No matter how long you’ve been in business, refreshing your studio’s image from time to time is crucial to keep current customers on board and appeal to new ones. Your studio may offer the best training in town, but the promise of that customer experience will never even have a chance to be tested if your website is outdated, social media unattended or logo uninspiring.
Dori Matkowski opened Dance Dynamics Performing Arts Center in Detroit suburb Walled Lake, MI, 30 years ago, well before the technological boom. She has had a website for over five years, but in 2011 her son begged her to shed the studio’s old-school image. “It took us longer to switch from cassettes to CDs than it did for us to get on the internet,” Matkowski jokes. Today, not only is Dance Dynamics’ website up-to-date and outfitted with Facebook and Twitter feeds, the entire studio got a boost by switching to iPads for everything, from music playing to accepting credit cards.
Dance Dynamics’ technology overhaul was part of a larger branding strategy to reflect the studio’s modernity and commitment to providing cutting-edge dance education. “We’re 30, but that doesn’t mean we’re old,” Matkowski told her staff after the studio’s pearl anniversary. “Every year is new. Our community changes drastically each year, and as our community changes, we change. We stay aware of what the kids want and what the kids need.”
Define Your Business
Branding is much more than your name, logo and color palette. At its heart, it’s all about what customers can expect to experience every time they walk into your studio. As communications guru Robert Sprague has said, “A brand tells people what’s true about you and not true about everyone else.”
The first step in creating a successful branding plan is to outline your business, explains Frank Sahlein, a business consultant and owner of a children’s activity center in Boise, ID. Start with the name and logo of the company and what is offered, and then pinpoint four to six elements that differentiate your business from those of your competitors. “Identify those four bullet points and market them everywhere,” he says. That way, you influence the word of mouth surrounding your business and gain control over your studio’s reputation. For instance, visitors to Dance Dynamics’ website can see that it has professional alumni, classes for both recreational and performance team students, specific training for boys and a large class offering for young dancers, ages 3–6. “Those are the things we want people to know about us,” she says. “And it’s a consistent message in all our marketing materials.”
Update Your Design
Evaluate the design of your name and logo every few years. “Start by asking yourself if you feel energized when you view your logo and business name,” Sahlein says. “Does it truly represent what you do now? Is it modern?” Get feedback from a handful of trusted customers, as well as your staff.
“When you see the same thing over and over, you tend not to see it anymore,” says Matkowski, who has changed Dance Dynamics’ look roughly six times, most recently about two years ago. Don’t worry too much about customer confusion or lack of brand recognition. “Having been around this long, our studio is known,” she says, though she recommends new businesses wait at least five years before changing their brand identity. Keep in mind that a logo will need to be updated everywhere, so when choosing a new design, make sure that it works in any format and that you’ve allocated enough budget for the redo. “A successful logo should look great on a brochure, sign, business card or billboard, whether it’s blown up, shrunk, in color or in black and white,” says Sahlein.
Chasta Hamilton Calhoun of Stage Door Dance Productions in Raleigh, NC, had barely been in business for two years when she decided to refine her logo in 2011. She hired a graphic designer to tweak the original that her husband had created. “The designer told me a little shading would help make it pop. Now the logo is more dynamic,” she says. (See right.) The designer created two variations (that deepen or eliminate the shading) so that the logo looks defined whether printed on a light-colored T-shirt or a dark sign.
Updating your company graphics is not a DIY project. “Studio owners get overwhelmed when they try to handle everything,” says Hamilton Calhoun. “Hire out or delegate to make sure everything looks professional and cohesive. It’s the representation of your business and identity.”
Though Chasta Hamilton Calhoun felt that her original logo represented her studio well, it fell flat on marketing materials. Tweaks made by a graphic designer helped to more clearly define it.
Revamp Your Web Presence In the digital age, your website is often a potential customer’s first encounter with your studio. “Remember that you are leading new customers into your business via your image every day, so be sure that your website represents where your business is today, as well as where it is going,” says Sahlein. “As quickly as your business goes through changes, you need them reflected on your site.”
Luckily, studio owners now can turn to services like WordPress and Squarespace, whose professional templates allow nonprofessionals to produce sophisticated sites fairly easily. Hamilton Calhoun worked with a web designer who created hers using WordPress, which lets her update information as often as necessary. Websites should have recent videos, flattering images of current students or alumni, testimonials from parents and calls to action: a “Register for classes here” link, for instance. And don’t forget those four to six bullet points from your business plan—broadcast them clearly on your home page.
Leverage Your Brand on Social Media
Use Facebook to communicate with your customers about master classes, snow closings and alumni news. Both studio owners post videos on their Facebook pages and suggest creating a schedule for updating social media. While Matkowski posts daily and Hamilton Calhoun posts two to three times weekly, both agree that regularity is key. They also link their Twitter feeds to their Facebook posts: It saves time (you only post once and it appears on both platforms).
Stay abreast of new ways to connect with customers. Pinterest is a new social platform popular with the dance-studio demographic, for instance. Consider making your website mobile-browser friendly. Hamilton Calhoun is speaking with marketing companies about a mobile app for the studio—launching later this year—that will allow her to relay event updates and share photos.
“I listen to those who are younger,” says Matkowski. “And I’m aware of what’s going on all over the country—in all of entertainment, not just dance. It really keeps us up with the times.” DT
Hilary Daninhirsch is a freelance writer based in Pittsburgh.
Photos:©iStockphoto.com; courtesy of Stage Door Dance Productions