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The seven-minute guide to martial arts marketing

The number of martial arts studios in the country has grown by 6.6% over last year. This guide to marketing for martial arts schools can help you stand out from the competition.

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America’s love affair with martial arts began in the late 1960s. It’s gone from strength to strength since then.

When Netflix dropped the third season of the series Kobra Kai at the start of 2021 (an original sequel to the popular 1984 film The Karate Kid), viewers watched 2.107 billion minutes of it in less than a week.

This made it the most-watched program to date across the four streaming services. It’s clear that our affinity for the practice extends beyond the small screen.

Between 2020 and 2021, 6.2 million Americans practiced martial arts. 

From mixed martial arts to karate, taekwondo, judo, and jiu-jitsu—there’s still plenty of opportunities to grow your practice. 

There’s only one obstacle. 

Thanks to the impacts of COVID on the fitness industry, it’s predicted that about 25% of gyms in the U.S. will be closing this year.

So, how can your schools, studios, and dojos capitalize on martial arts’s Hollywood moment in the sun while also setting yourself up for sustainable growth? 

We combined our industry expertise helping gyms text enable their marketing with advice from fitness marketing experts around the country to help you develop the perfect martial arts marketing strategy. 

What makes a good martial arts marketing plan?

One of the best things about martial arts studios is how broad your audience is. It’s one of the few fitness options that appeal to all ages. 

Additionally, it’s popular across genders, with an average class breakdown of 52% male and 48% female.

That being said, it’s essential to know which of these audiences you’d like to target to determine the best way to reach them. 

Jeff Parke, Owner of Top Fitness Magazine, refers to this as determining your niche. For example, if you’re located in an urban area loaded with working professionals, consider offering a lunch-break express class that condenses a 60-minute class into a 30-minute lesson ideal for the busy businessperson. 

Define your goals, budget, and where your audience spends their time

Knowing your ideal martial arts students is just the beginning of developing a good marketing plan. 

Before deciding if one of the strategies below is suitable for your gym, you’ll need to ask yourself these three questions:

  1. What is my objective? Are you looking to increase attendance, expand your offerings, or scout interest in new locations? 
  2. What’s my budget? Can you invest in new tools and software, or are you more interested in repackaging user-generated content?
  3. Where is my audience spending their time? While most marketing tactics are digital, it helps to know what social media channels your target audience prefers, do they like email or SMS marketing, are there other places in the community that would make good partners?

Based on your answers to these questions, you’ll be able to determine which of the five martial arts and karate marketing ideas we list below are suitable for your school. 

1. Start a referral program for your martial arts studio

Categories: Budget-friendly, community-oriented, new members.

Incentivizing referrals is a great way to reward existing members and new members. 

Better yet, customers acquired through referral programs have a 37% higher retention rate, and 81% of consumers are more likely to engage with brands that have reward programs!

However, the key to a good fitness referral program is delaying the reward until the new members are retained long enough to create a return on investment.

Holly Connolly, CEO of Connolly Media & Marketing, has helped set up a few of these in the past. She suggests an offer like a reduced membership rate or a discount on merchandise/equipment. The caveat being that the deal only lasts as long as the parties remain members.

Ensuring the referral “bonus” is beneficial to both parties is also a great way to increase buy-in. Like this example from Crunch Fitness that awards you a month of free membership and the person you referred a waived enrollment fee!

2. Advertising for your school based on martial arts tournaments 

Categories: Flexible spending, highly targeted, new members.

If your center already has a following on social media or a well-designed website, you should shift your focus to paid promotions to get the word out. 

The two most popular social media platforms for advertising are Facebook and Instagram, so we reached out to Drew Vaughn, CMO of Deviant Marketing, for some tips on optimizing fitness social media ads. 

His strategy focuses on location-based advertising with a twist. 

Martial Arts Tournaments are extremely popular across the country, which equals tons of potential leads gathered together at tournament locations. 

Let’s say that a Dallas Martial Arts studio wants to capitalize on the next martial arts tournament at the Dallas Convention Center, whose address is 650 S Griffin St, Dallas, TX 75202. 

Using Facebook/Instagram, most people know that you can enter the convention center’s address and market to anyone within 1 mile of the convention center. But who wants to market to 120,000 people, most of whom are not in the convention center? 

To the bottom right of the map is a button called drop pin. You can drop four pins just outside of the blue circle (North, South, East, and West), and now you’re not marketing to everyone within a mile of the Convention center. Now you’re marketing only to the martial artists (and their parents) attending the convention, which looks like this:

Just like that, you’ve narrowed your audience down to the folks you wanted to reach while also reducing your overall spend on advertising by slimming the scope. 

3. Text marketing to get more martial arts students

Categories: Scalable, member retention, new members. 

If you’re looking to reach new members, there’s no better way than a text message. Not only does SMS have a 98% open rate, but it also averages around a 45% response rate!

Text message marketing is an invaluable tool that puts your gym’s offers and information directly into your customer’s hands. And it provides you with a channel that connects you with current and prospective members as well as drop-outs and at-risk members.

An easy way to capture leads on your website and convert them into new members is through a mobile sign-up widget. Interested visitors will click on your pop-up (thanks to an enticing offer or call to action), and their texting app will automatically open to a pre-filled message with your text-to-join keyword. A keyword is just a short word or phrase that, when texted to your number, automatically signs students up to receive marketing messages down the line.

Once sent, you can follow up instantly with a welcome message, links to more information, and an offer for a free introductory class! 

4. Co-marketing is a great option for school owners

Categories: Community, cost-effective, partnerships.

While referrals from current members are a great way to grow your gym, your margins may be too slim to offer consistent discounts. Instead, you can consider partnering with local businesses.

Suppose other fitness programs, health food locations, or community centers in the area would benefit from your advertising for them. In that case, you could attempt to create a co-marketing partnership with them.

It could be as simple as them advertising your martial arts club and, in turn, you recommending their facilities. Or, as involved as hosting pop-ups and instructor swaps at your respective locations.

For example, you could team up with schools in the area to offer a monthly martial arts gym class as a way to help your studio get exposure. Or start selling health juices from a local smoothie place in exchange for free advertisements at their location.

5. Launch a “progress” or “transformation” campaign

Categories: Social, low-cost, user-generated content.

In the fitness industry, people are mainly motivated by results. Your martial arts studio can capitalize on that by offering something like a 12-week program ending in a reward for the members who make significant progress or an impressive transformation.

This helps you promote the values of both your business and martial arts. It also allows customers to be goal-focused and therefore likely to sign up to your club even once the program ends.

While the program is running, you can use it as an opportunity to gather tons of excellent user-generated content like progress photos and videos to use down the line in advertisements. 

Doug Liantonio, former fitness trainer and current marketing specialist at Gravy, saw tremendous success with what he calls the “Post Boy” marketing approach to fitness advertising. 

The goal is to get as much “before and after” content as possible and capitalize on positive testimonials of people who achieved results. 

When repurposing the content, be sure to highlight how gradual your process is and how quickly fitness wins are attainable. Beginner classes will be your biggest seller, so make sure your copy highlights the fun and encouragement your programs provide!

Final thoughts on marketing strategies for martial arts schools

The last year has been undeniably rough on the fitness industry. And while your budget, membership, and staffing situation may have changed, there’s a silver lining.

Nearly 1 in 5 Americans are still members of at least one fitness club, and the demand for healthy activities is only projected to rise.

With the adoption of at least one of the marketing strategies listed above, your center is due to capture your fair share of the growing demand.

Meghan Tocci
Meghan Tocci

Meghan Tocci is a content strategist at SimpleTexting. When she’s not writing about SaaS, she’s trying to teach her puppy Lou how to code. So far, not so good.

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