What #WrestleMania XXX Taught Me About Enhancing F2F Event Engagement

April 26, 2014

On a Sunday night in early April, I became engrossed in the biggest pro wrestling event of the year and annual pop culture extravaganza, WrestleMania. Stick with me here - behind the drama and spandex, there’s additional perspective to be gained from pro wrestling on how to achieve meaningful trade show and event engagement. Inspired by WWE’s WrestleMania XXX, here are some tips on enhancing your face-to-face marketing by engaging differently, authentically, creatively and passionately.

Engage Differently: Expect The Unexpected

It’s no secret that pro wrestling is scripted and every match outcome is pre-determined - so there’s a major responsibility to keep fans captivated with fresh, intriguing storylines. Longstanding pro wrestling icon The Undertaker had a 21-0 undefeated streak at WrestleMania - until losing his match in an unforeseen twist. Although the 75,000+ attendees inside the stadium and millions watching from their couches knew the result was premeditated, it was still overwhelmingly unexpected and left fans stunned.

Engagement insight: There is something to be said about employing unexpected tactics to attract and entertain attendees. It’s harder than ever to cut through the clutter and grab people’s attention, especially at a crowded trade show. Up-leveling your booth experience with a fun gamification component or a surprising and energetic "twist" (like a flash mob dance experience, for example) can bring your product’s story to life in a whole new way.

Engage Authentically: Human-To-Human

To introduce the show, WWE had arguably three of the biggest stars in the history of pro wrestling make their return to the ring … together! Hulk Hogan, “Stone Cold” Steve Austin and The Rock are longstanding legends in the WWE. Seeing them together was a defining moment that unified die-hard fans, but the authentic chemistry and rapport between the three wrestlers was what made this moment memorable and meaningful.

Engagement insight: They say in WWE that the best wrestling characters are those that play themselves with “the volume turned up.” Don’t misjudge the importance of charisma, wit, and most importantly, authenticity! Many a heel (wrestling term for villain) has quickly turned face (become a hero) because of his gift for connecting with the audience in an authentic way. Likewise, many wrestlers that have been pushed to be fan favorites are met with only the sound of crickets chirping if they don't have the ability to be natural.

Even when an audience is resistant, people often can't help but be won over by an authentic connection. In the event industry, authenticity comes in many different shapes and sizes and applies to every touchpoint in your program. Don’t have tunnel vision! Event marketers need to consider how their brand and their products resonate with people on a human-to-human level.

Engage Creatively: Balance Story and Spectacle

An appropriate level of spectacle is essential in the WWE - and WrestleMania this year was no different. Cesaro, a 230-pound relative newcomer to WWE, won the 30-man Battle Royal match by picking up a 500-pound wrestler and throwing him straight over the top rope. Cesaro’s win was big in a lot of ways, but above all it kept the storyline fresh and pushed the creative forward.

Engagement insight: WWE is always looking to develop fresh faces that drive unique stories, and that’s what we should strive to do as trade show and event marketers. We’re constantly looking for the best way to unite the attract (the spectacle) with our message (the story). Don't concentrate on one and not the other - you'll be left with unwanted attention, or not having the audience to receive your message.

We know a technology attract alone doesn’t make an effective experience; it needs to be thoughtfully integrated in order to make your investment worth it. If you're using augmented reality technology, supplement it with audio support to stay on message. And make sure you're using the appropriate technology for your audience - don’t go too complex if attendees will be turned off by it or won’t know how to use it!

Engage Passionately: Appeal To Emotion

Pro wrestling fans are far from shy! One of the most passionate groups of fans out there, watch any WWE broadcast and you’ll hear fans sharing their sentiments with spirited chants. WWE listens to their fans, especially when they’re unhappy with a storyline. Pro wrestler Daniel Bryan became a favorite amongst the fans who felt he wasn’t getting the recognition he deserved. WWE writers ended up changing his storyline based on what fans had been chanting for months, allowing Bryan to defeat three huge stars at WrestleMania to win not one, but two championship belts!

Engagement Insight: If you have an active digital audience, you’ve learned how passionate customers will tell everyone their opinions, positive or negative. The key as a marketer is understanding that customer feedback is necessary - it should be welcomed and encouraged! If your goal is to cultivate a transparent, long-term relationship with your attendees, get inside their heads. What are their care-abouts? Are they philanthropy-driven? Attendees who participate in a charitable at-show activity will tap into their emotions and come out feeling positive about a brand.

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