Eat, Sleep, Conquer, Repeat: Branding Lessons from Brock Lesnar and the UFC

It’s a simple motto, eat, sleep, conquer, repeat. This is the mantra of WWE and MMA star Brock Lesnar who fought Saturday night at the much hyped UFC 200[1]. Now, I am not a UFCF fan by any means, and I still think $59.99 for a pay-per-view is a little ridiculous considering the next morning SportsCenter will be showing highlights and you can pretty much find any match you want on YouTube within 5 minutes of its completion. However, this ‘historic’ event got me thinking not about fighting, but about branding.

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Although they seem to have a new pay-per-view event every month, believe it or not, UFC began in 1993. UFC 1, which took place on November 12, 1993 in Denver, was attended by 7,800. I’m not exactly sure how many people the arena could hold for a fight, but Wikipedia lists it as having 17,171 seats for a basketball game. With the addition of floor seats, it’s safe to say that it was just over a third full. The modern UFC was purchased by majority owners Frank and Lorenzo Fertitta, and UFC president Dana White in 2001 for $2 million and is now worth an astounding $4 billion with UFC 200 expected to eclipse its prior pay-per-view records. How did this happen, and how can you emulate some of their successes into your business?

As stated by Bill Simmons on the HBO program Any Given Wednesday, as well as others, the UFC is really the first sport that grew up on the internet. Other sports such as baseball were late to adapt to the changing culture, but the age of the internet ran parallel with the UFC. In no other sport could you post a video and get catapulted to stardom. Americans have always been captivated by violence. At one time, boxing was the biggest sport in the world. Look no further than the recent outpouring of emotion for the career of Mohammed Ali after his passing. But the “sweet science” in recent years, has turned into more style than substance, and we only really get a great fight when two fighters of equal style face one another. Just watch one of Floyd Mayweather’s snooze fests and you’ll see what I mean. I’m not denying his greatness as a defensive fighter, just the watchability of his fights.

What drove the decline of boxing is that it is a star driven mechanism. People tune in to see a specific fighter, and while Pacquaio vs. Mayweather allowed both fighters to split $300 million purse, even prompting Mayweather to flash a $100 million check to a few choice reporters, if the card lacks star power, then the entire event falters. Most people would be hard pressed to name a boxing match that has occurred since, and that fight took place over a year ago in May 2015.

The reason that the UFC has been so successful is the league is seen as the ‘star’. In no other sport do fans wear the logo of the league instead of individual stars. Imagine fans at a ballgame wearing a jersey with MLB on the back or the number 1 selling hat in the NFL being a logo of the shield. Ok, they do actually sell that, but have you seriously ever seen one? I haven’t. And that’s where the UFC triumphs. They have evolved their sport to be about the brand, and not about the individual stars.

This week it was announced that the main event for UFC 200 would be altered after Jon “Bones” Jones failed a test for a banned substance. In any other sport, this would be catastrophic, but UFC just keeps chugging along inserting a new fighter and will still likely eclipse any and all previous sales records.

When building a successful brand or business, it’s vitally important to put the company above all else. In the world of social media, many people think they need to achieve individual notoriety or success in order to garner success for their business. However, according to a recent survey, most people can’t name a single CEO. That’s right, not one. In that same survey, 10% of the people that were able to name one CEO, named Mark Zuckerberg. I’m willing to bet that if you removed Zuckerberg, and some of the more popular ones Warren Buffet, Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, Larry Ellison, and Larry Page from the equation, that you are hard pressed to name another one. Bill Gates? Nope not the CEO of Microsoft, Satya Nadella is. Richard Branson is the CEO of Virgin right? Not quite, that title belongs to Josh Bayliss. I tried this experiment with a few friends, and 3 out of 10 said Steve Jobs (who passed away in 2011!). Somewhere Tim Cook just smashed his iPhone.

The point is, put your efforts into creating a great brand for your business. People come and go, but your company name is what people will remember and trust. Of course it takes great people and great leadership to make a business thrive, but funnel your efforts into building a great and dynamic brand as an extension of individuals instead of trying to meld individuals into a cohesive brand.

Now back to Brock Lesnar. You didn’t think I wasn’t going to take another opportunity to talk about The Beast Incarnate did you? Brock Lesnar, by his own admission, is not the best speaker. One of the reasons Brock Lesnar has been so successful in his career (especially WWE) is he lets other people do the talking for him. In the WWE, Brock is represented by one of the greatest voices in the history of wrestling, Paul Heyman. Check this out if you don’t believe me. Paul identifies himself as “the advocate” for Brock Lesnar, and while boisterous and hilarious, there is an important lesson here. Make sure you have advocates for your brand and business. There are a lot of great business ideas that fail because people do not know how to eloquently articulate their brand. That is ok. Even if you are great at it, it always helps to have other advocates that will speak on your behalf. Mike Myers as Wayne Campbell may have stated it best.

When someone has a favorable experience with your business or one of your employees, make sure to tout it. Proactively creating brand advocates is an effective way to reach a wider audience with your message build the brand awareness of your business and increase your sales through word-of-mouth marketing. These advocates are important to your business because they have the power to influence the purchase decisions of the people they are connected to.

To keep your brand advocates happy you need to make them feel special. This may involve providing them with discounts, giving them insider knowledge about the business first, providing them with a thank you letter or recognizing them as a ‘customer of the month’ on your social media channels.

To create true brand advocates you need to think about how your business can provide value and benefits to your customers. This will keep your customers happy and help you to create better relationships with them, which over will help enrich your business.

8746999And lastly, it’s all about repetition. Brock Lesnar is famous for founding a mythological town known as Suplex City. When taking someone to the city limits, he performs multiple belly to back suplexes completely debilitating his opponents. In this case, the message is literally beaten into someone. For your business, let’s stick with just a metaphorical beating. It’s important to tell your story early and often so that people become familiar with your value proposition and can articulate it back to you. Once they know who you are and what you are all about, they will be clamoring for your next article, product, tweet, event, etc.

And that is what we are doing now. We are all clamoring for Brock Lesnar’s next event, whether UFC or WWE, and the same lessons can certainly be applied to your business. No matter your business, if you create a strong brand, support that brand, create strong brand advocates, and repeatedly proclaim, promote and reinvent your value proposition, you’ll be in a position to conquer your market, and repeat. Now go eat and get some sleep.

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[1] Brock Lesnar won in a unanimous decision over Mark Hunt.

Brenden Roche

Director of Marketing