WWE wrestles with customer feedback marketing

Wrestling fans are helping the WWE determine story lines and self-segmenting the organization's marketing efforts with co-created content.

It doesn't get much street cred as a serious sport, but when it comes to marketing World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) is all business. In fact, while other brands talk a good game about cocreation and using customer feedback in marketing, the WWE has taken the game to a higher level.

Nike, Doritos, the NFL, and GM have all attracted attention for giving consumers the opportunity to design ads or to have some say in what products and marketing looks like. The WWE takes that interaction a step further. Late last year the wrestling federation launched a program that actually allowed fans (i.e. customers) to determine who would wrestle in championship matches up to one hour before the event. More specifically, when the WWE held its January 6 pay-per-view event, viewers could vote via text message and the Internet on which of three opponents champion John Cena would face. Fans could (and did) vote until 9:30 that night for the 10:30 main event.

"We use customer feedback to impact our story lines and for marketing," said Jonathan Zerden, WWE senior director, Internet technology. "It enables us to surround the customer with 360 degrees of marketing. We get to see how they interact with mobile platforms, how they interact with us, how they interact with their arena, and how they interact with their cable company." @36037

The WWE uses that information to better serve customers and partners. It includes its pay-per-view cable providers in the effort to learn customer preferences, so both can design events that pull the most viewers. While the WWE's Cyber Sunday events like the January 6 Cena match-up are the latest iteration of that, the practice is six months old at the wrestling organization. In November, for example, customers were asked to select the new set of Divas (female wrestlers). Hundreds of thousands of people voted for the Cena championship match on Cyber Sunday, according to Zerden. But when it came to choosing Divas, 2.6 million customers accounted for 14.6 million votes.

Zerdan said the data generated from the content creation feeds customized marketing initiatives. Diva voters, and visitors to the Diva section of WWE.com, receive customized emails offering DVDs and merchandise designed specifically for Diva fans. Customers who vote for particular wrestlers are fed a consistent stream of information about their favorite wrestlers.

For all its innovation in the cocreation area, Zerden said the WWE is conservative about social media. The company is protective about its brand and ownership of its content, so it doesn't encourage postings on content-sharing sites like MySpace or YouTube. "We're not as free-flying about [social media]," he said. "Our efforts are much more immediate."

Reprinted with permission from 1to1 Media. (c) 2006 Carlson Marketing Worldwide.

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