is Naomi. Like others before her, she has given her sweat and blood for the business. When she won her first WWE title in 2017, the crowd erupted into chants of, “You deserve it!” When she had to relinquish it only nine days later due to injury, the crowd again erupted into a reverberating, “No!” The WWE Universe empathized with Naomi because she was a passionate and talented worker. It was what gave her story a genuine touch.
Like the WWE superstars, your brand should exude charisma in every possible way. You should communicate a certain energy to your audience—an infectious aura that will draw them closer to you. Remember, if all else fails, passion will carry you through.
In today’s business environment, brands are constantly wrestling for attention. In order to thrive in your industry, you must look for new ways to keep your title. Look for inspiration in unexpected places, and you might just find true gems that will make you an undisputed champion in your field.
Cooper, Lana. “4 Lessons Digital Marketers Can Learn from WWE.” Seer Interactive. August 21, 2015. www.seerinteractive.com/blog/4-lessons-digital-marketers-can-learn-wwe
Evans, Zachary. “How the WWE Has Retained Its Marketing Dominance.” Spin Sucks. August 1, 2016. spinsucks.com/marketing/wwe-retained-marketing-dominance
“Company Overview.” WWE Corporate. n.d. corporate.wwe.com/who-we-are/company-overview