Are Martial Arts Associations relevant anymore? I wrote an article for Black Belt Magazine where I tried to determine the relevancy of today’s Martial Arts Associations. By relevancy, I mean what value do these associations provide to their membership. The days of simply providing or acknowledging rank are far behind us with most association members (re: customers) demanding more for their involvement … and their disposal income.
While there are several levels of Martial Arts Associations, in this article we are referring primarily to those associations which for the most part have no governmental relationships, are founded, and run by high ranking, long time Martial Artists. These associations usually come about due to some dissatisfaction with the politics of a previous association and look to likeminded schools and individuals for membership purposes.
While ranking and setting grading standards will always be the focus for most martial arts associations, they are finding that in order to provide additional value to their members, more content and support is now required. Determining what type of content and support will be a daunting task and could require a major paradigm shift in how martial arts associations operate going forward.
When trying to determine how best to utilize social media for the purpose of keeping a Martial Arts Association viable, we first looked at how martial arts schools are presently leveraging online resources. Since the pandemic, martial arts schools have turned to a variety of tools like social media and customized websites to grow their business.
In my research, I watched MAIA Consultant Cris Rodriguez’s webinars on how best to leverage social media for martial arts schools. I was both impressed and intrigued by her excellent (and very detailed) strategy on using Facebook and other similar social media platforms in order to garner more business for the martial arts school owner, regardless of the style being taught.
What really interested me the most was whether this martial arts school strategy could be used by Martial Arts Associations in order to broaden their appeal. Coincidently, while I was researching for this article, I was asked by the head of the WJKA Martial Arts Association to write a business blog on martial arts for their WJKA Member Newsletter. This then made me wonder if a Social Media strategy could be developed for Martial Arts Associations. Extensively leveraging social media is now a necessity for any business especially considering its overall influence on marketing trends.
For this reason, I reached out to both Cris Rodriguez and the Directors of the WJKA in order to get their perspectives. Cris was generous with her time and was able to provide an excellent overview on how Martial Arts Associations should leverage social media and their general online presence. My session with the WJKA Directors was just as enlightening, especially considering their struggles in modernizing their association’s focus and marketing strategies.
Will leveraging social media provide value?
When examining social media strategies for associations as opposed to school owners, we see the main difference being the solicitation efforts of the associations which is more business focused. With associations, their main solicitation efforts are towards schools more so than individual memberships, as opposed to schools who are looking to sign up new students.
In our interview, Cris mentioned that while the main social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram are used extensively, this is not true of You-Tube, especially where businesses are concerned. Whereas Facebook videos average anywhere from 30 seconds to 3 minutes, the average You-Tube video is just under 15 minutes, making it ideal for lectures or training videos, which is where associations can provide great value.
CR: Not only is it possible for Martial Arts Associations to use social media, I feel it is a necessity for them to focus on social media. There are so many different and positive aspects to it. And the main one is that it is free. Having Facebook accounts, TikTok accounts, Instagram accounts or a You Tube account does not cost you anything and in fact You-Tube is one of the platforms Associations do not properly leverage. You Tube is great for teachers, for coaches or even consultants.
Seeing that Martial Arts Associations deal primarily with schools more so than individual members, they must ensure that all marketing and solicitation is directed towards the proper audience. For potential new member schools to consider joining your association you need to use existing member testimonials where the prospect school sees the benefits of joining your association. Today, using social media is by far the best place to focus your marketing so associations must leverage the vast experience of their existing membership in order to place your association at the “top of mind” of your potential new member.
Content is where Associations can provide the best value to its membership. There should be a well-defined and documented effort to ensure proper content is posted. Of course, some posts simply do not attract much ‘engagement’ so it’s best to reach out to the membership to determine what today’s member wants to see or read.
WJKA: We try to use social media where we can and while we review social media sites daily, we don’t post much as we don’t know what our membership wants from us. So, while we struggle with content, we feel this is because of a lack of communication as we don’t know what the membership wants us to post about. We also feel that some of our membership may be a bit intimidated by the breadth of senior karate-ka within the WJKA, so they are hesitant to submit materials to our association newsletter.
CR: There are just so many positives to using social media and the fact that it literally only costs your time, it makes it an absolute necessity…and this is true for any business… in order to stay relevant. One of my favorite quotes is from Albert Einstein, who said “don’t try to become a person of success but try to become a person of value,” and one of the biggest aspects of social media is content creation.
For associations to properly leverage social media, they need provide such engaging material that the membership reaches out for more. As ‘value engagement’ is the primary goal for associations, a cohesive online presence is essential.
WJKA: We feel using social media and a more interactive website may allow us inroads into the member school’s student population. While the WJKA initially focused on having organizations as a member, in today’s tech savvy society, we now feel we need to focus on the individual members as well, and we can do so by leveraging social media. There may be individuals who are interested in the WJKA even though their school may not.
CR: Being able to provide educational and entertaining content is very important. We use the term “edutainment” when we are teaching young children. There are a lot of different types of posts you can do. Whether it is motivational quotes, sharing stories or simple answering frequently asked questions, you can use social media to share experiences. You can do Facebook live, you can do webinars, podcasts or even interview school owners.
The reputations of martial arts associations have taken a hit over years due to the normal state of ego politics that is the martial arts industry. This requires the well-established associations to make themselves known to potential members. The best way for these respected organizations to promote themselves, to build their “Brand,” is to provide quality knowledge and experience via the various online platforms.
Brand awareness is paramount to today’s sophisticated Consumer. People must recognize your name, your logo, your business paradigm or whatever your association is using to identify itself by. Most associations need to carefully segment their prospective “customer” and then make themselves a consideration based on how the prospective member perceives your associations ’s value message.
WJKA: This is the main problem we have here in Europe in that the WJKA affiliate schools/organizations do not wish to enroll their students nor provide us with their email address for newsletter and notification purposes. We at the WJKA must figure out how to overcome the school owner’s biases and allow all their students to sign up to the WJKA so they also enjoy all the benefits the WJKA can offer.
CR: In regards to an Association trying to get new members, you can’t get members if they are not aware of you. So, you’ve got to get “Awareness” and that’s where we have our different marketing strategies. From the awareness, you’re not the only association out there, so what are you going to do to make me consider your association versus other associations…and one of the best things to do is to have case studies, and testimonials of success stories of your current members. We’ve got to get you to become a member and we do that by showcasing the value.
How to overcome communications issues and increase influence?
Providing value through ranking, in-person seminars and tournaments are the obvious avenues, but as we have stressed throughout this article, an online presence will be the future for associations. As to what additional value could an association provide their membership, we have already listed a myriad of options, nevertheless an association should still regularly survey their membership, due to ever changing considerations of what constitutes value.
WJKA: We (as the WJKA) can provide our members with our knowledge and experience. Unfortunately, when we do share our knowledge and experience, we get almost no feedback from our members. So, we feel that the problem is that there are no real communications. We have almost no contact with the membership. It is hard to get the schools to change their way.
CR: Using social media will help associations increase their “Brand” awareness. It allows them to establish themselves as experts within their community. Posting on social media allows you to stay “Top in Mind” because people are constantly seeing you.
There is a Customer Journey that Cris Rodriguez emphasizes where “awareness” is the first step in that journey. This part of the customer journey is where martial arts associations need to emphasis their new prospect solicitations. Awareness to a martial arts association is the degree to which a potential member sees benefits in belonging to a community of likeminded enthusiasts.
This lack of awareness can even occur within an association’s existing membership. In order to retain commitment from an association’s member schools, a coordinated marketing effort would allow both the member schools as well as the association itself to solicit for new students and members respectively. This coordinated level of commitment on the part of the association to provide a foundational infrastructure (e.g.: Syllabus and Ranking criteria) as well as support for the member school’s business requirements will ensure the viability of an association for years to come.
WJKA: What we at the senior level of the WJKA realize is that we are not good managers. We may be quality instructors, (sensei), and extremely knowledgeable about the karate we teach, unfortunately as business managers, we are not so good. We feel associations like ours need to hire a professional Manager.”
With all this experience within the WJKA community, we need someone to catalogue this experience and use it to organize seminars, lectures, gradings and tournaments. Too many of us dedicated long time martial artists have great experiences, but most of us cannot write about it. We must be honest with ourselves so; we need someone to help us write up our experiences for the newsletter or even for lectures we could put on.
In fact, even trying to put out a regular newsletter can be both difficult and time consuming. Once you start falling behind, you can never get caught up, so we feel an experienced business Manager would be able to ensure everyone submits their article on time, etc. The position would follow up with each member school for information about their school and its events over the upcoming year. Just keeping on top of the various asks of the member schools is a full-time task. The position would have huge responsibilities managing all the business requirements of the association’s local and international affairs.
Summary and Next Steps
In reviewing the relevancy of well-established martial arts associations, the consensus is that if value can be conveyed continually to its paying membership, then associations have a place in the ongoing dissemination of time-honored martial art traditions.
Ranking and syllabus development should remain the primary focus of martial art associations. Since social media has become such an integral part of our lives, it is imperative that martial arts associations leverage this new paradigm in order to expand this focus, to expand its relevance, to become more transparent to its members, and leverage this new philosophy in its ongoing marketing strategies.
As mentioned, associations will need to develop their brand by leveraging the knowledge, experience and reputation of their founders and leaders. While using social media will allow for associations to market this, unfortunately many well-established associations do not maintain a proper business infrastructure which has resulted in a lack of awareness of an association’s potential. The hiring of a manager with extensive business experience (communications or social media) should be a priority consideration if these long-established associations wish to remain part of the tomorrow’s martial arts industry.
Making the decision to implement a comprehensive social media strategy starts with an equality all-encompassing marketing plan. Here are five standard business steps that should be included as part of your association’s new member solicitation marketing plan.
Step One: Determine your Business Goals
Before you put money and effort into your marketing plan, you must determine what you wish to accomplish. Some examples are
Increase number of affiliates schools.Increase number of individual members.Establish association brand awareness.Expand to new markets.Generate new source of revenue.
Step Two: Develop KPI’s (Key Performance Indicators
Once you have decided your goals, you must now determine what constitutes success. This success can be both numerical (e.g., add 10 new schools) or simply to promote brand awareness. Whatever you define as success, be realistic in your goals. As a banker, I saw a lot of projections and forecasts which were unrealistic and had little chance of success.
For example: considering the economic climate, a realistic goal of signing up five new member schools for the year should be attainable. If one of your goals is revenue based, then determine the number you wish to achieve and then work backwards from the number of new schools and individual members you feel you can sign up. Track these goals carefully and adjust where necessary throughout the year. Ensure you document both your successes and those KPI’s that need further review.
Step Three: Build your perfect Avatar
Most martial arts associations are style based, (e.g.: Shotokan, Taekwondo, BJJ) which means they are focused on a subset of the martial arts and their marketing strategy should reflect his segmentation. To ensure each marketing dollar is spent effectively, associations need to fully define who they are looking to attract as members. Developing this perfect potential member is called building a “Buyer Persona” or an ‘Avatar.’
CR: I think it is important for associations to identify who is their ideal client. We have a full sentence that explains that this is our ideal client for our company. Does that mean that is the only client you are going to attract? No! but it does allow us to put together marketing campaigns that can attract that type of client.
Obviously for a martial arts association, they need to define not only the style of the school or individual but what value or solution these potential new members are looking for from your organization. This is where social media and other electronic platforms like email and SMS texting can generate a sizable amount of engagement from an associations’ solicitations efforts.
Step Four: Create a Budget
While most social media can be leveraged for free, to create the biggest impact or the highest potential return on your marketing effort you will need to spend a bit of money. Whether these funds are used for buying software or actual advertising costs, ensure you have budgeted some funds to allow your marketing efforts to have the best chance of success.
Step Five: Market your Uniqueness
The final step is to fully define what makes your association more desirable than another association. You must document your competitive advantage which articulates why a school or an individual would want to join your organization. This is what is formally called your ‘unique value proposition’ or what I define as your “differentiator.” Develop your association’s “mission statement” and articulate it in an easily understood sentence that describes your organization’s services and benefits.
WJKA: Our solicitation issues revolve around how best to properly word our communications. This again is where a professional manager could be of great value. We are planning to distribute our latest newsletter as an introduction to WJKA to any potential individual member or organization. We are also planning to use social media to post portions of the various books that the WJKA has available, which hopefully will result in interest to buy the books or possibly joining the WJKA, if not already a member.
Our society is still redesigning itself post pandemic and regardless of how it turns out, we can guarantee that social media and having an on-line presence will be a major part of it. If you are a martial arts association looking to expand into new markets or simple trying to stay relevant to your existing membership, invest into social media. Put the time and effort needed to provide your expertise and knowledge to a whole new generation of martial artists. There is value in what you do, let everyone know about it using the best medium you can, which today is social media!
Although every care has been taken by the MAPS Advisors Group Ltd., in the preparation of this publication, no warranty is given by the MAPS Advisors Group Ltd. as to the accuracy or completeness of the information contained within it and the MAPS Advisors Group Ltd. shall not be responsible or liable for any loss or damage whatsoever arising by virtue of such information or any instructions or advice contained within this publication or by any of the aforementioned.
Martial arts industry, Instructor tips, Social media
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