What can pro wrestling teach us about content strategy?

What do pro wrestling and content strategy have in common? Quite a lot, it turns out.

Our chief copywriter Rory Stobo shares his tips on how content marketers can learn from the demanding physical art form and wrestle their content strategy into shape.

For some brands, coming up with the right content strategy is the easy bit. They produce a master plan, breaking down every fine detail of their communications over the next 12 months…

…Then they have to follow it, and real life gets in the way. Putting your customers first often means compromising your carefully planned content marketing vision. It’s a problem we see a lot.

It just so happens that there’s a parallel there with a particular area of showbiz; the madcap world of professional wrestling.

Here, you’ve got an industry driven by creating regular, specialised content, with huge production values involved and a fan base of millions to keep happy.

All the while, they’re dealing with a subject matter which is, by its very nature, dangerous and volatile. Things go wrong, people get hurt, and a million-dollar strategy can be shattered by one badly-timed suplex.

We’re all huge wrestling fans here at Sookio (okay, some more than others), so take a look at the lessons we’ve taken from this… distinctive art form, and applied to the way we wrestle our content strategy into shape.

Ding ding!

 Source: WWE Instagram ( @wwe )

Source: WWE Instagram (@wwe)

Plan, but don’t plan too far

World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE, formerly WWF for those who fondly remember the days before Hulk Hogan got weird) produces two weekly shows, along with a big pay-per-view spectacle each month. Despite that busy output, it rarely makes any concrete scheduling plans for more than a couple of months into the future.

 Source:  Giphy

Source: Giphy

Why? Because a lot can change in a short space of time. Rule number one is to realise that real life doesn’t care about your sweeping artistic vision, and will actively look for ways to surprise it with a steel chair to the noggin.

For content managers, taking the time to lay out a year’s worth of detailed strategy can turn into a giant waste if big changes happen in the first two months. Planning, say, three to six months in the future allows you to react to changes and stops you getting locked into something that no longer works.

If the crowd starts to boo… fix it!

One thing WWE drops the ball on from time to time is their choices of which talent to push. They’ll get it into their head that, say, Roman Reigns is going to be the next big star because he has the right look. They’ll then do everything in their power to force that new star on the audience, despite the fact that they’d much rather see an underdog like Daniel Bryan in the headline slot.

Don’t push the wrong talent. For you, analytics serves the same role as the cheers or boos of the crowd. If you think flashy sexy video is going to be your big driver of traffic, but your audience is actually cheering for infographics, don’t push on with a video-centric strategy. Only very rarely will an audience suddenly just ‘get it’ and start doing as they’re told. They’re far more likely to go to the competition.

 Source:  Giphy

Source: Giphy

Injuries can happen

Speaking of which, it’s not surprising to learn that injury is an ever-present concern for wrestling promoters. A meteoric rise to stardom can be stopped in its tracks in the blink of an eye. Along with an injured performer goes all the ticket and merchandise sales heaped onto their shoulders.

For this reason, wrestling shows are no longer dominated by one big rivalry between two megastars, that’s simply putting too many eggs in too few baskets.

As a content manager, your writers, videographers and designers are your performers. Of course you’re going to have your favourites, as well as those whose content simply performs better than others. But don’t base an entire strategy around one or two people.

 Source: WWE Instagram ( @wwe )

Source: WWE Instagram (@wwe)

Sickness, maternity leave or just an excessive workload can sideline your top content producers. To combat this, consider organising all your producers into a tier system, and have someone ready to step into the headline slot if needed.

Stick to Kayfabe

Ok, so, I hate to break this to you, but… pro wrestling isn’t real. It requires incredible athleticism and commitment, but the rivalries are all concocted storylines and the outcomes are predetermined. To make that happen, and make the audience suspend their disbelief, takes phenomenal amounts of work behind the scenes.

This suspension of disbelief, called kayfabe in old carnival slang, extends to everything wrestlers do in their daily lives. If they’re feuding with someone in kayfabe, they can’t be seen out having dinner together in public. It ensures that all the audience gets to see is the polished, finished product.

Content marketers can learn a lot from this dedication to preserving the sanctity of a message. Base your strategy around your key messages only, and don’t show the audience any of the workings, because quite frankly they don’t give a hoot.

If WWE can boil something as complex as their backstage processes down to something as simple as a wrestling match, you can find a way to present a complex message with clarity and precision.

Work the audience

Pro wrestling is as much about the characters and the connection they forge with the audience as it is about the in-ring action. That connection gets built by making the audience feel like part of the show. Icons like The Rock and Stone Cold Steve Austin make liberal use of catchphrases and inclusive promos to encourage fans to get on board.

While nobody’s going to be chanting along to your taglines, you can definitely be on the lookout for ways in which followers can get involved. See this example of WWE commentator Renee Young using Twitter to cross-promote her own brand with the South by Southwest Festival.

Promoting and encouraging user-generated content should always form a part of your content strategy in some capacity. It makes them feel connected to your brand and, when all is said and done, you get free content.

Content marketing strategy from Sookio

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