by Loui Tucker
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This article appeared originally in the September 2005 issue of Let's Dance!
At the end of the last installment we had just surveyed the situation: “So now you’re like a bride with a hall, a caterer, a band – and no groom. You need dancers!” This part of the series will focus on marketing your “product” – how to advertise and promote your new dance class.
First you have to get their attention
Think about that catered-wedding-but-no-groom (or bride) scenario. How would you go about getting a groom or bride? You would provide a flattering photo, a few positive personal details, testimonials from friends, and a way to contact you. You get that information out where prospective brides and grooms might be looking. That’s advertising.
Put this article aside for a minute and go get a couple of your favorite magazines – Time, Sunset, Ladies Home Journal, Sports Illustrated. Flip through the pages and look at the advertisements. What do you see? Bright colors, bold printing, graphics, images, catchy phrases. You’re probably not going to get a lot of detail unless it’s in tiny print in the disclaimer. The pitch for a car doesn’t include the specs; the ad for some tasty new food doesn’t list the ingredients. After all, the goal is to get you to the showroom to drive the car, or into the restaurant to eat the food.
Now look at the flyers and other advertisements for dance classes. Sometimes there is a simple graphic at the top. The information is all the same font, usually Times New Roman because that’s the default font on most word processing software. Lines of text are centered in one big section, so you have a big gray blotch in the middle of the page. It’s all printed lengthwise on 8.5 x 11 lightweight paper, it’s rarely a bold color and never glossy. Can you spell b-o-r-i-n-g?
Did you notice that if there is one bright spot of color or something shiny or something that’s a different size, that is what will catch your eye?
You need to approach advertising your dance class the same way that Oldsmobile and Hertz and Burger King approach selling their products! Sure, it’s going to be more expensive, but if you don’t get people to come to your store and sample your product, all the time you spent setting up this dance class will be wasted.
Sell the Sizzle
It doesn’t take much to improve a piece of advertising. You may need to enlist the help of a graphic artist or at least someone who knows their way around a word processing program. If you’ve got competition – whether it is promotional material for another dance class or Thursday night television – you’ve got to make every effort to stand out and grab the audience’s attention.
“Dancing changed my life. I used to sit home feeling sorry for myself and now I have lots of friends and I’m out of the house dancing five nights a week.”
“If you can walk, you can dance – join us!”
“I met my husband at a dance class.”
“Dancing for two hours sure beats sweating on the Stairmaster at the gym.”
“What a great activity. I wish I’d found folk dancing years ago!”
Incentives and Coupons and Freebies - Oh My!
Every advertiser knows the value of incentives. It is a rare consumer who will ignore a coupon with a good offer.
Announce that your opening night will be a free party. Dancers will come so they can check out the facility, listen to the music in this new venue, see how long it takes to drive to the new location, etc. Some will make the comparison to their existing “brand” and decide not to switch. Such is life. Others will come, enjoy their experience and make a different decision – to switch to the new class you are offering, or add it to their weekly schedule as the mood and opportunity strikes.
First-timers who hear or read about the party will come because it’s free and they have nothing to lose but an hour or two of their time. You’ll get first-time dancers who will fall in love, and others who will be disappointed and never come back. That’s the way it works. You just have to get them in the door ONCE, and a free party is a big draw for a lot of people.
Your promotional material can include one extra line: “Your first visit is free. Come dance with us and find out why we love it!”
You can have a tear-off portion of your promotional material be four or five small coupons good for $1 off your admission price. This will encourage repeat business.
If you can afford it, get some small denomination gift certificates for a local ice cream parlor or fast food restaurant. Give one to anyone who stays until the end of the party.
Purchase a gift certificate to a local music store as a door prize and raffle it off at the end of the evening (“You must be present to win.”)
Refreshments are an easy bonus. It doesn’t have to be elaborate – popcorn, cookies, crackers, lemonade.
As your class grows, you can develop additional incentive programs: “Bring someone new to class and, if they come back a second time, YOU get in free!”
Distribution – Getting Your Message Out
You’ve developed great promotional materials, and your website looks wonderful, but how do get them into the hands of potential consumers?
Obviously you’ll give your materials to the dance leaders (you had dinner with them back in Part One, remember?). If they have a mailing list, offer to buy the list for a one-time use and mail your advertisement (remember the postcard I suggested earlier?) to current dancers. Perhaps those dance leaders have an email list and they would be willing to forward an electronic copy of your flyer (saves the postage too).
You’ll want to reach “cross-over dancers.” These are the dancers who are currently doing some other kind of dancing. It could be a specific type of ethnic dancing (Hungarian, Greek) or ballroom or swing or line dancing. Look through the local yellow pages for dance academies and studios, and research dance classes offered at community centers and community colleges. You can either mail or drop off a stack of your promotional materials.
Is there a store in the area that sells dance-related gear such as dance shoes, leotards and tights, or petticoats for square dancers? Can you put some of your flyers on their checkout counter?
Consider reaching out to people looking for exercise that doesn’t involve running on city streets or going to a gym. Drop in on local Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig, or TOPS meetings.
If the gyms and exercise studios in the area don’t mind the competition, they might be agreeable to having some of your brochures or postcards in their lobby or locker rooms.
Contact the local churches to see if they have a bulletin board where you could post a flyer. You can probably post something at the Pete’s and Starbuck’s stores. Can you get access to the laundry room at some large apartment complexes? People waiting for a load of laundry to finish will read just about anything!
If it is not cost-prohibitive, advertise in the programs of local events – the ballet, the symphony, the high school play. That’s where your “FREE Night of Dancing” coupon can be useful.
Internet Advertising with Craig’s List!
Craig’s List (www.craigslist.org) is a phenomenal marketing tool. It costs nothing to post an announcement about a dance class. People cruise around this site looking for everything from free moving boxes to stereo equipment for sale; from apartments to rent to volunteer opportunities; from a house-sitter to events to fill up their weekend. It is organized by state, region, and city, so you can look for and post items where they will reach your potential dancers. I know people who visit the craigslist site every day just to see what’s new.
This site charge only for companies posting job openings. Everything else is absolutely FREE. I can attest to the success rate with several ventures.
There are lots of other dance and dance-friendly websites. I’m not going to list them here, but if you contact me via email, I can provide the list of sites I’ve found. Most do not charge for a listing, but will expect you to have a website of your own and include a link to their webpage.
Are They Pounded on Your Door Yet?
Go to: Planning Your First Dance Class