A few months back I was interviewed on Tim Reid’s excellent podcast Small Business Big Marketing to share some of the ways we combine old-school marketing with new technology at Urban Martial Arts.
In the interview, we talk about:
- How to use promotional booths to market your business
- The benefit of flyers and ideas for getting them right
- How to use signage effectively in your small business
- Ideas for newsletters and how they can add 20% to your business
If you enjoyed this interview, I’d strongly recommend that you subscribe to the show in iTunes. Many of the guests Tim interviews are bricks-and-mortar business owners, so it’s incredibly relevant to what we do.
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Tim: Carmen Sognonvi from Urban Martial Arts in Brooklyn, welcome to Small Business Big Marketing.
Carmen: Thanks for having me.
Tim: Absolute pleasure to have someone on the other side of the world come over and talk to us about what is going to be pretty much an old-school marketing conversation. But before we get stuck into that, Carmen, tell us about what Urban Martial Arts is and how it came about.
Carmen: Sure. Urban Martial Arts is a martial arts school that my husband and I run. We opened it in 2008 and we offer karate classes for kids and then for adults we do fitness kickboxing.
Tim: Pretty much a family-run business.
Tim: Okay. It’s for all ages, too, yeah? So from kids to grown-ups.
Carmen: Exactly, yeah. We usually start kids at around four and up and then we train them all the way through to when they’re adults.
Tim: I was watching, well, I hate that word “corporate video” but it’s a bit of a story, you’ve got a nine-minute video on your site that talks about the business and how it came into being. Interesting story, your husband had a car accident, he was working in corporate America, had a car accident and a bit of an aha moment?
Carmen: Yeah, exactly. My husband and I, this was before we were married, before we had any babies, we were both working corporate jobs and we also were both working, actually one to two side jobs on top of that, so he was working security at a restaurant and bar, I was doing some hostessing on the side and I was also actually launching kind of a separate career also, **** [0:13:38.6] and speaking about race, I was very involved in racial justice activism.
One night he was coming home from having worked what was probably like close to an 18-hour day and he got into a really bad car accident. He got out of the car, the car was totaled, and miraculously he came out without a scratch and the emergency responders couldn’t believe what they saw. I remember he came home that night and it was really one of those classic wake-up calls where we realized we really need to make a change in what we’re doing because it just felt like we were like hamsters on a wheel, we were running and running and running but not getting anywhere and we were really working hard but not smart.
Then also for Serge in particular, he also felt like he needed to start doing something where he was really making an impact on people’s lives. He felt like that was really missing for him. He actually started training again in martial arts. He had been doing karate since he was about ten years old but he had taken a break from it, when he entered the working world, so he started training again and six months after that car accident we actually signed the lease on the karate school and then a few months after that we opened our doors. It was really kind of all stemming from that one incident.
Tim: How inspiring. It’s interesting here, you talk about that whole escaping the corporate **** [0:15:09.6] thing. It’s been a bit of a theme on this show the last few weeks and you probably don’t know, but when I introduce this show, I talk about I welcome back all the motivated small business owners, yet I know for a fact there’s lots of people listening to this show who are trapped in the cubicle, as I say.
Tim: So hearing that kind of story and having the courage to actually go and chase the dream, I think it fantastic.
Carmen: Yeah. I think, too, those people who are still trapped in the cubicle, so to speak, you can absolutely do it, but I would also say, just to play devil’s advocate, I’m a big fan of hanging onto your day job as long as you can.
Carmen: Think of it as a way to fund your business so it’s just a source of financing, work your day job as long as possible. In our case, Serge actually kept his day job for the first six months of our business and I hung onto mine for the first year and a half. It was really at that point that we felt like okay, we’re really, we feel comfortable letting that go now and just living off of the business. I think because we did that, it put us in a better financial place and when you’re able to kind of operate from a place of financial strength and not making decisions based on fear, that can ultimately, I think, have a good long-term impact on your business, so just something to think about.
Tim: Yeah. Yeah, no, we just think, well, there’s two sides of that coin, isn’t there? There’s the insurance almost of maintaining that day job and it allowing you to bankroll what it is you want to do, your dream and then there is the other side of the argument which says if you’re going to really lean into something and chase it, then you’ve got to have 100% focus on it. So you’ve got to have the courage to leave the day job, not have that insurance, but yeah, reality—cash flow is the reality there.
Carmen: Yeah. And I think you will find the right time for yourselves, yeah.
Tim: Yeah, absolutely. Now listen, let’s talk. You’ve got this martial arts school, I was going to say karate school, but it’s martial arts school and it’s going along really nicely and part of that, I imagine there’s no shortage of martial arts schools around Brooklyn and the greater New York area. You spend a lot of time and you’re very passionate about old school marketing techniques, which really excites me because we spend a lot of time talking about online marketing techniques. Why the passion?
Carmen: Sure. I have to admit, I am also a big fan of online marketing, so I am a bit of a geek when it comes to that and so I’m thoroughly on board with online marketing.
But I think what sometimes people forget is that offline methods are still incredibly effective. Just because you’re doing a lot of online marketing, that’s great, but that doesn’t mean you should sort of throw out the offline baby with the online bathwater. You want to keep that offline piece.
I recently did an analysis of our customers and kind of where everyone comes from and I found that a third—and this is today—a third come from word of mouth or referral, a third come from online marketing, and then another third come from offline marketing. So if we were not doing the offline piece, our business would be a third smaller than it is now. I think that’s really something powerful to think about.
Tim: Yeah, absolutely. So let’s talk offline techniques. What are you specifically doing?
Carmen: Sure. I think some of the three most sort of major offline or old school marketing techniques we use are promotional booths, flyers, and signage. I’ll talk about promotional booths first and by that I mean, any kind of an event where you have a table or a booth where you’re promoting your business. So you’re not selling anything at the event, but you’re really there to let people know that you’re here, collect leads, and so if you’re in a business to business situation that is very often a trade show, if you’re a business to consumer, that could be any other kind of community event. So for example, for us, we do a lot of street fairs, especially in the summertime there’s a lot of street fairs all over in New York City and so we’ll work a lot of those street fairs where we’ll have a table and we’re really getting out there promoting our business.
I think that with promotional booths, one of the mistakes that a lot of companies make is that they focus on giving out chotchkies. I know that not everyone is—
Tim: Giving out what?
Carmen: [Laughs] That’s kind of an American term, so chotchkies meaning promotional items. So pens with the name of your business on it, stress balls—
Tim: How do you spell that?
Carmen: I believe that’s a Yiddish word, I think it’s T-C-H-O-T-C-H-K-E-S. Maybe some of your listeners will correct me, it’s something like that.
Tim: We call that sort of merchandise-type thing. So like here’s a stress ball, here’s a pen, here’s a key ring—boring.
Carmen: Yes, exactly.
Carmen: Well, boring but also there’s a bigger problem and we actually made this mistake when we first got started. The first year we were in business we attended the street fair that was really the biggest event for the neighborhood that we were in, which is called Ditmas Park, it’s part of Brooklyn. This particular street fair we felt like, okay, we really need to go all-in because this is our big break. I had this brilliant idea to have a couple hundred red tote bags made, bright red with our logo really big on it and I thought, you know what? We’re going to give out these tote bags and everyone is going to walk around with this tote bag and they’re going to be like walking billboards for our business.
So it went well in the sense that the tote bags were incredibly popular, we were out of them within an hour or two and they were walking around with our logo, however, what I realized is that there was nothing about giving out tote bags that was helping us narrow down to our ideal prospect for either karate or kickboxing classes. We were not attracting the demographic that was really interested in our classes, instead all we were doing was attracting the demographic of people that were really interested in free tote bags.
So what I really strongly advise businesses to do instead of just handing out stuff, is instead to offer some kind of a trial or sample of whatever is your product or service. In our case, we do group classes, whenever we do a street fair, we’ll offer two free weeks of either karate or kickboxing classes. The reason that that’s so much more effective is because now you’re immediately narrowing it down to the people that are actually interested in taking classes with you.
Tim: Yeah, gotcha.
Carmen: Yeah, so not everyone is going to follow through with it, but at least you’re now starting to narrow it down and even those who don’t actually sign up for a program, you can still continue to market with them, market to them, rather, because you have their contact information.
Tim: So Carmen, are you signing them up there and then at the information booth or are you just handing out some kind of coupon to get them to come down at some point in time?
Carmen: We’re not signing them up into an actual membership, but what we are doing is collecting their name, email, and phone number and then we basically let them know that hey, we’re going to call you next week to schedule your first class. Also to that point, one of the biggest mistakes also that people make when they go to an event and they collect a lot of leads, is they don’t do any follow up and this is something that I’ve fallen victim to as well. You come home with a huge stack of business cards, like let’s say you go to a trade show or an arcade with a big stack of names and we don’t do anything.
One of the way that we’re really combining old school marketing with new school marketing is we use the software which, I don’t know, you may be familiar with it, some of your listeners may be, but it’s called InfusionSoft, which is essentially kind of a CRM software or they call it all-in-one sales and marketing software. So what we do is we kind of create an internal form that just has the basic contact information. When we come home from a fair, I’ll give the stack of leads to one of our staff members, all they’ll do is just input the data into this form and so they’re in our database, but the magic happens behind the scenes. Basically I’ve programmed this web form to automatically tag this person so we know exactly what program they’re interested in and we know that they came from this particular street fair. It automatically adds them to our email newsletter, so next time we go to send that out, they’ll automatically receive it without me having to do anything extra. Then it will also automatically send them a text message and an email from us saying, “Hey, it was a pleasure meeting you at the street fair today, we’re going to get in touch with you next week to schedule your first class, but in the meantime, check out this link for more information about our program.”
Tim: They opted in at the fair? Is that right?
Carmen: Yes, exactly.
Tim: By you saying, “Hey, can we grab your name and email in exchange for a free trial. We’re going to put you on the database and expect to hear from us on email and by phone?
Carmen: Exactly, exactly. So now the worst case scenario, even if you completely drop the ball and you totally forget to call anyone back to schedule their two free weeks of classes, they’re still going to hear from you because they’re automatically subscribed to your email newsletter, which they’ve opted into. So that means that you’re not going to fall into the trap of forgetting to follow up with people.
Tim: Beautiful. I like that and InfusionSoft is a very clever way, because you’re not just dumping them into one big list either, you are really segmenting it into—InfusionSoft allows you to segment quite deeply. How are you segmenting your list?
Carmen: Yeah, it’s very good at segmenting. We use tags, so we capture as much information as possible and we’ll always tag them based on how they came to us, so whether they came to us through an event or through an ad or they came to us with a flyer, we note down what program they’re interested in, so are they an adult interested in doing kickboxing or do they have a child and they want to put their child in karate? Once they’re in our database, then we also do a lot of other stuff so we’ll have some automation going on with certain links in the emails that we send out, so if they click on an article, let’s say about weight loss, then we’ll tag them that way so we know that, okay, this person is kind of interested in weight loss.
So we do a little, a lot of fancy things like that, but I would say primarily the important thing is how did they come to us, so what was the source, and then what program are they interested in?
Tim: Because all of a sudden that is really interesting, because it allows you to create very tailored messages, so it’s not just in the fact that you are sending something to a group of like people, like for example, parents wanting their child to start a martial arts course, you can then craft a message that’s very tailored and personal.
Carmen: Yeah, absolutely. Then it also really helps you figure out on a marketing side, what’s the ROI of each marketing thing that you’re doing.
Tim: Okay. So information booths, I like that. Tell me, just with that, you go to those street fairs or expos or whatever they are with, it might be just a table and a couple of staff members or have you got some additional things were you’ve souped it up and you’ve got printed fold-out signage and all sorts of branding going on as well?
Carmen: We do both.
Tim: Yeah, yeah, okay.
Carmen: Most of the events that we work, it’s a very simple set up, so we just have a folding table and we have a vinyl banner that covers the front of the table. Then we do have our flyers there, we do hand out some of them, but really the primary goal whenever we work an event is to collect leads, not to just hand out flyers. One of the mistakes that I see a lot of businesses do is they just, if they’re at an event, whoever is working it just sits behind the table. This is something that you should avoid. So whenever possible, if you’re working an event, it’s best to have at least two people. One person should be at the table and then the other person, I recommend should just be circling and walking around the whole event with a clipboard and form and just going up to people saying, “Hey, hi, how are you? I’m Carmen from Urban Martial Arts. We’re offering everyone two weeks of classes today, if you’re interested can I just get your name, number and email and we’ll call you next week to schedule your first class.”
Tim: Carmen, I love this. Melissa Brisbin [phonetic], who introduced me to you, a listener of my show and suggested I talk to you, one of her comments in the email was, “This business is a small ma-and-pa business,” as you in your own words say, “but they’re punching way above their marketing weight,” which I love. You know, you are. You’re a business on the street in Brooklyn but I can already see why she’s saying that you appear so much bigger than you are, which is a kind of interesting strategy in itself. Is it something you intend you try to be or just by nature of the type of marketing that you do, you appear bigger than you are?
Carmen: That’s interesting. I think that when my husband and I first opened the business, we felt very strongly that we wanted to really have the school have the warmth and friendliness of a mom-and-pop business, but then the professionalism and level of service that you would expect from a Fortune 500 company. When we opened the business we were very deliberate about that. Even in the start-up days when we had very little money, we really invested some money in quality graphic design. We had a really nice logo made, we invested in things like colored uniforms, as opposed to the traditional white karate uniforms, which everyone else around us was doing. We invested in getting them customized with a big log on the back so when students were walking back and forth from class, people could see them and say, “Oh, wow, they go to that school.” So we were really focused on differentiating ourselves from the beginning and in fact, so much so that a lot of people, when they first walk in would say, “Oh, so where are your other locations? Where are you headquartered?” because they would think that we were a big franchise when really, it was just us.
I don’t think that we necessarily want to appear big, but we do want to be professional. I think we’re able to kind of strike that balance between that and then also, in a lot of our communication and our email newsletters, every email newsletter starts off with a note from me and Sensei Serge—we call him Sensei Serge at the school—so it’s got a picture of us, so it’s very clear that we are a mom-and-pop store, so we’re able to kind of have some of the professionalism in terms of the visuals but then the experience when you come in is very personal. We know everybody by their name, we send people birthday cards, so they kind of have that warm feel.
Tim: I love it, Carmen, because all these things that you’re talking about, they’re not costing a lot of money and they’re decisions. They’re decisions around discipline and consistency. The decision around the uniform was a color one and there was a smart, strategic reason why you had color uniforms versus the traditional white. They’re still going to cost, there’s going to be a cost attached to them and I’m guessing the cost differential was either nothing of very little. Some of these marketing ideas, it’s just smart marketing as opposed to we’ve got to have deep pockets.
Listeners, I’m talking Carmen from Urban Martial Arts in Brooklyn and I love speaking to someone in Brooklyn because so far we’ve had the mandatory Brooklyn siren police car drive past.
Carmen: So you heard that, huh? [Laughs]
Carmen: I should’ve warned you about that.
Tim: I’m guessing you live near the subway, because I hear rumbling trains go past.
Carmen: No, shockingly, that’s just cars.
Tim: Oh, wow.
Carmen: It’s that noisy here.
Tim: Wow, big cars.
Tim: All right, let’s get back, so information booths, we’ve talked automation with InfusionSoft, so that’s already, you’re integrating the old with the new. You mentioned a couple of other old school marketing techniques, Carmen, in signage and flyers. Do you want to just touch on what you do there?
Carmen: Yeah, sure. Let’s talk about flyers. Flyers are, I think, the ultimate old school marketing technique, but they still work incredibly well.
Tim: Do you drop them out of planes and they just fall over the streets of Brooklyn? [Laughs]
Carmen: [Laughs] Yes, that’s all we do.
Tim: [Laughs] Right, I thought so.
Carmen: But when we first opened the school in 2008, within the first six months we got from 0 to 100 students. At the time we didn’t think that was particularly impressive but later on when we got to know other martial arts schools and kind of became more involved in the industry, we realized that a lot of martial arts schools had been around for 10 years and had never broken the 100-student mark.
The thing that is interesting is that we actually got our first 100 students purely through these old school marketing tactics. So we had a website, but it was doing nothing. So we essentially got our first 100 students just through flyers essentially, what was the biggest marketing push that we were doing at the time. So it is still very powerful, even to this day.
Tim: What, letterbox drop or what were you doing?
Carmen: We were doing a lot of different things with flyers. So hand-to-hand distribution is something that we would do a lot of and I think that one of the mistakes that businesses make is they just hand out a flyer to anyone with a pulse. What you may not realize is that flyering, even though it’s old school, it actually allows you to do some pretty sophisticated demographic and geographic targeting that would cost you a fortune if you were doing it through direct mail.
Let me give you a very specific example. One of the programs that we have at Urban Martial Arts is we have an after-school program where we basically pick up kids from a few of the neighboring schools, we walk them over to our location, they get karate classes five days a week, they stay until 6:00, so they’re able to work on their homework, and then parents come and pick them up. It’s kind of a combination between martial arts classes and then also an alternative to babysitting for parents who need to work late.
For this particular program, we know exactly who our target customer is. It’s a parent with elementary school age kids, so meaning kindergarten through fifth grade. They are a parent that works a 9-5 job, and that is really our target customer. Every September, the first week of school, we do a big flyer in push for this particular program and so what we’ll do is we’ll go to the five schools that we pick up from and we’ll hand out flyers to the parents in the morning as they’re dropping off their kids.
Now, there’s a reason that we do it in the morning versus the afternoon. The parents that are dropping off their kids in the morning are more likely to be our target audience than the ones that are picking up at 3:00 because if you’re able to pick up your kid at 3:00, you probably don’t work a 9-5 job or you don’t need our service because obviously you’re able to get there at 3:00. Already by picking the time frame, we’re narrowing in on our audience.
Now, as we’re sending their hand-out flyers, if we see a single guy walk past with no kids in tow, we’re not going to give him a flyer. If we see a dad walk past with let’s say an infant and a two year old, we’re not going to give him a flyer, because visually it doesn’t seem like he has elementary school age kids, the kids are too young for our program. Let’s say we see a mom walking past with a six year old and an eight year old, now we know those kids are the right age for our program, but let’s say she’s in her pajamas. We’re probably not going to give her a flyer because it doesn’t look like she’s on her way to work, so she probably doesn’t work a 9-5 job. She may work, she may work nights or something like that, but she doesn’t work a 9-5.
So just by sort of eyeballing who it is that you’re handing out flyers to, you’re already able to target them if you have an idea of demographically who’s your ideal customer.
Tim: You are clever. You and Sensei Serge and their targeting flyer dropping. I love that, in fact, I’ll build on that idea and if you do walk past a single bloke or if you do walk past the mum with the younger kids, then maybe you should have secondary flyers in your back pocket ready for them as well.
Carmen: Sure, sure. And we do, it’s not to say that we don’t give them anything.
Tim: I love that. Okay, I often talk on this show, Carmen, about message versus medium, so it sounds like you’ve really nailed the medium. The message on those flyers is just as important because okay, cool, you’re targeting a particular demographic of parents dropping the kids off at elementary school and that’s who you’re after. What appears on those flyers is really critical because at that point they’re going to read it once they arrive at work or at some point. Do you spend a lot of time mulling over the copy?
Carmen: Somewhat, yeah. I think that with our flyers, we always have one large photograph rather than a bunch of little photographs that you can’t see very well, so one big eye-catching image. I’m sure you’ve already talked on the show many times about the importance of having an offer and a call to action.
Tim: Oh, yeah.
Carmen: So we definitely have that on our flyer. But then also, what we actually do is we specifically design our flyers so that they’re really designed to extract the lead’s contact information to us. So in other words, I think when you hear about flyers, you often think, oh, this is a broadcast medium, so what I’m going to broadcast is contact information to prospects. But we really think of it as a lead generation medium. For our call to action for this particular program, let’s say for after school, the call to action for us will be, “Get the prices and details now,” and they’d have a couple of different options. They can either text a particular keyword to a phone number and then they will automatically receive that information, or we also have a custom URL that takes them to a specific landing page that talks about that program. Now if they input their email address into that landing page they’ll get all the information that they’re requesting, but again, through InfusionSoft, I’ve set that landing page up on the back end so that I know specifically this person is interested in after school, this person heard about us from a flyer and depending on what kind of campaign we’re doing, I actually will have different landing pages on different flyers if I want to track it even on a more granular level.
Tim: I love that. So just to be clear, too, going to those targeted landing pages or requesting a text message will require them to input some contact details, so in they go to your list, yeah?
Tim: Love it. Love your work, Carmen, this is fantastic. InfusionSoft will help you with the landing page, that’s not a text, they’re not helping you with a text service, are they?
Carmen: Not within InfusionSoft out of the box, they don’t really have the texting, but we use a separate service called Fix Your Funnel which integrates with InfusionSoft and they have this really cool thing called SMS conversations. The way it works is you text, let’s say the word “school” to a particular phone number. Now what you get back from me is a text saying, “Hi, this is Carmen from Urban Martial Arts, thanks for requesting info on our after school program. May I have your first name, please?” So they input their first name. Then they hear back from me again. “And what’s your last name?” They write that in. “Great, what email address should I send the information to?” They put in their email address.
Now the beautiful thing about that is that what it will do on the back end is automatically create a new contact inside InfusionSoft and it will input the first name, last name, email address, phone number into all the correct fields, tag them exactly the way that I’ve set it up so I know that they’re interested in after school, they got to us from a flyer. Again, automatically add them to your email newsletter that they’re opting into as well.
Tim: Do you find the more contact details you request, the higher the drop off?
Carmen: Yes. So for our landing pages, we actually usually only ask for an email address. I find that using the SMS conversation, the drop off isn’t as much, because it feels more like a back and forth, not so much that you’re filling out a form. So definitely, the more contact information you ask for, the lower your response rate is going to be.
Tim: And that’s okay, by the way, because you are drilling down into quality.
Carmen: Yeah. And then also, can I share kind of a little ninja trick that we use as far as that goes?
Tim: Well, you’re a ninja.
Carmen: [Laughs] That’s true. So what we do with our landing pages is, as I mentioned, we only ask for an email address, that’s it. We don’t even ask you for a first name. Now once you submit that, then you’ll get the email saying, “Hey, can you just click this link to confirm,” blah, blah, blah. But immediately after you submit that, instead of just taking you to a generic thank-you page, we say, “Hey, check your email for that confirmation email, but also, here’s another thing, join our birthday club, get a free gift on your birthday,” and then basically I have a form under there where it has much more information that I’m asking for. First and last name, mailing address, birth date. So essentially it’s kind of a way to ethically bribe them to give you more information. Then now because we’re collecting a mailing address, now we’re able to also reach them via direct mail. If you implement that kind of a two-step process, not everyone is going to take that second step. I would say on average, I would say maybe 20-50%, depending on what audience we’re working with, will opt-in for that extra birthday club. But it doesn’t have to be the birthday club, that’s something I honestly came up with off the top of my head because we didn’t have anything physical to mail to them yet. But if you have something physical that they would be interested in, whether it’s a physical brochure, maybe it’s a book that you’ve written, maybe it’s a CD, an instructional DVD, something physical and tangible that they understand you would need their mailing address for in order for them to get their hands on it. Obviously make it something relevant. That’s definitely something to try.
Tim: That is marketing gold right there, Carmen.
The other thing, too, they’ll wonder whether it would be a good thing in having had three kids, between ballet and basketball and all those other things, we never did martial arts, but I know that whole experience is that it was nice to do it with another parent. So whether at some point in that automation process you could kind of give them the ability to say, “Hey, who else would you like to come along with you when your child is doing martial arts?” or the ability to refer, I suppose, is the idea.
Carmen: Yeah, definitely. We do do a bit of that, but it’s really after they’ve become a member.
Tim: Tell me, okay, so we’ve gone information booths, we’ve gone flyers, we’ve gone into automation, text messaging, let’s talk signage.
Carmen: Sure. Believe it or not, I know several business owners who are paying a premium for ground-floor retail space in New York City, so you can imagine how expensive that is.
Tim: Yeah, lots.
Carmen: And they do not have a sign on their door. These are not businesses that are trying to be a best-kept secret and they’re not trying to be that cool place that you need to know about to get into, they just don’t have a sign. I think mistake number one is you got to get a sign. A bad sign is better than having no sign, so I think that’s the basics.
Carmen: Now another mistake that I see people make is really relying just on their main sign, so meaning the primary awning main sign that you have outside of your store. Obviously that sign plays a really important role, but because it is such an expensive and fairly permanent fixture of your store, you’re probably not going to put that level of detail on there or to phrase it another way, you’re only going to put on that sign the things that you’re pretty sure are not going to change probably for the next five to ten years, so it’ll be limited to the name of your business, your basic contact information, and maybe broadly speaking, what it is that you do. So yeah, we do martial arts, we do karate.
What you want to do is really explore using temporary and then also indoor signage. What I mean by temporary signage is things that you can put up maybe inside your store window that would be suitable to promote maybe sort of seasonal specials that you’re running or maybe you’re launching a new program, you’re not sure if it’s going to stick around yet, so you want to use that to promote that.
Then for temporary signage, I like to use vinyl banners that have grommets, sort of holes in each corner, and then we stick them into our window using suction cups on the inside. It looks really clean, looks really neat, but at the same time it’s very easy to just take off and replace as we need to.
That way you’re able to get the word out about other things that you do that you might not really want to put on your main sign because it doesn’t really have that kind of a permanence.
Then in terms of indoor signage, that’s something that I think, for those of your listeners who are in the retail industry, they probably are already doing a lot of this, but maybe other businesses are not as up on indoor signage. Indoor signage is a really great way especially to promote things to your existing customers. As much as we would like to think that our customers know everything that we do, the truth is that they probably don’t. They probably only know the piece of your business that they particularly buy into and they may not know kind of the breadth of services that you offer.
Let’s say for example you’re a bakery and you’re best known for your cupcakes, so everybody comes in and buys your cupcakes. Well, let’s say that you actually also do custom birthday cakes. That’s a great opportunity to use an indoor sign where you say, “Hey, we do custom birthday cakes,” and then again, make sure of course you have some kind of a call to action. Maybe the call to action is, “See our portfolio of sample cakes and get a price list.” Hopefully you would say it spiffier than I did.
Tim: [Laughs] Yeah, yeah.
Carmen: But that’s the call to action. So indoor signage, I think really important for kind of educating your customers about what else you do that they might be interested in.
Tim: I think you’ve identified a couple things. One is that too often small business owners look at signage at something permanent. Like we get the signs done and there, our work is done, never need to do those again, and I’m imagining some of those really old signs on really old shops. So number one, rotate it, kick the—because what happens, when a marketing touch point remains unchanged for a long time it becomes wallpaper, it fades into the background, you end up not noticing it. So in changing it often, I think it’s fantastic.
The other thing that you’ve done, too, is using signage to remind people about different aspects of the business they didn’t know about but also actually you still got the call to action. You’re a call-to-action machine.
Carmen: [Laughs] I try.
Tim: I mean, I say that with all the love in the world because I think, again, the question is, with any marketing output that we do as small business owners, what do we want people to do as a result of it? That should be a primary question, almost the first question. Having seen the sign, having received the brochure, having looked at the website page, what do you want that person to do and therein lies your answer to the call to action.
I think on that—I’m on my soapbox now, Carmen, so sorry—but too often that call to action is, “Well, we want them to call us or we want them to buy from us.” You got to excuse the kind of French, but we’ve got to have a bit of foreplay. We’ve got to get to know each other.
Tim: That’s what you’re doing so brilliantly. I knew there was a reason I got you on the show. Now, listen, I’m very conscious of the fact that it is, it must be about 20 to 11 in the evening in Brooklyn right now, is that right?
Carmen: 20 to 10.
Tim: 20 to 10.
Carmen: We’ve turned our clocks back.
Tim: Oh, we’ve got plenty of time—no, I won’t keep you for too much longer, but I thank you so much so far for sharing this marketing gold.
Now let’s talk, we’ve covered flyers, signage, information booths, automation. You are doing a lot online, it’s not as if you’re disregarding the brave new world of marketing, as I call it. You are quite prolific in video production with your YouTube channel.
Carmen: Yeah, yeah, we definitely do a lot of video, which makes sense, especially since we are a very visual business. I think for those of your listeners who are in visual businesses, that’s something they should think about. Anything that’s food related or hair and beauty related, fashion related. I’m often surprised by some of the businesses that I frequent as a customer that are sort of very visual. I’m often surprised that they’re not posting more pictures. I’m a big fan of—this is speaking to some of the ladies now—I’m a big fan of tacky nail art, so gel manicures.
Tim: Me, too! [Laughs]
Carmen: I like tacky nails, essentially.
Tim: What are you wearing at the moment? What have you got at the moment, a bit of bling?
Carmen: Right now I have white on all of them except my ring finger, which is totally blinged out.
Tim: Oh, I love it. I love it.
Carmen: But this place that I go to really specializes in gel manicures and the women that work there are artists, like they do really incredible designs all by hand using these tiny little paintbrushes. They are somewhat active on social media, but sometimes I think about the fact that they’re turning out probably 20 amazing works of art every single day, there’s nothing to stop them from posting at least 1 every single day.
Tim: Oh, absolutely.
Carmen: So if you’re in a visual business, definitely you should do that.
So getting back to the video that we do, we’re big on video so we do a lot of events throughout the year. We used to not do video and at one point I realized, our website is not, this is at a point when we had a much more static website, our website really wasn’t communicating all the cool stuff that’s happening at Urban Martial Arts all the time. Every quarter we do About Promotion, which is essentially our version of a graduation ceremony when all of our students perform what they’ve learned and then everybody receives their new belts. We do five to six karate tournaments a year. We do a lot of little parties and workshops and camps and so visually there’s a lot of events going on that it makes sense for us to communicate, capture on video and then share with our students so they can kind of share it with each other. Then also for those people who weren’t able to make it to the event, they’ll watch that and realize wow, this looks really cool, I need to make sure that I make it next time. So video is really important for us, for sure.
Tim: Tell me, because there’s so many blockages to small business owners cranking out some video, do you keep it really simple? Do you just get the iPhone out and wander around or do you get a professional crew in on a semi-regular basis? How do you do it?
Carmen: We’ve done both. The bulk of our video I just shoot on a little Cannon camcorder, it’s pretty old at this point, it’s like a Vixia HG20 that I got like five years ago, so it’s just a consumer HD camcorder that we use for most of the videos that we shoot ourselves.
Then for some of the sort of more promotional videos that you see on the main pages of our website, that was done by a professional, so I don’t have that level of quality.
Tim: No, but I’m going to embed your—what would I call it—the story of Urban Martial Arts, it’s a nine-minute video that really shares your why and introduces you to the business, your family, it’s fantastic, it’s such a wonderful story. As a potential customer, you’d look at that and go, “I’m in, count me in.”
Carmen: Thank you.
Tim: Which is obviously the intention. Looking at your YouTube channel, breaking it down into, you’ve got videos about your programs, you’ve got the karate tournament videos, you’ve got parties and event videos, you’ve got karate belt promotional graduation videos, and again, on every single video there is the call to action. There’s your phone number, dedicated URLs, clever, clever.
Are you using LeadPlayer?
Carmen: No, because I don’t know what that is.
Tim: Sorry, no LeadPlayer, it’d be a nice little add-on for you, so LeadPlayer is a little bit of code that you drop onto your videos and it will pop up, it will talk to InfusionSoft and you can ask people to input their email address right inside the video.
Tim: Yeah, yeah.
Carmen: I’m all over that. And that works with YouTube as well?
Tim: Yes, it does, absolutely, talks to YouTube. In fact, LeadPlayer—I’ll get into trouble for the people who invented LeadPlayer, but the reality is, there’s a video-hosting service called Wistia and I’ve had Chris Savage, who created Wistia, on the show about 18 months ago. Wistia is a beautiful video hosting service, got some great analytics. They’ve just introduced an add-on, a free add-on, called Turnstyle. Turnstyle actually does exactly the same, which allows you to embed a registration field into your videos and it talks to InfusionSoft as well.
Carmen: That’s fantastic, thank you.
Tim: You are going to be all over that. Because every single one of those videos, I mean, your subscriptions, I imagine you’ll actually see a decent increase.
Now, okay, I’m just interested because again, I’m looking at your videos and some of them have got, one’s got 815 views, one’s got 20 views. Which again, people could look at that raw number and go, “Oh, that’s not much, that’s not much.” But again, it’s not about—well, I don’t think it’s about quantity, it is about quality. What’s your kind of thoughts on the traction you’re getting with your video strategy?
Carmen: Yeah, I guess I don’t really stress the viewership numbers too much, maybe I should more.
Tim: No, no.
Carmen: But I guess to me it’s really a bigger part of the content marketing stuff we do, which I can talk about a little bit. What I try to do on the content side, obviously whenever we have events, we will post a video of that, so that’s kind of based on whatever the events happen to be. Then in addition to that, what I try to do is, we send out a weekly email newsletter and we have one version that goes to prospects and then one version that goes to existing students. We used to just have one single newsletter that went to everybody, but I realized very quickly that it was getting a little unwieldy because there are certain things that prospects don’t really care about, like they don’t need to know that the next tournament is coming up and they need to register now because they’re not even students with us yet. Conversely, our existing students don’t really need to see me selling some kind of a membership special we’re doing. So we decided a while to kind of split those into two different newsletters.
So what I try to do is kind of have one, the subject line is always going to point to one sort of informational piece of content that I created specifically for that newsletter. Then what that will essentially be is a blog post on our blog and I try to alternate it because we do have these two separate audiences, just to add to the level of complication, we’ve got prospects versus students and then within that we also have karate, people who are interested in kid’s classes, versus people who are interested in classes for themselves. There’s some overlap there, but not necessarily.
So what I try to do is alternate, one week I’ll have a blog post that’s of interest to parents and then next week I’ll have a blog post that’s of interest more to the kickboxing person. So someone that’s interested in fitness or nutrition or weight loss or kickboxing, so I kind of alternate between the two.
To me the videos are just kind of an add-on to the main piece of content we push in each email newsletter. We’ll kind of push that main content and then underneath that, we’ll also have links to, “Hey, did you check out the video from our latest event,” blah, blah, blah. I see them more almost as a customer service thing, if that makes sense.
Tim: Yeah, I get you, I get that. What’s your open rate on e-newsletters? I sometimes get a bit of a chill up my spine when I think of e-newsletters because there’s many that I receive and don’t open. What’s your open rate like?
Carmen: You caught me, I have not checked the open rate in a while.
Tim: Okay, good, you are human after all. Up until then I thought you were super human, martial art, Karate Kid meets Gigantor.
Carmen: [Laughs] I’m a call-to-action machine but not an open-rate machine.
Tim: Correct, correct. You can get a t-shirt, “I’m a call-to-action machine.” There’s a good t-shirt actually, I like that. Tell me, just to finish off, Carmen, so appreciate this, social media, you’re active on Facebook, Twitter, is there a particular role social media plays in the business?
Carmen: I don’t really feel like I’m that social media guru, to be honest. Twitter, to be perfectly blunt, has felt primarily like a bit of a waste of time for us, and maybe it’s because we’re a business to a consumer, I still feel like even though a lot of consumers are on Twitter, I don’t know, it just seems like most of the people that follow our account tend to be just other martial arts school owners. So there are other martial arts schools checking out what we’re doing, which is great. So it seems like for us, Twitter seems better for kind of professional networking.
Facebook is a little more appropriate, I think, for our audience. But I have to admit that I haven’t been as active on Facebook as I should have because for a long time I was really p’d off by the fact that Facebook was making you pay in order to reach the people that already like your page. So I think kind of out of sight for a long time, I was just kind of ignoring Facebook. Recently I’ve kind of gotten more into it and especially since they’ve made a lot of changes to their advertising platform and I feel like there’s much more interesting and specific targeting that we can do. I feel like it’s becoming a more relevant platform for us.
I don’t have any major tips yet for Facebook, I’m still kind of in the experimenting phase right now.
Tim: Well, I love that because gosh, how many small businesses do I come across and maybe you, too, as well, that just think social media is the silver bullet and it’s not. It can be, every now and then I come across a business that is using social really cleverly, but if you think about time committed versus return on that time, it can be a real time suck for many small businesses and lead to just massive disappointment. Then they think the whole online marketing thing is no good and lose faith in it. No, I think what you’re doing, it’s wonderful to have this old school discussion.
Is there any marketing that you would love to try? You talked about Facebook, but anything that’s sort of in the pipeline that for whatever reason you’re not doing but would love to?
Carmen: Nothing that’s sort of, nothing we’re not doing at all, that I can think of. I think I want to just dive a little deeper into our social media efforts. I’ve been experimenting a little bit on Pinterest and we’ve gotten a bit of results through that, so I’m interested in kind of continuing that.
Just to your point about social media, how it can be a time suck, I would definitely encourage people to not forget about email marketing. I think email marketing is still incredibly important. For us, that has been a huge growth driver for our business and as you have heard through this interview, we are very focused on always adding more people to our email newsletter or database.
The reason for that is I found that the lead time for signing up for a program can sometimes be a lot longer than you would think. So we have people that let’s say when we met them at a street fair three years ago and they’ve been on our email newsletter ever since, and they’re now joining a program. So they’ve known about us for three years and how we’ve invested time in that relationship and building that trust and then whatever change in their life where they felt like, “Okay, now I’m ready to do this,” they came to us, not to anybody else.
Also looking at our stats, what I have noticed is that any given month, about 20% of the new members that we sign up, are people who have been on our email list 6 months or longer. So about 80% are just fresh, brand new leads that came, they’re ready, they joined, but then about 20% are people that we’ve been nurturing for a long time. So if this is not something you’re already doing, if you’re not already sending out some kind of a regular email—and maybe it doesn’t have to be email, it can be a physical newsletter—but just that continuing communication, that could possibly add 20% or more to your business.
Tim: Yeah, and what a long-term play.
Tim: What a wonderful realization because to think that oh, if you’re doing all these marketing efforts and not getting that immediate return, again, you can lose faith.
Tim: But knowing that you’re investing in the long-term here and that yeah, wow, sometimes it takes three years for someone to decide to do a martial arts course, but they get to choose us. I mean, that’s good. That’s good.
Carmen: Yeah. I kind of want to emphasize that point. When we first started doing these promotional booths, we would sometimes get discouraged because we would come home with let’s say 100 leads, we’re only able to book say 20 free-trial classes, and let’s say only 10 people show up, and out of the whole thing we only signed up 2 people. We would feel like, “Wow, that was a complete waste of time, we’re such failures at this.” It wasn’t really until we’d been in business for a few years that we realized that it is all about the long-term play and that you have to really think about this as you’re collecting these leads now and you want to bring them into your fold and just nurture them and nurture them and then whenever, because I think also something you have to understand is, it’s not people don’t buy on your time, they buy on their time, so you may have sort of captured them at that point that they were interested, but it doesn’t mean that they didn’t like what you had to say, there could be any number of reasons why they were not ready to jump in yet. Maybe their money wasn’t right, maybe their schedule wasn’t there, they didn’t have any one to bring their kid to class. Whatever it is, what you want to do is make sure that you keep touch in with them, stay top of mind so that when it does come time, when they are ready, they think of you, they don’t think of any of your competitors because you’ve already built that relationship.
Tim: Couldn’t have said that better myself.
A terrible thing to finish on, but I have to ask and I know they’ll be listeners going, “How much do you reckon she spends on marketing a year?” Are you happy to reveal a kind of ballpark figure?”
Carmen: Again, I’m not even too sure. Let me just kind of think about it for a while.
Tim: I’ll play some kind of on-hold music if you like, a bit of Muzak.
Carmen: Some Jeopardy music.
Tim: Yeah. [Laughs]
Carmen: Not that much. A lot of the things we do are pretty inexpensive, since we do, yeah.
Tim: Yeah, they are.
Carmen: Yeah, it’s really just the cost of printing a lot of these flyers. Printing is so inexpensive these days, especially if you use an online printer.
Let me just kind of break down what are the categories of things that we spend money on. Printing I would say is one category and that’s really fairly inexpensive, signage, same thing, very inexpensive these days, other than your big, big sign.
These street fairs that we do, again, pretty inexpensive, it’s usually just a couple hundred dollars, US dollars, to have a table at one of these things. There is of course, I have to pay my staff to be there, so there’s that added expense, but the actual booth is pretty inexpensive.
We have experimented with some TV commercials this year and that is obviously much more expensive than some of these other things that we’re doing. But again, in terms of that, we’ve only spent a few thousand dollars kind of experimenting with that, they’re doing some test runs.
I don’t know, I think we don’t really spend that much. I would say definitely less than 10% of our revenues, for sure.
Tim: Yeah, yeah, okay. Brilliant, brilliant, I love that. You are betting way, way up above your marketing weight as I assumed before you even came on.
Carmen, thank you so much, coming on the show and all the way from Brooklyn and sharing really what is marketing gold.
I find it inspiring to hear this kind of old world marketing talk and hearing how it’s working so well for your business. So may it continue to work well into the future.
Carmen: Thank you, it was a pleasure. If I may, I do have a not-very-often updated blog where I talk about local bricks-and-mortar marketing. So if you’re interested in this topic, you’re interested in some of the things you’ve heard, I have some videos that go into a little more depth on some of those. That blog is basically CarmenSognonvi.com, my first name/last name.com and if you don’t know how to spell that, I have a URL shortcut so it’s CarmenBlogs.com, and that’ll take you there.
Tim: Oh, that’s clever, too. Call-to-action guru. Thanks, Carmen.
Carmen: I try. Thank you.
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