Mark asks, “What do martial arts businesses find to be the most effective referral program? Is it giving referrers a discount on membership dues, free supplies, thoughtful gifts not related to martial arts, etc?”
Answered by: Don Prue – built one of America’s largest martial arts organizations. At his peak he had over 3000 students. He says, “I was in the right place at the right time. I was first in at the beginning of the kid market boom. I made many mistakes in the beginning but I sure learned a lot along the way”
Mark, this is a very good question. I have tried so many different referral programs and most did not work. Fortunately, through trial and error I came up with an extremely effective referral system.
Having an effective referral system should be the most important marketing tool you possess. This is easier said than done. The difficulty is how or more importantly, what is it that motivates students to bring a friend in. When I first decided to create a “Bring a Friend” program (as I called it), I thought it would be easy, but it wasn’t. I knew my students loved me and I thought they would instantly jump into action to bring in friends to help me. I was wrong. They did not. I asked for this help until I was blue in the face. I would sign up a student here and there from asking but overall just asking for help was a failure.
From there, I came up with the bright idea that I would give my students something to motivate them to bring a friend in. Back then, money was tight so I decided to give away incentives that didn’t cost me anything. I decided to try to give them gifts of discounts. If a student brought in a friend who signed up, the student would receive a discount. I tried discounts on their monthly payments and I also tried to give discounts on merchandise. Neither option had much appeal. I also tried rewards that were not martial arts related like video games for the kids and restaurant gift certificates for the adults. I tried many variations. Response was dismal and not to my liking.
I could go on with more examples that were mildly successful but now it is time to share the answer that turned my whole bring a friend program around. It became my number one marketing tool. The key to a successful bring a friend program is “Exclusivity”. I came up with the “Ambassador” program. Students who brought in and exposed others to the benefits of training were ambassadors to the art. This entitled them to special privileges that others did not have. It was an exclusive club. I created special classes and seminars that only ambassadors could attend (not taking away the normal training times). The student is now only addressed as Ambassador Smith (whatever the students last name is).
When a student brought in a friend who signed up, I would have a special ceremony. This ceremony was held at the end of class. It only took a couple of minutes. I had all the students sit down while I called the student up in front of class. I presented the student with a special T-shirt. This T-shirt had a really awesome design. You could not buy this T-shirt, you had to earn it. From there I would have the whole class stand up. I would say “I present to you Ambassador Smith”. Then I had the whole class stand and bow to the new Ambassador along with a big round of applause. I made this a really big deal. If a student brought in three friends they were presented with a special Bomber Jacket. It was offered for sale, but at a very high price (over $150). Once again this jacket had a really awesome design on the back and front.
These two items are good examples of utilizing a double edged sword in your marketing. You are motivating students with items of high perceived value and promoting your school outside the walls of your school with very unique and desirable clothing items.
I am sure you can come up with some variations to this system on your own but exclusivity is the key. Make your student standout and feel special.
Please, if you have a good referral program share it. We would love to hear about it.
I want to thank Mark for a great question. If you have a question please ask it here.