You’ve poured your heart, your sweat, and probably a good chunk of your savings into your martial arts studio. Yet, despite all your efforts, you’re barely keeping your head above water. You know you need to market your studio to keep it afloat, but you’re running on fumes when it comes to budget.

The anxiety is palpable; it’s a constant weight on your shoulders, a knot in your stomach that tightens with each passing day. You’re stuck in a race against attrition, desperately trying to outrun the inevitable while feeling like you’re always one step behind.

Whether you’re just starting out or struggling to keep your dojo afloat, the reality of needing to attract students without much cash can feel like a kick to the gut.

Fortunately, you’ve got a powerful marketing strategy at your disposal that’s not only cost-effective but also highly impactful. When done correctly, word-of-mouth marketing leverages the genuine connections between your students and their social circles.

They become your enthusiastic brand ambassadors, promoting your dojo because they genuinely believe in what you offer – and because they get a little kickback for their efforts.

In this article, we’ll give you practical strategies, real-life examples, and actionable tips to help you harness the power of word-of-mouth marketing.

The Power of Word of Mouth

Word-of-mouth marketing is built on trust. With every other type of marketing, your prospective customer has to rely on blind faith to take a chance with you. But when they hear about how great your dojo is from someone they already have confidence in, a transference of trust takes place. Their friend has already experienced what you’ve got to offer and come out the other side raving about it. That’s powerfully persuasive.

Give ‘Em a Reason to Talk

Word-of-mouth marketing starts and finishes with great service. You have got to give your current members a reason to talk about you. You want them to be bubbling over with enthusiasm, not because you’re giving them a reward (though that helps) but because they are genuinely impressed by what you do. 

Do everything you possibly can to make your customer experience extraordinary. Do this consistently, day in and day out, to earn your members’ trust. Your dojo should be a haven from the outside world for your members where everyone knows their name and shows genuine interest in their progress. 

There are three key motivators that will get your customers talking about you:

  1. They like you and your service
  2. They want to spread ‘in the know’ information
  3. They want to make connections around their passions

You can leverage each of these motivations to your advantage by consistently providing exceptional service, bringing your members into your inner circle, sharing training secrets and industry knowledge, and giving them a simple message to convey. 

Your Word of Mouth Marketing Plan

Just because you’re relying on your members to spread the word doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t have a plan. Your word-of-mouth marketing plan involves three elements:

  1. Identify Your Marketing Stars
  2. Give Them a Topic
  3. Help Spread the Message

1. Identify Your Marketing Stars

You want all of your members to spread the word about your dojo. However, you’ll soon identify the 80/20 rule coming into play. So, give most of your attention to the 20 percent who are bringing in 80 percent of your word-of-mouth referrals.

Identify members who are good communicators, well-connected, credible, and naturally sociable. Out of a membership of 100 students, you might end up with a dozen such people. These are your marketing stars, and they are the folks you will put the most energy into. If your school caters mainly to children, you should identify the parents who fit the bill.

Now, develop a special line of communication with these people. This could be an email newsletter that goes just to them or a chat room or blog just for them. Provide them with ‘insider information’ about the business and the martial arts industry. You could include up-to-the-minute company news, future business plans, progress reports on new services, and staff news. 

Provide your marketing stars with vouchers and exclusive deals, and ask them for feedback on all aspects of the business. Show them you value their input and opinions by giving them small rewards and incentives. 

2. Give Them a Topic

Having established a unique line of communication with your marketing stars, you now need to feed them topics to talk about with their family, friends, and co-workers. This needs to build on the great service that you’re offering day in and day out. This could be an example of truly exceptional service, something quirky that will make people laugh, or a partnership with a charity that resonates with your marketing stars. 

Here’s an example of outstanding service that led to very positive word-of-mouth marketing for a small dojo in Galena, Illinois…

One day, a student injured their ankle during a particularly intense training session. Immediately, the Sensei sprung into action, offering first aid and arranging for transportation to the hospital. Throughout the student’s recovery, the Sensei stayed in touch, offering words of encouragement and arranging for private lessons to help them stay connected to their practice.

The gym owner proudly showcased this example of one of his instructors going beyond what was expected to his identified marketing stars. Before long, the dojo was being talked about as an example of ‘old fashioned customer service’, and new members began to roll in.

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Help Them Spread the Message

Once you’ve created some buzz around the business, your job is to lubricate the wheels of communication. The first thing to do is the most obvious – ask your marketing stars to spread the word. 

Everybody loves a David and Goliath story, so be straight up with your members. Tell them about the exorbitant cost of marketing and how you simply can’t compete with the big players on a dollar-for-dollar basis. Your members will get behind you to help you succeed. 

By being transparent about the hurdles you face, you invite your members to become part of your journey. You’re not just asking for their support; you’re inviting them to be champions of a cause they believe in. When they understand the financial constraints you operate under, they’re more likely to rally behind you, motivated by a sense of camaraderie and a desire to see you succeed against the odds.

Another way to lubricate the wheels of conversation is to provide incentives. These could include a free month added to the membership when a referred new member pays their first month’s membership, free merchandise, or a complimentary smoothie after a training session. 

The best way to match the incentive to the desires of the recipient is to ask them. This is all part of making your members feel part of the ‘inner circle.’ So, set a survey where you give options regarding their preferred new member referral incentive. Then, rather than going with the majority, tailor each situation to the individual. Those who prefer an extra month’s membership can get that, while those who would rather have a free protein smoothie every Friday can also be catered for. GymDesk gym management software makes this process easy to manage. 

What About the Other 80 Percent?

You now know how to focus on the 20 percent of your members who will generate 80 percent of your word-of-mouth buzz. Let’s now talk about the other 80 percent. 

Of course, you should offer the same exceptional service to all your students. This will foster a sense of pride and trust that will make your members want to talk about you. You also need to ask your members to spread the word. Add a simple request to every receipt, every email, and newsletter that says something like …

“Dear [Student’s Name], Your positive experiences at [Dojo Name] mean the world to us. Please consider sharing them with your friends and family to help others discover the benefits of martial arts training. Thank you for being an integral part of our community!”

Add a ‘tell a friend’ button to every page on your website. Make it even more personal by allowing the member to add a message. You should also run an active message board on your website. Respond promptly to messages, thanking every person for their contribution, even if it isn’t positive. Use your expertise to add positively to the conversation. Focus on being genuine, fixing problems, and making people happy.

Set up a rewards program for referring a friend. A free month’s membership works great. Create a poster for the wall and put flyers on the counter to keep this offer in front of your members.

Keeping Track

The whole point of word-of-mouth marketing is to generate referrals. Gymdesk’s management software provides a simple way to track these referrals and offer discounts or account credits to the referral member. It’s the perfect complement to your word-of-mouth marketing campaign. 

Learn more about how our management software system can help you turn word of mouth into money in the bank. 

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