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Mastering Marketing

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7 common marketing mistakes and how to avoid them

By Tracy Bauer-Durso

Do you wonder why some studios prosper and grow year after year while others struggle to maintain their current students? Often a school that has trouble attracting students offers a program that is as good or better than one that attracts students with ease. Each might have a dedicated staff, highly trained teachers, quality programs and classes, exciting opportunities, and a passion for dance instruction. Yet one studio is able to market its program in a way that allows it to grow rapidly, while the other must rely on word of mouth or referrals from existing students just to stay in business no matter how much it advertises.

Even if the dance instruction being offered is top-notch, it can be challenging to communicate this “inner excellence” to the outside community in a way that intrigues them and encourages them to contact you. No matter how much advertising you do, you could be wasting your money if you are making any of the following common mistakes in dance studio marketing.

1. Promoting negative messages about competitors
This is a serious mistake. While it may seem advantageous to tell people why they should avoid your competitors, you must remember that other schools are part of your dance community and that you will often share teachers and performance spaces with them. Bashing them will only make your fellow dance educators angry with you and give you a reputation for being petty. Dance classes are an option, not a need, and few parents want their children to be influenced by an unfriendly, competitive faculty. In fact, negative comments may turn people off from studying dance altogether. Instead, focus on the positive aspects of dance and what makes your studio special. It’s all in the rhetoric. People respond better to “Simple payment plan, affordable costumes, and family-friendly performances” than they do to “No hidden fees, expensive costumes, or endless performances.”

2. Focusing on the school’s features rather than on the benefit to potential customers
Though it may seem that mentioning your wonderful teachers, facility, opportunities, and programs is enough, new prospects don’t care about the school as much as they care about themselves. Instead of just listing your studio’s features, explain how they benefit your target market with a headline and supporting facts or testimonials that speak specifically to their needs and desires. Spelling out what your school has to offer your prospects gives your message more impact. “Gain confidence, poise, and lasting friendships by studying with nurturing teachers in a noncompetitive environment” is more appealing and will receive more responses than “Ballet, tap, and jazz for all ages. In business since 1980,” which focuses more on the school than on the potential student.

3. Puffery: Using baseless claims instead of compelling information
Common examples of puffery include claims like “family owned,” “excellent instruction,” “the only choice,” or “the best.” These phrases not only focus on the school rather than on the readers’ needs, they also don’t offer any compelling information. Almost any studio can make the same claims. If a business is family owned, does that make it better than a school that isn’t? It seems unlikely. If a school has been in business for 10 years, does that make it better than a school that’s been around for 5 years? Does it mean it’s not as good as a school that’s been around for 20 years? And how many times have you heard a business claim that it’s the best? People automatically dismiss these kinds of phrases because so many businesses use them. How could everybody possibly be the best? Puffed-up phrases don’t teach your prospects what they really need to know about your school in order to make an informed decision. When you avoid using generic phrases that could just as easily describe your competitors, your message is more believable.

4. Listing a menu of the school’s dance programs as the only ad copy
Most dance studio ads include only the name of the school, a list of classes offered, and contact information. However, people already expect a school to offer ballet, tap, jazz, and performing opportunities. Use the ad space to offer them more compelling reasons to choose your school. There’s a lot of competition out there. You want to stand out. What makes you different? What can you say that others aren’t saying?

People respond better to “Simple payment plan and affordable costumes” than they do to “No hidden fees or expensive costumes.”

5. Using the studio name and phone number as a call to action
Your marketing should give your prospects a compelling reason to act now. If it doesn’t, they may notice you but never contact you. Merely telling them you’re out there will seldom get a response, and you don’t want to waste your marketing dollars. Inspire your prospects to want to know more by offering them a free brochure, trial class, or open house. Then once they contact you, you can more easily convince them to register.

6. Photos that don’t represent the marketing message and support the headline
Your photo must support the goal of your marketing message or it is a waste of space. Most studio ads tend to have a picture or artwork of a dancer. What does your picture say about your school? If your school caters to young children, it would be a mistake to use a performance picture of a teen with her leg held up to her ear. If you want to emphasize a nurturing staff, a picture of a child in costume is less effective than one of a teacher working with a student. Consider the message you send with the age, sex, and dress code of the people in the picture you use. Be careful not to clutter your ad with too many photos and always include a caption with the picture so that it relates to the rest of the ad.

7. Painting an inaccurate picture of what the studio offers
The reality of what makes your studio special, and the experience people have when they study there, is a huge part of your marketing. Be sure that you deliver the promises that you make in your marketing campaigns. If your advertisements promote a certain image and create specific expectations, the school must live up to the reputation those ads generate. If it doesn’t, people may be very disappointed in their experience with you and spread negative word of mouth. For example, parents may respond to a studio that advertises to young children, then find that it caters to intensive dancers. When they leave, they share their disappointment with others.

The world is filled with potential clients, and they sign up for dance for different reasons. One school is unlikely to please everyone, because different programs and policies appeal to different people. Choose your position in the market and deliver the vision you describe in your marketing materials. Then the students that best support your vision will be the ones that join your studio—and chances are they will stay for years to come.

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