Marketing For Martial Arts Studios

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I was recently talking to a martial arts studio owner and we were discussing the importance of marketing for his business.  We both agreed that the goal of martial arts marketing is to get new students into the doors of the studio.  While other businesses use marketing to reach both new and existing customers, martial arts studios often just focus their marketing efforts on new customers.  The reason for this is that as the business model of a martial arts studio is naturally designed to retain customers - once a student signs up, they continually work towards different belts.  Basically, every business wants to both 1) get new students and 2) keep them.  This is often done by creating a clear Buyer's Journey where the customer easily moves from being a prospect to becoming an ideal customer.  Marketing, however, is the first step in this journey and thus our focus of this article.

The Goal of Martial Arts Marketing

The goal of martial arts marketing should be to get a steady flow of new students.  This means that it is important to ensure that all marketing efforts do a couple of things.  First, marketing efforts should focus on reaching people who would actually be interested in martial arts.  For example, marketing efforts that reach families with children would be more beneficial than marketing efforts that reach senior citizens.  In addition, martial arts marketing should be designed in a way to encourage prospective customers to engage with your business.  This could be accomplished by providing incentives such as discounts, prizes, or even free gear.

The bottom line is that martial arts marketing efforts should be designed in a way to strategically get new students into the studio.

Martial Arts Marketing Examples

While every martial arts business will need to focus on marketing that make since for their specific business, there are a few strategies that I believe warrant consideration from all martial arts businesses:

  • Word-of-mouth referrals
  • Social media
  • Website
  • Events

Word-of-Mouth Referral Marketing

First and foremost, one of the best entry points for a martial arts business to focus on is word-of-mouth referrals.  The truth is that there is nothing more powerful for a prospective buyer than a referral from a trusted friend.  As people are often naturally hesitant of new things, a prospective customer can find assurance in your business through the comfort your existing customers already have with you.

Furthermore, referrals often work for a martial arts business because friends and family are often willing to do something that will result in spending more time together.  For some, a referral may mean that they will be able to carpool together, or to chat with each other while their kids are in class, or even to be able to go to dinner together after leaving your studio.  In fact, my son’s best friend signed up for taekwondo as a result of my son and wife encouraging him to do so.  In addition, my wife and I decided to sign up our whole family for taekwondo and have made this a weekly family event. The point here is to not overlook the value of a referral as it is much easier to convince someone to work with you when a trusted friend of theirs is doing the convincing.

When designing a word-of-mouth marketing plan, it is important to consider a few things.  First, you don’t want to just wait around for a referral to happen.  Sure, some referrals will naturally occur if you are doing things well, but you really want to create a pro-active way to drive referrals.  This could be accomplished by creating a referral program or running regular referral promotions.  Secondly, it is important to make sure that any referral program you offer is a win-win-win for the prospect, your existing customer, and for you.  As the goal is for you to get a new customer out of the deal, we don’t really need to focus on how this benefits you.  What we need to focus on is how the prospect and the customer can benefit.

Next, it is important that any referral program provides an incentive for your existing customers to refer someone to your business.  This could be accomplished by providing value to either your existing customer or to the person they referral.  For example, your studio business could offer a referral fee of a cash amount for each referral that converts to a paying customer.  The cash amount could be provided as cash, a gift card, or an in-store credit.  Alternatively, a referral program could be set up to provide an incentive to just get visitors inside your studio.  For example, you could run a “bring a friend” promotion where students and their guests get entered into a monthly drawing where you give away something like an iPad, Xbox or even free services.  When both the student and their guest have a chance to win this prize, they both have an incentive to move along their journey with your business.

Finally, you could consider just asking your customers for referrals.  In fact, this is something that many businesses in other industries have strategically incorporated into their business model.  Companies like Mary Kay, Kerby vacuums, and Cutco rely on referrals of their customers (and even their prospects) to get more business.  You will probably be surprised to find that many of your customers would be more than happy to offer a referral to you, just if you would only ask them to do so.

I really can’t reiterate enough how powerful the referral can be as a martial arts marketing strategy.  When a prospect personally knows someone who has already started their journey with you, they are much more likely to quickly engage with your business.  While there are many different ways to get word-of-mouth referrals, the bottom line is that you want to pro-actively encourage referrals by providing an incentive for your customers to refer their friends and family to your studio.

Social Media Marketing

The second marketing strategy that every martial arts studio should consider implementing is social media.  While social media can be used for many things like customer retention and relations, it can also serve as a marketing tool for prospects to begin their journey with your business.  There are two ways that social media can be used as a marketing strategy for new prospects.

First, your studio business could utilize paid advertisements on a social media site, like Facebook.  While this entry point does have a cost associated with it, Facebook ads can be an extremely valuable tool as you are able to narrow down exactly who your ad reaches.  For example, you can set a Facebook ad to reach people that live within ten miles of your studio.  Furthermore, you can target your ads to people who have kids of a certain age, are a grandparent, or are looking to loose weight.  With the ability to focus in on certain groups of people, social media advertising on sites like Facebook can really be a powerful marketing tool to find prospective customers.  The key with social media advertisings - as is the case with most paid advertising - is to remember that you probably won’t get it right the first time.  It will take some tweaking to both find the right prospects and to connect with them, so it is a good idea to have a long-term advertising plan rather than quit running promotions after the first one doesn’t work.

The second way that social media can be used as a martial arts marketing strategy is through what I call "social referrals.”  Similar to word-of-mouth referrals, social media naturally refers products, services, and businesses friends and family.  Every time your business tags one of your customers online, many of their friends and family will see your business.  Furthermore, social media can even be used in conjunction with a word-of-mouth referral strategy.  In this case, you would provide an incentive for your customers to share the experience they have had working with your business with their friends and family through social media.

Social media really can be a powerful marketing tool for prospective customers.

Website Marketing

The next marketing strategy that martial arts business should consider focusing on is their website.  Yes, most martial arts studios have a website, but I have seen too many websites that are out-of-date or worse, don’t act as a marketing tool.  Websites are an extremely important tool for providing information to prospective customers.  In fact, many prospective customers will begin their journey with your business by first going to your website.  This means that if your website isn’t a good marketing tool, you may never even hear from the prospect.  On the other hand, a website that is well designed can bring a steady flow of business without doing much ongoing work on the website. 

For example. a website can be an extremely valuable marketing tool to get more customers when your website shows up in search engine results from people looking for a product or service that your business offers.  Many businesses have employed a strategy called “content marketing” where they strategically put information (content) on their website that is designed to show up in search engine results of people looking for something in particular.  Content marketing is one of the most common and effective forms of search engine optimization (SEO) for a small business.

While SEO and content marketing can become very complex, there are some simple strategies that all martial arts businesses should consider.  First, it is important to make sure that your website information is current.  If the home page of your site is talking about an event from three years ago, visitors are going to be turned off by this and may even wonder if your business still exists.  While this may seem like a no-brainer, don’t overlook this simple strategy of ensuring that your website content is up-to-date.

Secondly, every martial arts studio should consider writing content (articles or blog posts) that focuses on “keywords" that prospective customers are likely to look for.  Keywords could include the city/town in which your studio business is located, surrounding towns, and the services offered by your business.  For example, a taekwondo business in New York, Iowa would focus on keywords like “New York, Iowa”, “New Jersey, Iowa”, “taekwondo,” “martial arts,” “training coach,” and even terms like “kid sports in New York, Iowa” and “activities for kids in New York.”  One of the easiest ways to use keywords is to write articles in a blog that focus on these terms.

The final website strategy that every martial arts business should consider is to regularly add content to your website.  Whether this is once a week or once a month, the idea is that the more content that is on your website, the more chances a prospective customer has to find your business in their search results.  In addition, search engine sites like Google rank websites on a number of parameters which includes the volume of information on your site as well as how current and relevant it is to the person searching it.

The reason this strategy can be so powerful is that this strategy works to engage people who are already looking for the services or products your business offers.  If your business doesn’t show up in the search results of people who are looking for the services you offer, you are missing out on some very easy sales.

Event Marketing

The final marketing strategy that every martial arts business should consider is live events.  As a studio business, one of the best ways to get exposure in what you can offer a prospective customer is to provide a demonstration.  Events are extremely powerful for martial arts businesses as they not only act as a marketing strategy for a prospective customer, but they also provide the prospective customer with an opportunity to experience your business so they know exactly what it would be like to work with you.

Demonstrations at live events are especially beneficial for martial arts studios that offer services to children.  Demonstrations can be very exciting for children and if the demonstration pulls the child in to participate, there is a very good chance that they are going to want to get more involved. 

As a martial arts studio business owner, don’t underestimate the power of events as a marketing strategy for getting new students.