How to sell like the UFC

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(This article was originally a guest post for Copy Chief.)

You may have seen the mean looking lady at the top of this article on TV before. Or maybe on YouTube.

She’s the lady who’s always in those cage fights, crushing some other girl in a “no-holds barred” blood contest.

She normally ends up winning, brutalizing her opponent in a matter of seconds.

Her name is Ronda Rousey.

Now, how you just reacted to me calling her sport a “no-holds barred blood contest” says a lot about you.

For some, her sport — Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) — is a barbaric practice, with no place in modern, civilized society.

For others, it’s the pinnacle of competitive, unarmed combat – the ultimate martial art.

One thing’s for certain though: regardless of your views on the sport, it’s becoming hard to ignore MMA as it gains more (and more) mainstream exposure.

I started paying attention last year, when my imagination was fully captured by the sport’s premier organization — the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC).

And I’m not the only one who’s recently started to take notice.

It’s been claimed (and reported) that MMA is the world’s fastest growing sport.

In such a competitive and established market as sports, how has the UFC managed to carve out such a large piece of the market?

And since MMA was only created in the 90s, how did they do it in such a short period of time?

After getting sucked into the UFC’s world, I’ve been paying close attention to their marketing to find out how.

Simply put: If the UFC’s marketing was in a cage with any other sport, they’d be finishing the fight faster than Ronda Rousey.

Because when it comes to their marketing, there are 2 things they do exceptionally well:

  1. They create a legitimate Unique Selling Proposition (USP) for every fight (why this fight is THE ONLY ONE of it’s kind — and why you have to watch this fight over ANY OTHER fight).
  2. They sell every fight based on the power of it’s story.

Today, we’re going to take a look at both of these aspects and how they’ve contributed to the UFC’s record growth.

When it comes to selling with story, there are few better in the world right now. I have a prime example to share later in this article.

But first, let’s take a look at a marketing concept a lot of people think they understand…

“What is a Unique Selling Proposition?”

Let’s start with a “USP crash course”.

Understanding USPs properly is extremely important to the lifeblood of your business – sales.

A USP is more than just a claim of ‘Hot pizza in 30 minutes or it’s free!’ — which is what most people associate with a USP.

The truth is that coming up with a great USP for your business is hard. Real hard.

So, my goal here is to give you all the tools you need to be able to identify a killer USP, and then craft one for your own marketing.

First, let’s start with a functional definition. A definition that — when you understand it — will give you a leg up on the competition, right off the bat.

A USP (also known as a Value Proposition) is the answer to what’s known as the Value Proposition Question:

If I am your ideal customer, why should I buy from you, rather than any of your competitors?

At first glance, that question seems fairly basic and straight forward.

But don’t let it fool you.

There’s a lot packed into it

Let’s break it down into it’s individual components to get a better understanding of what a USP needs to be:

  • If I am your ideal customer — A USP must be stated from the point of view of what’s appealing to your customer. Not you. You need to use customer centric logic when building your USP.
  • Why should I buy from you – A USP must form a rational argument for why a customer should purchase from you. It needs to deliver the reason why the customer should choose you. Meaning it must start with the word “Because”.
  • Rather than any of your competitors – A USP must have an “exclusivity” factor that separates you from your market. You are essentially asking your customer to choose you over your competitors, so there needs to be an element only you can deliver.

A few of the old skool direct response heads — David Ogilvy, Claude Hopkins, and Rosser Reeves (the father of the USP) — all called this “Reason Why Advertising”.

Without giving your customer a compelling reason to choose YOU, you’ll simply blend into the noisy, grey background of a crowded marketplace.

fish-market

How are any of these options different? This is what happens when you don’t have a compelling reason for customers to choose you. You’re left to the mercy of chance.

Now we have a functional definition of a USP.

The next step in this crash course is to consider this: a business doesn’t just have a single USP.

It has many.

To keep it simple, let’s consider three tiers of USPs:

  1. The Company USP
  2. The Personal USP
  3. The Product USP

 

value-prop-diagram

Now, let’s repurpose the Value Proposition Question for these 3 examples within the UFC:

  1. The Company – The Ultimate Fighting Championship
  2. The Personal – Conor McGregor, a UFC Superstar
  3. The Product – A UFC fight between two of their fighters, Conor McGregor and Chad Mendes

And for simplicity sake, let’s consider their ideal customer as “a fight fan”…

… which means those three questions would look something like:

  1. “If I am a fight fan, why should I watch the UFC, rather than any other fighting organization (HBO boxing, WWE wrestling, etc.)?”
  2. “If I am a fight fan, why should I watch Conor McGregor fight, rather than any other fighter in the UFC?”
  3. “If I am a fight fan, why should I watch the Conor McGregor vs Chad Mendes fight, rather than any other fight this year?”

These are three legitimate questions for the UFC’s potential audience.

And they’re all questions the UFC answers very well.

The UFC answer their company Value Proposition Question with:

…because the UFC is the only combat organization where you can see the world’s most elite combat athletes knock each other out in spectacular fashion.

For many fight fans, this is truly compelling reason to pay attention to the UFC.

Many fight fans have become bored with “no action” boxing matches, and the “scripted drama” of WWE Wrestling.

So, seeing action-driven, unscripted combat sports at the highest level is more than enough to get them to pay attention.

The Power of a Great USP

To illustrate the power of a great USP, I’m going to tell a short story…

As you may have read in my previous article covering the rise of Conor McGregor, back in July of 2015, there was a fight scheduled between Conor McGregor and his opponent — UFC Featherweight Champion — Jose Aldo.

This fight was marketed with the USP of “The Biggest Fight In Featherweight History”.

Why?

Because the UFC had spent more money promoting this fight than any other fight in UFC history.

A large part of the marketing focussed on a World Tour, where both fighters visited 7 cities together as part of the promotion.

The appeal of the fight was due to Jose Aldo being undefeated in 10 years. He’s the only Featherweight champion to ever exist in the UFC.

Conor McGregor on the other hand  has gathered the biggest fan following in the business, in a very short period of time. And with it, a huge amount of hype.

Before McGregor arrived in the Featherweight division, there had been relatively no media attention given to the fighters competing there.

That changed when McGregor got a title shot.

Suddenly, there was so much media attention focussed on the division that the USP of “the biggest fight in Featherweight history” was an obvious one to make.

The message from the UFC was that this was THE Featherweight fight “you simply can’t miss”.

And it worked. Every UFC fan was talking about the fight.

As a result, the UFC was expecting this to be the highest grossing fight in the organization’s history.

mcgregor

Everything looked to be on track for a massive payday, when suddenly — two weeks before the fight — Jose Aldo pulled out due to an injured rib.

For the UFC, their biggest payday was about to turn into an un-mitigated disaster.

In an effort to salvage the event, Jose Aldo was replaced by Chad Mendes — the Featherweight division’s top wrestler. A move very appealing to clued-in fight fans.

For those of you not familiar with the sport, it a competitive environment where stylistic “match ups” play a big role in a fighter’s success.

Weakness in one area can be exploited by someone else’s strength.

There was a lot of suggestion that the UFC had not matched McGregor against a wrestler on his rise to the top.

The argument being made was that the UFC feared McGregor’s style of fighting would match up poorly against a high-level wrestler.

Many felt this was done in an effort for the organization to “cash in” on their Media Golden Boy. McGregor happens to be making the UFC more money than any other athlete at the moment.

And if he lost to a wrestler before winning a championship belt, it would slam the brakes on his gravy train.

So, armed with an in-depth understanding of their market, the UFC re-positioned the fight with a new USP:

“Conor McGregor answers the wrestler question”, which you can see here:

What’s mind blowing is that even though the original fight was billed as “the biggest fight in Featherweight history”, when the USP was changed to “McGregor answers the wrestler question”, sales increased!

How?

The UFC did an amazing job at finding a new, appealing USP for their ideal customers.

“If I am a fight fan, why should I watch Conor McGregor versus Chad Mendes, rather than any other fight?”

…because you’ll finally get to see if Conor McGregor — the most hyped up fighter in UFC history — can actually beat a high-level wrestler.

This USP was compelling enough to make me attend my first ever UFC fight event.

2015-07-11 19.37.31

Me (left) and some random Irish UFC fans in the seats next to me. All supporting Conor McGregor at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas for UFC 189.

2015-07-11 22.38.38

“Photos or it didn’t happen….”

The “UFC Method” for creating a killer USP

Ok, time to get tactical and breakdown exactly how awesome the UFC are at building USPs for each of their products.

Let me explain…

Each fight night is framed around a “main event”. This is the biggest fight on the card with the biggest stars.

The main event is the main reason to tune into that fight night and buy the UFC’s core product – a $60 Pay-Per-View (PPV) ticket.

All of the other fights on the card are just delicious appetizers that add extra momentum to the event.

But it’s the main event that’s often the real driver of sales.

These main events normally involve only top contenders from a specific division. Often the “Champion” versus the “Challenger”.

Let’s take a look at a typical USP, presented in this short 30 second ad:

How much work can you spot being done by the messaging in those short 30 seconds?

Once you’ve learned what I’ve laid out in this article (especially what I’ve got in store for you at the end), I guarantee you’ll be able to spot a lot more.

To fully understand what’s going on, you first need to consider that each top contender is in a top position because they’re the best at something.

They’re the best wrestler in the division. They’re the best striker. They’re the best all-rounder. They’re the most elusive. They’re the most dangerous. Each one has something unique about them. An “exclusivity factor”.

The UFC does a great job of identifying these classifications (with stats and figures) and then applying these labels to their fighters.

In short, they build these labels beforehand using proof.

Then, when they need to build a USP for the fight, they just apply a simple formula:

(Label 1) versus (Label 2)

With two exclusive labels being combined, this creates an new unique product for them – an automatic USP.

I first noticed this when I watching older UFC fights from their back catalogue.

The penny dropped while watching Lyoto Machida versus Randy Couture.

Lyoto Machida (at the time) was the first successful karate stylist the sport had seen. He was the quickest on his feet and evaded the most punches. He was tagged as “the most elusive athlete in the UFC”.

Randy Couture at this stage of his career was already a legend in the sport, having won more belts than anyone else. He was tagged as “the most dangerous combat athlete in the UFC”.

So, the USP for the fight was billed as “The most elusive athlete in the sport versus the most dangerous combat athlete in the sport”.

Not too shabby a reason to tune in, if you’re a fight fan.

UFC Selling In Action

So, now that you’re aware of what the USP for the fight is, let’s take a look at how the UFC used it to sell.

Pay close attention to the following video.

Watch how each fighter’s role is defined. And then how the UFC uses this unique combination as the main selling point:

Now that we’ve seen how the UFC builds their USPs, let’s take a look at another example.

The goal here is to see if you can spot the elements at work — without knowing what they are.

The following video is for the fight between Demetrius “Mighty Mouse” Johnson and John “The Magician” Dodson.

This fight was a championship rematch between two fighters who had met a couple of years before in the UFC’s smallest weight class: the Flyweight division.

In the following video, see if you can pick out the elements of exclusivity — the ONLY FACTORS — that are being used to build the USP for this fight.

So, what did you notice?

If it was any of the following, then you’re on the right track to being able to identify a strong USP:

  • John Dodson: Only fighter in the Flyweight Division with 1-punch knock out power
  • John Dodson: The “Fastest Guy” in the “Fastest Division” in the UFC
  • Mighty Mouse: The “Best Pound for Pound” Fighter on Planet Earth
  • The Fight: The “Most Competitive Championship Rematch” in the History of the Flyweight Division

Reading through that list, there’s a lot of appeal and exclusivity packed into one fight!

So, if you were to ask:

“If I am a fight fan, why should I watch John “The Magician” Dodson versus Demetrius “Mighty Mouse” Johnson, rather than any other fight?”

…the answer would be…

“…because it’s the most competitive championship rematch in the history of the flyweight division.

Where you’ll get to see the best “pound for pound” fighter on planet earth face the only guy in his division who is faster than him, who’s also the only guy who can knock him out with one punch.

If you’re a fight fan, there’s no way you’re ignoring this product.

What’s also interesting is to see the consistency and congruency in how the UFC presents the USP for each fight.

Watch here as the UFC commentators discuss the same fight — and it’s USP — at the start of the broadcast:

Notice how it’s exactly the same argument, but re-iterated in a different way to intensify it’s power.

And notice how it’s used to re-invigorate the appeal of the product, even after it’s been purchased.

How to apply this to your marketing

The biggest lesson here is that everything you do needs to have a USP to make it truly compelling.

BUT — a more powerful takeaway you can extract from the UFCs marketing is this:

To create something unique, you don’t need to create something brand new (or original) from scratch.

You often just need to combine existing components in new, interesting ways that your market and audience will find appealing.

For the UFC, this means taking a part of their organization — their fighters — and mixing them in interesting ways that fight fans love.

Once that’s done, there’s only one step left for them to take. A step that will drive their target market into a frenzy.

All that’s missing from that new product is a little “UFC secret sauce”.

And that “secret sauce” is telling you the story of the fight…

The Ronda Rousey Effect – How To Supercharge Your USP with Story

As you may have noticed in the previous videos in this article, the USP of each fight is not the only thing being communicated in their marketing.

The USP itself is not even the most prominent part. In fact, it’s often woven into the story telling of the events leading up to the fight.

To show you how to supercharge your USP by combining it with an emotional story, we’re going to take a look at an excellent example focused on UFC Superstar, Ronda Rousey.

Like I mentioned at the start of this article, chances are you’ve heard of Ronda.

In the past few years, she’s broken into the main stream with a personal USP of “The World’s Most Dominant Athlete”.

World's Most Dominant Athelete

Ronda Rousey featured as the #1 most dominant athlete in a recent piece by Business Insider.

She has an upcoming fight in November of 2015 against her next challenger, Holly Holm.

Both of these women have been totally dominant in their fields of fighting.

Rousey is a former Olympian Bronze Medalist in Judo. She is an extremely high level grappler, who is undefeated as UFC champion in all of her 8 fights.

She is the first and ONLY female UFC champion to have existed in her weight class. Every challenger she’s faced has been quickly dispatched.

Her last 5 fights have lasted 3 minutes COMBINED.

(A full fight is scheduled for 15-25 minutes.)

Holly Holm on the other hand is a former boxing champion, who defended her world title an unprecedented 18 times.

If you’ve been following along here so far, then you’ll see that the automatic USP emerging here is:

“World’s Best Female Grappler” versus “World’s Best Female Striker”

When you dig a little deeper into their stories, you’ll discover that both Rousey and Holm faced a lot of adversity to get to the top of their fields.

And they did this during a time when gender roles in society clearly communicated that “girls shouldn’t be fighting”.

They fought and struggled to the top when there was no clear path in front of them.

At a time when no one was watching. No one was cheering.

In fact, even UFC President Dana White went so far as to say “women will never fight in the UFC”.

Yet that perception has changed a lot recently — what with Ronda Rousey becoming an international superstar.

There’s now a growing movement of young ladies picking up martial arts, who are personally identifying themselves as “a fighter”.

Ronda has been a figurehead in this movement — acting as a celebrity role model for a generation of younger girls to look up to.

So, how does the UFC sell this fight?

By channeling the power of that movement onto the event, layering it on top of the already powerful USP of “World’s Best Grappler versus World’s Best Striker”.

And they do it masterfully, by telling the story of both fighters. All without saying a word.

Pay close attention to every detail in this video – it’s a marketing masterclass:

You’ll probably want to watch that again…

“So, what exactly makes a great USP?”

This is the question I get asked the most when I talk to people about USPs.

First, let’s start with the simple version.

A great USP is an extremely compelling answer to the value proposition question:

“If I am your ideal customer, why should I buy from you, rather than any of your competitors?”

Diving to the next level, your next question should be: what makes an answer compelling?

To understand that, you need to look at each claim of value you make — from the perspective of your customer — through two lenses:

  1. Appeal
  2. Exclusivity

These two factors have an unbalanced relationship.

If something becomes appealing, then chances of it also being exclusive are slim.

Appeal breeds success, and competition is quick to imitate.

What you’re looking to identify is the overlap between appeal and exclusivity — home of the Powerful “Only” Factor.

appeal-exclusivity

What you offer needs to be appealing. That’s the price of entry.

But if it’s not exclusive, the power of the appeal will be diluted amongst all of your competitors who offer the same thing.

So, your offer needs to be exclusive.

But just making something exclusive is not enough. Unless it’s appealing it won’t attract the customers attention in the manner you want.

For example, if you manufacture smartphone covers you can claim exclusivity by saying:

“We’re the only smartphone cover to be made from 100% recycled garbage bags.”

But how appealing is that to your prospective customers?

There’s a fine balance to strike here. And I’m going to show exactly how to do it…

Action Steps: Upping your USP game

So, let’s talk about how we can find a killer USP for your business.

To really get some amazing results, I’m going to show you two simple steps you need to go through:

  1. Discovering Your USP – Whether your business is successful or not, the first thing you need to do is identify what your current USP is. The tool set in this step will help you identify exactly what your current USP is – even if you don’t think you have one.
  2. Strengthening Killer USP – Refining and amplifying the power of your USP is one of the most worthwhile activities you can do in business. Whether you already have a USP, or you’re creating one from scratch. This step will map out exactly how you can take your USP to the next level

Both of these are covered in a special guide I’ve created for Copy Chief readers.

I call it the “USP Builder’s Toolset”, and it will show you:

  • The exact 7 step process to identifying your existing USP (you already have one — whether you realize it or not!)
  • The 4 critical USP factors you need to focus on while strengthening your USP
  • The 9 “unique angles” you can start implementing today (to give yourself a leg up on your competition)
  • Specific examples of how the UFC used this very process to capture the mindshare of their market

To get your hands on it, all you need to do is enter your name and email below.

After that you’ll be taken to a page to download your copy of the USP Builder’s Toolset.

You’ll also receive an email from Kevin Rogers delivering the Toolset to you, so you have a copy in your inbox.

This Toolset will essentially give you everything you need to build your own killer USP.

Follow the steps closely and your competitors will soon be out for the count!

Meet the Author

Ross O'Lochlainn

Hi, I'm Ross. I set out on an adventure to understand what really makes prospects convert into customers, but I quickly become fed up with the barrage of dishonest and unethical marketing tactics touted by so-called "experts" online. So I created Conversion Engineering -- a site that shows you the systems, structures and copywriting techniques that ethically (and repeatedly) generate sales.

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