The UFC Teaches Product Managers How To Fight For Their Product

by drjim on March 28, 2011

Hand-To-Hand Combat Can Show Product Managers How To Market Products

Hand-To-Hand Combat Can Show Product Managers How To Market Products

Product pricing? How boring. Working with development teams? Yawn. Mixed Martial Arts fighting inside of an 18′ chain-link fence — bring it on! I recently had a chance to watch the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s (UFC) broadcast of UFC 128 – a pay-for-view fight between 10 different men. In the end, I had seen a lot of punches, kicks, blood, and important lessons about product management. Do I have your attention now?

What Is the UFC?

The Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) is an organization that stages fights between mixed-martial arts fighters. Two men enter an octagonal ring that is enclosed in chain-link fencing and then proceed to kick and punch each other until either 3 rounds of 3 minutes is up, one of the two fighters “taps out”, or the referee calls the fight.

These fights quickly turn into a bloody mess. Unlike the sport of boxing, UFC matches allow for powerful kicking and that changes everything. A strong kick delivered to the side of an opponent’s head can quickly end a match

The event that I watched, UFC 128, consisted of 5 separate bouts with the final bout of the evening being between two major UFC stars: Shogun vs. Jones.

Advertise Everywhere

The fight fan in me was up for watching some serious physical confrontations. The product manager was just in awe of how well the whole event was being executed. The UFC product managers find themselves in a tricky spot: their product is a one-shot deal (fight night) , they need to make the most of that 3-hour event. They don’t get second chances.

The fight takes place in an octagon shaped ring. What this means is that unlike as in boxing, the fighters don’t really have their own “corner”. Instead, they stand along one side of the fence before the match starts.

What caught my eye was that as the fighter entered the ring, his support team would crawl up the outside of the fence and drape a banner over the inside of the fence. As it unfurled, you could see that the banner was packed with the logos of various products. The end result was that during the 2-5 minutes that each fighter was in the ring before the match started they were almost constantly being filmed and the logos on the poster filled every TV screen in the bar that I was in.

Just to take this idea one step further, the fighters themselves are also walking billboards. You don’t wear a lot of clothes while you are doing this kind of fighting. What you do wear are fighter’s shorts. On the shorts of all of the fighters this evening were logos and brand names for various companies and products. As long as the fight was going on, those brands were out there doing their work.

Always Be Upselling

I said that the UFC product managers had to move quickly because their product only exists for a short time (during the broadcast). One of the things that the product managers needed to do was to sell as much of their next product as they could. In this case, the UFC product managers wanted to sell pay-per-view subscriptions to their next broadcast: UFC 129: St-Pierre vs. Shields.

What this meant for the viewers was that during the evening we were constantly bombarded with ads for the upcoming fight. What caught my eye was that the frequency of these ads picked up as we got further into the evening. Clearly what the UFC product managers wanted to do was to capture the excitement and anticipation that we were feeling and to try to associate that with their next fight.

I don’t think that the expectation was that very many people would sign-up to watch the next fight during this event. Rather, what I think that the UFC product managers were trying to do was to condition the viewers to respond to their advertising message when they started to push it in earnest. We’d take our positive association with it and open our wallets and make a call to sign up for the next broadcast.

Lead Up To The Big Payoff

Whenever you have a broadcast fight like this you need to make sure that your customers feel as though they are getting their money’s worth. To make this happen you can’t just start the show with your main event. Instead you have to work up to it.

Comedians have opening acts and in the case of this UFC broadcast there were 4 bouts before the main event. Each one of these events offered fighters that were just a little bit better known than the ones who came before.

This building of excitement for the final match is done on purpose for the UFC event. A pay-per-view event like this can cost upwards of $200 to watch. It is very important that the people who pay this kind of money end up feeling as though they got their money’s worth. This means that the excitement has to be built up as the final fight approaches.

The nature of this type of fighting is that that final fight might not last that long – somebody might win very quickly. That means that the UFC product managers need to have made sure that the whole event lasted for several hours just so when their customers switch off the set they feel satisfied no matter how long the final event ended up taking.

Know Who Your Customer Is

Finally we come to what might be the most important point of all: the UFC product managers really need to know their customers. I now know this because it turns out that I didn’t know who their customers really were until I saw this fight.

You need to be able to picture the scene: I was in a crowed bar and the UFC fight was on something like 20 screens that were on all around me. The guys in the bar were watching the fights like guys do: somewhat reserved and wincing whenever a fighter got a good shot in. The women, however, were out of control. They were yelling at the screen, standing up on chairs to get a better view and shouting things like “Kick him! Kick him” whenever a fighter fell down.

Would I have guessed that the most rabid UFC fans would have been all of these beautiful, slightly drunk, well-dressed women? Nope. However, it turns out that they are. What this means for the UFC product managers is that they need to tone down the traditional male orientation of their broadcasts and make sure that they appeal to the fairer sex. That’s one of the reasons that things like “ring girls” are only given an occasional quick camera shot – it doesn’t appeal to the UFC’s hard-core customer base: women.

What All Of This Means For You

Where do we learn to be better product managers? I wish that I could say that there was some class, book, or certification that would magically give you all of the product management training that you need. I haven’t rolled my AccPM training out yet so for now no such thing exists.

Instead, we need to look all around us and keep our eyes open in order to learn. The UFC matches are one such place. The UFC product managers understand that they have a very special product that will only exist for a brief moment in time – they have to move fast. While they have your attention, they are always upselling, they are always building to something bigger and better and they have a very clear understanding of who their customer is.

It really doesn’t matter what you think of UFC fighting. What you need to understand is that this sport has shot from relative obscurity to become one of the most popular sports almost overnight. If you’d like your product to experience the same type of popularity, you had better start watching more UFC fights…!

– Dr. Jim Anderson
Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World Product Management Skills™

Question For You: If you were a UFC product manager, what would you do to expand your customer base?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

One of the reasons that we all became product managers is that we were attracted to the field because it is always changing. Part of this change is that new marketing techniques are always showing up. Product managers are always attracted to shiny new ways to reach our customers. However, should we be? What’s the best way to tell potential customers about our products – the tried-and-true ways that we’ve always used or the brand-new ways that have just shown up?

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