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5 Knockout Content Marketing Secrets to Steal From the UFC

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I have a confession: I’m addicted to “The Ultimate Fighter.” I binge-watched “House of Cards” and “Game of Thrones,” but nothing compares to the intense, surprising, and sometimes hilarious antics of MMA fighters hoping to make it big in the Ultimate Fighting Championship.

Twice a year, professional mixed martial artists from all over the world flock to Las Vegas to compete for a contract with the UFC. The contestants live together under one roof, fight to advance in the competition, and are coached by current UFC fighters. They also compete to win cash bonuses for the best fight, best knockout, and best submission of the season. What you get are some exceptionally entertaining fights and drama galore. 

As “The Ultimate Fighter” slowly consumed my life, I noticed something: I kept trying (unsuccessfully) to put my boyfriend in an arm bar. I also realized that the UFC is a content marketing powerhouse. Here are some content marketing secrets from “The Ultimate Fighter” that will invigorate your brand:

1. “The Ultimate Fighter” Uses Free (or Nearly Free) Content to Reach Its Target Audience

The UFC’s owners originally created “The Ultimate Fighter” to build brand awareness and bring MMA into mainstream culture. To capitalize on its huge television audience, the UFC uses an airtight funnel to turn casual viewers into paying customers. 

The UFC is counting on the fact that fans watching a fighter’s journey on “The Ultimate Fighter” will want to watch that person’s future fights. Are fans invested enough to drop $59.99 on pay-per-view events? Maybe. At the very least, a casual watcher who finds earlier seasons of the show online might pay to access UFC Fight Pass — the Netflix of MMA — to watch newer seasons and old fight cards. (In case you’re wondering, yes, I did cough up $9.99 to watch the epic showdown between rival coaches Miesha Tate and Ronda Rousey.)

The lesson for marketers is that you shouldn’t be afraid to give great content away for free. If you can reach your target audience through high-quality thought leadership content on external publications and funnel them back to your website, they’re going to want to consume your gated content and (hopefully) become paying customers.

2. The UFC Leverages Its Network to Create Win-Win-Win Situations 

Because the UFC produces “The Ultimate Fighter” with FOX Sports 1, it has the opportunity to leverage its extensive network of current and past fighters. The show regularly draws in big names like Jon “Bones” Jones to coach, snags guest appearances from people like Mike Tyson, and accesses fighters’ extensive training partner networks to cull unknown talent.

This creates several benefits: The contestants get to train with top MMA fighters for six weeks, viewers get more of their favorite MMA fighters, and the UFC gets to promote its top stars. 

The smartest content marketers out there leverage their networks of experts and industry connections to create similar win-win-win situations. By quoting an expert source or linking to that connection’s content, your audience benefits from that person’s additional expertise, your connection gains more exposure, and your content appears more credible.

3. “The Ultimate Fighter” Is Always Upping the Ante

To create an entertainment (or thought leadership) dynasty, you always have to be sweetening the deal for your audience by adding crazy value. “The Ultimate Fighter” is so successful because it constantly iterates on the concept to take the show to the next level. 

Season 18 marked the first time that female fighters competed on the show. In season 20, the UFC didn’t just introduce a new weight class — it also awarded the winner with a championship belt. 

In content marketing terms, you should always be upping the ante to provide additional value to your audience in the form of expert knowledge. If you have a whitepaper or an e-book, why not give it away for free like Seth Godin did with “Unleashing the Ideavirus”? 

You should never worry about giving away too much. Ultimately, getting your content in your audience’s hands will pay dividends. 

4. “The Ultimate Fighter” Engages the Audience With Personal Stories

I started watching “The Ultimate Fighter” because I’m interested in martial arts, but I think anyone could sit down in front of the TV and get sucked in within a few episodes. The producers of the show do a phenomenal job building out each fighter’s personal story — not just creating reality show drama.

In the first episode, you learn how the fighter got involved in martial arts, who his family is, and how he’s struggled to make a living doing what he loves. Remember, these guys aren’t UFC superstars yet; they’re regular people who often work crappy day jobs to feed their families and make huge sacrifices to pursue a professional fighting career.

Any time you can share something personal with your audience but don’t, you’re missing an opportunity for them to know you, like you, and remember you.

5. “The Ultimate Fighter” Gives Fighters a Platform to Build Their Personal Brand 

While UFC President Dana White is a big fixture on the show, the focus is on the fighters and the coaches. This gives current and prospective UFC fighters an incredible opportunity to build their personal brand in front of a national audience.

No one — I repeat, no one — knows branding like MMA fighters. Green hair, distinctive tattoos, a signature move like the McKenzie-style guillotine choke — fighters will go to any lengths to make sure people remember them.

At least one of these fighters will get signed to the UFC, so it’s in the best interest of “The Ultimate Fighter” to promote them. Likewise, your company should be investing in key employees’ personal brands by capitalizing on their expertise through content. You want your employees to have strong personal brands because they’re an extension of your company’s brand.

Even if knockouts, black eyes, and bitter rivalries aren’t your thing, “The Ultimate Fighter” is one reality show you can learn from. Getting noticed is tough, and holding people’s attention is even tougher. But if you make it your mission to provide crazy value and hook your audience with free content that packs a punch, you’ll be the reigning content champ in your industry.

Which of these tactics is your company using to create memorable content and hook your audience? Let us know in the comments below.

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About Tarah Benner

By day, I'm busy saving the world from bad grammar. By night, I'm a marathon runner obsessed with crime shows, microbrews, and Imo's pizza.

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