Should Demographics Dictate Your Martial Arts School’s Image?

Know Thy Image

I fully expect some clown to start offering martial arts for pets or some such nonsense at some point - which would be an extreme case of trying to offer something for everyone... or every-pet, in that case.

I fully expect some clown to start offering martial arts for pets or some such nonsense at some point - which would be an extreme case of trying to offer something for everyone... or every-pet, in this case.

Trying to be all things to all people is a sure-fire way to become nothing to no one. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t diversify into having multiple programs for multiple age demographics. Not at all… in fact, for most school owners and in most locations I think it’s a mistake to just go after a single demographic.

Know What Pays Thy Bills

However, I do think you need to know what pays the bills, and be practical about pursuing that demographic and making it the priority in your school. For example…

In my first school, I built the entire school on kids programs. That was my whole image, and even though I taught adult classes, fitness classes, and so on, my entire image was tied up in being a kid-friendly school.

But in my most recent school, I focused more on presenting the message that we had programs for the whole family. Still, I wanted to teach more adults, so I focused more on that.

The thing is, getting kids in your school is usually the easiest task. It’s the adults that are much harder to attract. That’s why I always go for the kid’s market first, then go after the adults once the kid’s programs are paying the bills.

Know Thy Demographic

What’s that have to do with image?

Well, all my ads are pretty much middle of the road as far as raciness goes. The raciest thing I’ve ever run was for my boot camp, and that’s because the model showed midriff and had a belly piercing (it looked good, though – the ads performed well).

Mostly, I’ve stuck with mom-friendly stuff, because in the areas I operated in most of my clients and decision-makers were moms.

Know Thy Target Market

Here’s something to consider, though…

Say you run a gym that’s MMA oriented, and your enrollment is mostly made up of the 20- and 30-something, tatted up, Affiliction-wearing guys.

Chances are good that your kids classes are going to be made up of kids from those households.

So, you’ll still get some “contact” enrollments just by virtue of farming your existing clientele – it’s just going to fall out that way.

But, that “bad boy” image isn’t going to go over well with families who just walk in off the street. Your average soccer mom is going to be turned off by it, and she’ll take her kids down the street to the plain-vanilla-typical-suburban-family-image school down the street.

This is just one example, and I think you can see the converse also applies. If your school is viewed as a “kiddie” school, chances are good that will work against you if you are marketing hard core MMA or adult self-defense programs.

Know Thy Image As It Applies To Thy Demographic

This is why it’s important to understand the demographics of your area… so you can make sure you don’t have an image disconnect between the image your marketing projects and your local market.

In more densely populated urban areas, it may be possible to pick and choose your ideal student by targeting a particular demographic. This is what you see advertisers doing in mass media marketing – the audience is broad enough to allow the advertiser’s to pick and choose their market to a certain extent.

However, your market reach is effectively only 5-10 miles from your location (ten being on the extreme edges of your market).

So, the demographic found in that geographical area absolutely dictates what your marketing image should be.

Questions? Comments?

Let Mike know! Post your comments below…


  1. Keith Sonnenberg on November 5, 2009 at 9:00 am

    Thanks! This makes a lot of sense!

  2. Carl Norman on November 5, 2009 at 9:07 am

    Hi Mike, I think you are absolutely spot on, but something has just happened to me that you may find interesting? I run a school in Marbella, Spain and to say its like a community down here is an understatement, and although our school has been very well accepted its still hard to convince people to come and take a look, so I posted some 1 minute videos on my facebook site of the kids and adults doing their thing on my classes!! it was so well received I decided to open another site called martial arts personal fitness instructor on facebook and boy has it made a difference, I have seen more people inquiring about what we do but more importantly I now feel we are out their!! people know about us! since that i have opened a site just for the members of my dojo and have opened an account on youtube. My students are buzzing over seeing themselves on the net! Its worked for me! Your comments would be very well appreciated.


  3. Jeff on November 5, 2009 at 9:17 am

    Great article! Thanks Mike.

  4. Mike Massie on November 5, 2009 at 9:31 am


    What you’re describing is something we’ve been harping on in our member’s area and forums recently, which is using social media to get the word out about your programs.

    Here in the States, many schools are seeing record low numbers this fall and things are tight.

    Times like these (or anytime) there’s nothing like free advertisement and free publicity.

    Social media allows you to generate both for your school.

    Keep it up!

  5. Rutenis on November 5, 2009 at 6:40 pm

    Mike,- very serious article and very important ideas! Thanks a lot!!


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