First, Get Really Good At Marketing
In the business of running a martial art school, competition doesn’t matter if you’re good at marketing. I have clients who have competitors right across the street from them, or down the block, and many times these styles and schools are very similar in what they teach. Yet, my clients often thrive under these conditions.
Think about it – if the style you teach mattered all that much when it came to competing in the marketplace, all those tae kwon do schools that teach exactly the same thing would be putting each other out of business. Now, here’s something else to think about; when you have a McDonald’s on one corner, a Burger King on another, and a Jack in the Box on the third, why don’t they all fail?
It’s because competition can actually be a good thing. When the big chain school down the street advertises all over town, they are raising the awareness of your product in the community. And if you can ride on that wave, it will help you tremendously.
Case In Point
When I opened my first successful school I was the only full-time school in the area (Note: read Small Dojo Big Profits to hear the story of how I failed three times before I developed a solid business approach). Well, scratch that – there was one other school, but they went out of business shortly after I opened my doors. And before that, two other schools had opened in the same area, but they had both gone out of business as well.
I operated for a few years as the only full-time school in the area. Then, in a matter of a few months, two other full-time schools opened up… then a third, and then a fourth. At first, it had me worried – wouldn’t all that competition hurt my business?
Nope. In fact, my business grew after those other schools opened. And why is that? In hindsight, here’s what I observed…
For one, the presence of all those other schools increased the public’s awareness of martial arts training overall in the community. This is the same thing that happened to a lot of mom and pop coffee shops when Starbucks stores first moved into small towns; about 80% of the time, it increased the local shop owner’s business due to increased consumer demand. Similarly, heightened public awareness in my community increased public interest and expanded my market reach.
Second, it gave people something to compare with my service. At the time I was way ahead of the game as far as customer service and class offerings. And, the quality of instruction I offered was far above anything that my competitors could offer. Plus, I was better at marketing, especially at promotions and offers. That meant when consumers shopped around, I typically ended up being the consumer’s choice.
Third, I already had a sterling reputation in the community. This meant that, as public awareness and demand for martial arts instruction increased in my area, I ended up with the lion’s share of the business. That’s why it’s so crucial to do everything you can to serve your clients well and treat people right – even if you’re the only school in town.
When They Go Left, You Go Right
In addition to the above observations, I believe there was another critical factor that helped me stay ahead of the competition. I have a long-standing policy to do the exact opposite of my competition whenever possible in business. When they all go left, I go right (I got this from reading Dan Kennedy’s books, by the way – it’s one of his guiding marketing principles).
This approach is more commonly known as differentiation. By being boldly different, it makes you stand out from the crowd. It also positions you as a market leader, and people are drawn to products and services that are both unique and cutting edge.
Does that mean you have to abandon your art and start teaching Latvian combat basket weaving in order to differentiate your school from your competitors? Nope. It simply means that you need to look at what your competition is doing, both in the way they serve their clients and in their marketing, and do something that’s so completely different, it amazes people.
(Note: Seth Godin famously wrote about how to do this in his book, Purple Cow. You should read it. Also, check out my book, Martial Art School Business Growth Strategies for branding and differentiation advice that is specific to martial art schools.)
How To Differentiate Your Martial Art School From Your Competitors
Look at yourself and your competition, and ask the following questions:
- Who is my target market? Who is my ideal market? Is it parents, families, executives, professionals, or a combination?
- Is what my competitors teach really what parents want for their kids? How about what I teach?
- Do the majority of professionals and executives want to be in the sort of culture my competitors promote in their schools? What about my own school’s culture?
- Does my competitors’ marketing match what the market is looking for? Does mine?
- How can I change my image and culture to match what the market is looking for, and at the same time completely stand out from my competition?
Once you’ve asked these questions and examined the answers, you’ve likely realized your marketing needs attention. At this juncture, it’s important to consider what makes you completely unique and different in your market…
Remember, “features tell, but benefits sell.” So, don’t think about style, or system, or lineage (those are “features”) when it comes to setting your school apart from your competitors. Instead, think about what benefits you bring to the table that your competitors either can’t or won’t offer.
Sometimes this is as simple as just being better at customer service. This could mean better hours, more convenient class times, better membership terms – there are a number of ways you can beat your competition at the customer service game (I suggest that you read The Profit-Boosting Principles for specific strategies).
Just don’t fall into the trap of trying to compete on price; that’s always going to be a losing proposition. Instead, seek to beat your competitors by either responding to an unmet market demand, or by simply doing a better job of providing what the market wants.
The Next Step: Telling The Story Of What Makes You Different…
The next step is actually telling the story of what makes you different from the rest of the crowd. Unfortunately, I’ve found that school owners often struggle to tell their story in a compelling and meaningful way. And, often they think telling their story once is enough (it’s not).
The thing is, we now live in a content-driven world. Content drives our entertainment, culture, and marketing. We access content through smart phones and tablets, laptops and TVs, and we consume it via social media websites, blogs, online video, podcasts, and other online media channels.
That’s why good storytelling is crucial to marketing in today’s world, and why telling your story once just isn’t enough. People are inundated with content these days. So, if you want your story to cut through the noise, you need to create a consistent and compelling narrative that is ongoing, and you need to regularly share it on your website and social media accounts.
This requires that you regularly post meaningful content to your site that shares the story of what makes your school exceptional and unique among your competition. By telling your story in a consistent narrative that resonates with your target audience, you’ll be creating a public image that positions you as the market leader among martial art schools in your area.
Is this approach to marketing and differentiation a lot of work? Yes, of course. But I can tell you from experience, it’s very effective, and it can serve to fill your marketing funnel with new students all year long. Plus, it’s an evergreen marketing strategy; good storytelling will always be essential to effective marketing.
One Last Thing…
If you want more information on how to differentiate your dojo from your competition, you’ll want to read my book on martial arts business growth strategies, available on Amazon.