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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... 

The Rock WWE champion

Social

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:

Vince McMahon Twitter

Then we have wrestlers live tweeting during events:

WWE Brooklyn Brawler Twitter

WWE David Otunga Twitter

Ringside staff chiming in...

WWE Justin Roberts Twitter

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.

Mark Henry Twitter

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.

Content distribution

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.

wwe app screen grab

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.

Bola Awoniyi

Published 27 August, 2013 by Bola Awoniyi @ Econsultancy

Bola Awoniyi is a Digital Consultant at Econsultancy. You can follow him on Twitter or connect via LinkedIn

23 more posts from this author

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Jamie Dickinson

The WWE has always been fairly innovative within the digital realm - although perhaps got a bit complacent in the mid 2000's and often struggled against the growing dirtsheet sites. Ol' Vinny has never been afraid to take risks and that's great. While the Tout app failed pretty spectacular the WWE App has been a remarkably improvement

One thing to bear in mind is how aggressively they push their digital brand on TV. It takes up a ludicrous amount of air time and often comes across as bad product placement in the commentary, to point where it is mocked.

almost 3 years ago

Parry Malm

Parry Malm, CEO at Phrasee Ltd.

The WWE embraced digital quite some time ago - during the Raw-Nitro wars. This is when the fans accepted the fact that the results are scripted... it was a competitive advantage against the Ted Turner-fuelled WCW juggernaut. And lo and behold, in the early 2000s it was turned around, powered not least by an online groundswell of interaction. Perhaps not at the scale of today, but WWE's digital journey began long before Twitter, Facebook and the like. In terms of contemporary sports/entertainment brands, their digital team is indeed the best there is, the best there was, and perhaps the best there ever will be.

almost 3 years ago

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Jamie Dickinson

I believe Joey Styles is still in charge of WWE.com. It does have a lot of fantastic content on there which highlights the legacy of the WWE and it's library, produced by people that genuinely care for the product. Another great lesson.

almost 3 years ago

Parry Malm

Parry Malm, CEO at Phrasee Ltd.

Yep - pretty sure he still is. What's interesting is he came up in ECW, which grew organically by being more innovative, more hardcore, ... more everything. Seems that his style as a commentator/agitator has carried thru to his digital role now. Probably a better choice than, say, the Ultimate Warrior.

almost 3 years ago

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Philip Oakley

I think the WWE get it right in terms of blurring the lines between storylines and reality, especially on Twitter. It’s a great way of keeping the audience hooked on a specific storyline whilst off air.

The idea of the sub-brands is really interesting, especially in the case of the fans. WWE Universe is a brand within it's own right and immediately connects fans to the overall WWE brand. Couple that with the superstars, that blurred line of reality and fiction.

Very Interest article Bola, thanks for posting

almost 3 years ago

Bola Awoniyi

Bola Awoniyi, Digital Consultant at Econsultancy, Centaur MarketingStaff

Thanks for all the comments, I'm glad you all enjoyed reading!

@Jamie - I agree that they sometimes push their digital brand too much on TV, but then, I'm not sure if that is me as a customer or me as a marketer. Speaking to others who are not as into marketing as I am, they do not find it as distracting as I do, they see it as part of the overall product offering.

@Parry - Loving the mentions to those "vintage" legends! Although the Monday night wars was slightly before my time, the undercurrent of the dirtsheets that have been around for years really prepared WWE to not only cope with, but embrace the intimate relationship all of today's platforms. It's sort of the same thing, but on a much bigger scale.

@Philip - The sub-brand stuff is definitely interesting. I think using the wrestlers as brands is one of their keys to staying relevant. They seemingly have (or can create) a character that can appeal to any given demographic or is relevant for any culturally significant event. Add the fact that WWE Universe never quite know when the lights are on or off and you have a real life brand that fans can relate to and is relevant.

almost 3 years ago

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Mike

What they are doing with tablet integration is very cutting edge! Will lay groundwork for all TV in the future

http://www.emarketingandcommerce.com/article/tv-tablet-forging-formidable-tag-team/1#

almost 3 years ago

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Rhys Wynne

As somebody who works in both the Digital Marketing Sector and the Wrestling Business (who is currently sat in my day job in a CM Punk t-shirt), I felt I had to comment.

Interesting points raised in both the article and comments, Bola. I've a couple of comments to make.

1. Nice of you to comment on something that I have noticed - the pushing of the app, particularly before a commercial break. It'd be interesting however to see how this is affecting revenue from the firm. A large portion of WWE's revenue comes from it's television output (I make it 8 and a half hours of new wrestling-based television content per week, that's not including things such as recap shows like Afterburn or Bottom Line, or things such as Total Divas or Legends of Wrestling Roundtable), which I'm assuming a portion comes from advertising. You have to wonder, therefore, if there will be a backlash from advertisers or the networks from actively encouraging it's viewers to not view the commercials. Be it actively from the network or a drop in revenue.

2. Great of you also to pick up on one of my favourite storylines recently - the Mark Henry Heel Turn. Even though I'm involved in wrestling, I'm still a fan. It is one of the best feelings in the world as a jaded viewer who knows mosts of the ins and outs on how they do things, to be completely suckered and taken in by a story. Another fantastic example which I loved was the "hacking" of WWE TV & it's online presence to link to Jericho's "Code" videos.

3. Finally a point I want to briefly touch on was Jamie made in the comments was how poor WWE was at digital was until recently. WWE - even upto probably 2010 - was very anti-digital beyond it's online presence - with it's wrestlers regularly referring to their dirtsheet writers and fans that connected as "Keyboard Warriors". I believe the change only happened in two ways - first was when TNA Started making inroads into Digital, so much so that it trended more on twitter during the first night of their head to head with WWE. The second was the rise of Zack Ryder's youtube channel, which created such a buzz in such a way that WWE had to start promoting him.

But yeah, quality article - interesting thoughts :)

almost 3 years ago

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