From wrestling to retweets, WWE’s execution of its digital strategy has been as interesting to watch as the build and execution of the marquee summer event, SummerSlam.
The event saw perennial WWE champ John Cena beaten by heavily-bearded fan favouite Daniel Bryan, only to be double-crossed by the boss and lose his title to Randy Orton!
But let's not get carried away...
World Wrestling Entertainment probably exists somewhere in your nostalgic past, along with memories of superstars like Hulk Hogan, Shawn Michaels and Stone Cold Steve Austin.
Although audiences from yesteryear may have grown older, the business of wrestling has grown up, and no part of the WWE's business has developed more over the past few years than its digital activities.
The entertainment juggernaut's embracing of digital transformation across its business has led to much praise online, so let's take a look at what other businesses can learn from its digital strategy...
WWE's use of social platforms is an integral part of its success, and these platforms are heavily used by its community of wrestlers (who are living and breathing brands in their own right) to create a community of fans, who have been dubbed 'The WWE Universe'.
The term 'universe' isn't an exaggeration either, with a combined 172m fans over 11 social networks.
Its most active social network is Twitter, with a total of 60m followers over a network of 172 accounts. Its passionate fanbase engages regularly with the brand and its superstars, making it no wonder that WWE's flagship shows, Raw and Smackdown, are amongst the leaders in social television.
A big part of this is due to the fact that the medium has been embraced throughout the company. For example, we have the real (and storyline) corporation boss Vince McMahon giving his thoughts:
Then we have wrestlers live tweeting during events:
Ringside staff chiming in...
However, the brand doesn't encourage tweeting for tweeting sake. WWE utilises social as a channel to surprise and delight viewers.
Integration with the product
Marketers know the importance of having an integrated, multichannel approach to attracting and retaining today's customer. In the world of wrestling, a similar approach should be taken.
Today's wrestling fans are tech savvy and socially aware, therefore making it harder to surprise them with compelling storylines and content.
With the tweet given further exposure in the live show, the stage was set for Mark Henry's retirement speech. After interrupting WWE Champion John Cena, Henry went on to deliver one of the best moments of the year (the good stuff starts at 11:29):
Using social media to develop the retirement hoax was an effective bit of storytelling. But the more important point out of this was to show its fans that the WWE experience isn't just the television or live shows, it's everywhere the brand is.
In a world where the television is no longer the only way to consume prime-time content, companies must adapt to suit their target audiences. WWE has done this by using various video channels to distribute its shows or create new ones.
Since launching on Hulu in September 2012, WWE has become the highest ranked sports channel on the platform. WWE uses Hulu to broadcast its flagship shows alongside some of its other shows to an online audience.
The move not only keeps the brand relevant in the eyes of those who prefer to watch shows on the internet, but also extends its reach.
WWE also manages an active YouTube channel. Having added over a million subscribers from the 240,000 it had in 2011, it is stacked with a number of web series, that often times attempts to continue blurring the lines between storylines and reality.
In addition, WWE also uses YouTube, Yahoo and Facebook as an avenue to livestream press conferences and pre-shows, which create a freemium model for its PPVs.
The multi-screen experience
With many viewers multitasking on mobile devices whilst watching television, as documented by Econsultancy’s Multi-Screen Marketer report, there is a risk that viewers will eventually switch off the television all together.
Recognising the need to capture audiences on multiple devices, WWE created the WWE App, the second screen app that acts as a hub for digital activity.
For any WWE fan, the app is a nice companion when watching the television shows. One of the app’s premier features is that it picks up the broadcast when Raw and Smackdown, WWE’s flagship shows, go on commercial breaks. Therefore any connected fan never needs to miss a second of the action.
The app also allows users to vote so they can directly impact what happens on the shows.
However, the app is more than just a second screen experience. WWE also uses the platform as another way to monetize over 5m users. The app can be used to buy merchandise, tickets to live events and it can be used to buy and watch pay-per-view events like SummerSlam.
So what can we actually learn from WWE?
Here are three keys I took from them:
1. Make sure everyone is involved
Digital transformation requires that all parts of the business embrace the change. It is not enough for the strategy to be dictated by the leadership team, without them being exposed to its effects.
Neither is it sufficient for the marketing team to tweet all day without input and involvement from the rest of the organisation.
The WWE app could have been a marketing and television project only, focusing on engaging users during broadcasts. But now the WWE has ecommerce, brand, television and event real estate on many mobile devices worldwide.
Whether you are Vince McMahon or Scott Armstrong (who??), you need to understand how your business and industry is being changed and influenced by technology.
2. One brand, one story, many channels
Like all systems, the sum of all the parts is greater than the value of each part in isolation. Digital is not something that should stand alone within your organization, it should help to tie everything together.
Whether it's part of your actual product or service, or your R&D, or just to help create preference amongst prospective customers, find out how digital tools and channels can enhance what you already do, before you search out new competencies.
3. You will never know until you experiment
Incorporating a company wide digital strategy will more than likely give you the ability to try new things. So what is worth trying? You will never know unless you experiment.
Take any and every opportunity you can to find out what works with your audience and what helps you reach your corporate objectives. During SummerSlam weekend, WWE trailed using Google Glass for selected events, an hour long preshow instead of 30 mins, a Pinterest contest and global live streaming of the SummerSlam PPV on several digital devices and operating systems.
Did any of it work? WWE will know soon, if it doesn't already. But you will never know until you try.