Given the budget constraints under which you’re likely operating, you’ll want to achieve maximum public exposure for your dojo, at minimal expense. Ultimately, your goal should be this: in your local area, whenever anyone uses the term “martial arts,” the listener will immediately think of you.
The single most important principle to remember in developing an effective advertising strategy for your dojo is the “three hit rule.” According to marketing experts, the average consumer must see a particular product or service three times before he makes the decision to purchase. The three instances of exposure need not take exactly the same form, but they should occur relatively closely in time.
Ideally, the most direct route from initial exposure to enrollment is:
1) The prospective student sees a brochure, an ad in the phone book, or a web site and makes a call for additional information.
2) A personalized package of information is mailed to the prospect, providing a detailed description of the dojo and the arts practiced.
3) The candidate visits the dojo to observe training, and sits for an admission interview. (Depending on the standards of individual dojo, multiple visits may be required before an interview is granted.)
This scenario assumes the candidate makes an appointment during his initial contact. (Insuring that an appointment is made during the first conversation is itself a process to which specific strategies can be applied—see Telephone and Recruitment Procedures.)
In some cases, however, a potential student does not act on the results of his initial call. When planning your overall approach to advertising, look for ways to insure that each person who calls you is, in return, contacted by you at least two times before being dropped as a prospect. Any time a prospect fails to make an appointment to observe class, I follow-up by mailing a copy of our next monthly calendar or a seminar announcement.
Whatever type of mailings you use, you’ll need to determine the message you wish to convey. If you scan the martial arts section of your local Yellow Pages™, you’ll note that most ads tout such benefits as self-defense, self-confidence, self-discipline, and self-respect. I question the efficacy of such an approach for dojo of traditional Japanese arts, not because I disagree that those benefits are realistic outcomes of training, but because I don’t think the people we are targeting focus primarily on any of those aspects. A parent might well respond to such ads, especially in those instances a child needs help with developmental issues, but I doubt the parent would begin to wonder if training might be an appealing option for himself.
In this day and age, serious concerns for personal self-defense are better addressed through legal injunctions and modern weapons than through ritualized training in archaic forms of combat. Looking at your own dojo, how many adult students appear to be devoid of self-confidence or discipline, even in the earliest stages of training? And as for self-respect, I doubt many instructors of kenjutsu or aikijutsu would allow onto the mat anyone apparently lacking in respect for themselves (and, by extension it might be assumed, for others).
More often than not, candidates for admission to our dojo cite one of two reasons for their desire to train: “It’s something I’ve always wanted to do,” or, “I’m looking for a challenge.”
Consequently, I’m always searching for ways to make our printed advertising appeal to the type of people we believe make successful students: those men and women seeking new experiences and the opportunity for achievement in a field of endeavor far removed from work-a-day life.
Talk to your students to determine what drew them to your dojo—assuming you like the crew you’ve got, you’ll learn immediately just what to advertise. You don’t need to try to say everything in each ad, nor do you have to limit yourself to the “top two reasons to enroll.” Plan a variety of approaches emphasizing different aspects of the same, general theme.
One of the most effective and economical means of advertising is the tri-fold brochure. If anyone in your dojo has a PC and a design or desktop publishing application such as PageMaker or CorelDRAW, you have everything you need to produce something nice. A scanner or digital camera are also major assets for this project, because photographs really enhance a brochure (but text-only brochures can also be quite effective).
As for the content of the brochure, focus on information that won’t frequently change. There’s really no need to list class times, for instance, when a change in schedule would require you to throw away a whole pile of brochures otherwise ready to be distributed. If you include the key points you are trying to convey, along with some basic information on the school and the type of student you’re looking for, you have more than enough information to induce a phone call.
Unless you have an exceptional printer attached to your PC, the professional image you want to achieve won’t be likely with home-office output. At the same time, you don’t need to pay for offset printing. Talk to your local printers (like PIP or AlphaGraphics), until you find one who can take the electronic file of your brochure and output it directly through a high-resolution copier. If you select at least a 70# paper, one with a pleasant texture and color, your brochures will look virtually the same as if they had been produced by offset printing, but at a fraction of the cost.
Recently I paid $375 to photocopy 5,000 brochures on very nice paper. A few years earlier, before I wised-up, I spent $325 to get just 1,000 brochures printed on an offset press.
I printed so many brochures the last time in order to increase the number of locations we could place them. In the past, we targeted just a few bookstores and similar venues, but now we target any place a person is the least bit likely to notice and pick up a brochure. The most productive spot we ever found was a “Neato Burrito”—just about the last place in the world I would have ever thought to place brochures.
We know from experience that 1,000 brochures on the street will, after screening of candidates, produce 10 new students on the mat.
We’ve also tried fliers—single sheets, printed on one side. These can be exceptionally economical, since you can use a color laser printer for acceptable output and print them as needed. Public-use bulletin boards at grocery stores or offices are typical sites for such fliers, and we’ve also had very good results posting them at Japanese restaurants in the area.
A friend of mine had the idea of leaving dojo business cards in books in the martial arts sections of local bookstores. I took that concept and went one better, printing actual bookmarkers for the purpose. Students keep a batch with them on hand, and slip them into books whenever the opportunity presents itself.
Advertising in the phone book entails a greater investment than printing brochures, but there’s no question it’s effective. What you’ll need to do is pick the type of ad that is cost-effective in your situation. Even if you don’t yet have a permanent training location, it’s possible to have a separate, business line installed at your home for a dojo phone.
Charges for business phone services vary by locale. In the central Pennsylvania area, to have a business line created, there is a one-time charge of $75 to obtain a phone number and have the connection run to the location. If you need to have work done inside the dojo, such as installation of a phone jack, expect a service call fee of $42 and likely additional fees for labor and materials (labor is billed at the rate of $16 per 15 minutes). Depending on your location, monthly rates for business line service average $13 – $19.
With establishment of your business line, you will receive a free, basic listing in the Yellow Pages™, in one section of the book. If you look in your local directory, the basic listings are the ones in the smallest print. For $19.75 per month, you can get your dojo name and number printed in bold, and, for the first year of the listing, you can display an additional 10 words for free. In subsequent years, the additional words will cost $14.50 per month. At that point, though, many customers opt for a bold listing in a box—which includes five lines of text—for $49.50 per month.
Last year, we upgraded from a column listing to a display ad, with photographs, at a cost of $130 per month. This may have been a mistake—our display ad is not producing more contacts than was the case with the column listing. But the problem may be in the ad copy, rather than in the assumption this type of ad is not significantly more effective (as promised by the sales reps).
Previously we did not list a street address, because the dojo was not in its permanent location. The column listing just said Mechanicsburg, based on the fact the phone was actually located in the office at our home. The new display ad shows the entire street address of our permanent facility, with the town listed as Enola. The dojo is not in Enola, but is within the Enola post office district. Even though the dojo is in an incredible location, and can be reached in minutes from anywhere in the Harrisburg metropolitan area, the fact is people in this area think of Enola as somewhat remote, even backwoods. I’m now working on revising the ad copy to emphasize just where and how accessible the dojo actually is.
Another idea to consider when looking at the Yellow Pages™ is obtaining listings in other directories that are close, but outside your immediate area. Any directory with significant coverage of areas within a 25-minute drive to the dojo ought to be considered, especially in the case your art is something out of the ordinary. A prospective karate student can find a dojo on every block, but people seeking classical arts are often willing to drive truly astonishing distances in order to train. (Despite the fact local people don’t seem to want to drive to Enola, we’ve had a number of students commute regularly from Philadelphia and Baltimore—in each case a drive of at least two hours, one way.)
As the Internet becomes more solidly established as an important part of many people’s everyday lives, the medium plays an increasingly significant role in advertising. Although I think most people will still pick up the Yellow Pages™ first when looking for a local martial arts school, or are more likely to stumble on a brochure than go out searching the web, the next thing they will do is visit a web site if one is listed.
While as little as two years ago students applying for admission seldom mentioned the Internet, now virtually every candidate mentions having visited the ittendojo.org web site. In one recent three-month period, fully one-quarter of all initial contacts were via the Internet, and all of the people who actually enrolled were from that group.
It is possible to host a web site from a desktop PC, but if you anticipate any serious level of traffic—and you should, or why bother?—you’ll want your site hosted on a server. This is a lot more economical than you might expect. Hosting services such as Interland offer packages for as little as $15 or so per month, and even the basic level of service is more than adequate for most dojo: plenty of file space, multiple e-mail accounts, administration and reporting tools, and prompt technical support.
Web-authoring software is readily available, but make sure the person creating your site either has some credible design experience or adheres to templates included with the software. An amateurish web site does nothing to enhance the image of your dojo, and could in fact be worse than nothing since the site is being used to supplement other forms of advertising and push a potential student into making a call.
As for what the site should contain, just look around here—this site has been in existence for about five years, and has evolved considerably in that time in response to experience.
Running paid ads in the local paper isn’t an attractive option, either. I once heard of an instance in which an instructor paid a steep fee for an ad in a major, metropolitan area, an ad which included a coupon for three months free lessons, and received not a single response.
But you should definitely check opportunities for free advertising. Our local Sunday paper runs a full-page “For the Participant” listing in the sports section, and I’ve enrolled several students as a result of placing small ads for both regular classes and special seminars.
We explored radio advertising, and decided the medium is not suited to our service. If you’re selling replacement windows, for instance, you can be certain someone in the listening audience has an immediate need for your product. But we’re advertising an intangible product, for which few people perceive a distinct need.
When we found out that running just 10 ads per week, for two weeks, would cost almost $1,200—and not in prime time, at that—we decided to print more brochures…
Demos are one of the least expensive means of advertising, and one of the easiest to target. Performing at malls (during special events with a martial arts focus) or at martial arts tournaments typically costs little or nothing, and enables you to be seen by a lot of people with an established interest in what you do.
Another possibility is creating a videotape to offer to your local public access channel. All cable companies are required to include a public access channel in their line-ups, and they’re usually hard pressed to find suitable material to present. So long as you make no overt advertisements during the video, you should have no trouble securing a great deal of exposure. You may be able to display the name of the school in the background and include your phone number in the credits.
Your greatest asset in promoting your dojo is the students you already have. Offering incentives for recruiting is an excellent way to put your best advocates to work.
Each of our students knows that if he vouches for a candidate he has recruited, the candidate will be admitted to the dojo without all the usual hoops to jump through. But more importantly, the student knows that the first month the newcomer pays full tuition, the person who recruited the new member receives a voucher worth two-thirds regular, monthly tuition. (Since a new student commencing training mid-way through a month pays prorated tuition, I wait until the next month to allow the “recruiting bonus”—it’s easier for me to budget, since the “loss” due to the bonus will be offset by the recruit’s tuition.)
Rather than making the referral process more “commercial,” recruiting bonuses help reinforce the notion that the dojo is a collective entity, in which every member has a direct stake.
Tying it all Together
Regardless of which methods of advertising you use, it’s critical to measure the effectiveness of your ads. Every time a potential student contacts our dojo, one of the questions we ask is, “How did you find out about the school?” I keep written records of every contact and use that information to compare the results of the different forms of advertising we employ. I can tell not only how many contacts each form of advertising generated, but also which form(s) of advertising yielded the most actual enrollments. By including in consideration the money spent on the different forms, I can gauge cost-effectiveness.
Only by measuring results can you tell what you’ve accomplished and decide how to focus your efforts in the future.