A Proposal on Data Driven Analytics for Enrollment and Retention

This was a proposal was previously written by us and we’re sharing the ideas here.


  • Overview
  • Background
  • Proposed Actions
  • Results


The question “How can we increase interest in Aikido?” has been posed in recent years. While organizations store large amounts of data, this information is not being adequately utilized to address many of its challenges. As demonstrated by initiatives at other educational institution, advanced data modeling techniques can be leveraged to turn the wealth of untapped data into actionable information.  The overall aim of this proposed recruitment and retention analysis study is to design, test, and utilize data analysis techniques in order to help decision makers better implement recruitment and retention strategies. By analyzing the various facets of the recruitment and retention issue, not only can we determine the contributing factors shaping each of them, we can implement targeted efforts to remediate them. Through the early identification of characteristics of both new members and members at-risk of leaving the organization, we can maximize practices aimed at helping students start and continue their membership with Aikido.


While the martial arts industry market size is approximately $4 billion annually, and rising at a rate of  over 4% annually (IBIS World), this growth is slowing and is projected to decline to 2% in the next few years.

The changing socioeconomic climate means we cannot expect to attract new students using common marketing tactics because they are, at best, ineffective, and at worst, run counter to our goals. While Aikido and non-Aikido dojo alike exist in the same overall market, proper market segmentation will help Aikido dojo capitalize on the uniqueness of the art in contrast to many of the other alternatives.  Most often Aikido is marketed based on simple demographics. However, a market can be segmented along geographic, psychographic, and behavioral characteristics as well. 

Aikido might share the similar market segment characteristics as the likes of BJJ schools, but an effective approach to gaining new students could be to not compete for the same market share. 

While there is always understandable interest in recruiting new members, there is also ample evidence to suggest that relationship marketing programs are better served by focusing on member retention as opposed to simple new member acquisition. A quintessential rule for any business is that it is better to retain customers and build a loyal relationship with them, thereby avoiding new customer acquisition costs.  It is said that it costs five times as much to attract a new customer than to keep an existing one. Most of us that run dojo deal with this reality on a regular basis. If we were able to retain a larger fraction of the all the students that start Aikido, many would never need to market again.

Higher student retention rates provide an organization with both short-term and long-term value. In the short run, the organization benefits from revenue generated by retained members, reduced losses from defecting members and relatively low-cost maintenance of a member base. Over the long-term, higher member retention rates lengthen the ‘average life’ per member, providing for greater member lifetime value (Johnson and Gustafsson, 2000; Best, 2009). Fullerton (2007, p. 384) suggests that shifting to a member retention emphasis ‘has allowed many organizations to more effectively capitalize on the potential long-term value that each of their current members represents’. In the marketing literature, member retention is generally held to be a function of customer loyalty and customer satisfaction (Dick and Basu, 1994; Bolton et al., 2000; Kotler and Keller, 2007; Best, 2009). Loyal members are less likely to be lured to a competitor, regardless of the competitor’s marketing efforts. Likewise, members satisfied with their affiliation with the organization are more likely to continue their membership. In brief, higher levels of both member loyalty and satisfaction increase the likelihood of retention. Empirical studies have supported these relationships (e.g. Oliver, 1980; Rust and Zahorik, 1993; Bolton, 1998).

Proposed Actions

  1. Determine required data schools should collect on each new member, existing member, former members. 
    1. Identifying the questions that we want the data to be able to answer.
    2. What groups of variables (eg. lifestyle/attitude/health) would we like to identify.
    3. Identify what kind of result would indicate success/failure.
  2. Organize and analyze trends and patterns in the available databases of existing data. Many organizations already have existing data that can be utilized to give direction as to where the research should focus on. Utilizing data mining techniques (organizing data and then running correlative analytics through computer models) can help identify possible patterns and trends to provide a starting point.
  3. Create surveys to psychometrically evaluate new students (to target the identified, segmented market for recruitment), existing students (to have events, functions, or policy changes that will create loyalty), and those that are stopping their aikido practice (to find out why they’re leaving and common factors among them to mitigate future drop-out rates and use it to retool our recruitment efforts so that we’re recruiting people who are more likely to stay). 


  • Determining which markets to focus recruitment efforts on
  • Types of activities most likely to generate student loyalty
  • Factors that cause students to leave the organization and which are the most important to satisfy.

What can be done:

    1. Surveys are often designed incorrectly, providing false or weak correlations and/or surveyor bias. Questions and answers should be scored to provide correlations between answer weights and the scores so that it is known, mathematically, what the strongest variables affecting student decisions are. Examples of possible questions include:
      1. How they heard about Aikido and how important was this recommendation in your starting of Aikido?
      2. How important was self defense/culture/spiritual/health etc. in affecting your choice of starting/staying/leaving Aikido?
      3. How much does distance/instructor background/lifestyle variables (such as children/marriage/work/cost) affect decisions to start/stay/leave Aikido?

How can this be executed:

  • Universal online applications which all students are required to fill out.
  • Questionnaires that provide an incentive to be filled out (Discounts for merchandise, seminars, etc.)
  1. Policy Making Collecting data to determine if certain existing policies are helping or harming the recruitment and retention of students so that there can be changes or new policies made if necessary.
  2. Collecting data from events/seminars to help create better future events, and to provide data that can be used to allow individual dojos to create more targeted marketing campaigns and reserve resources.

Examples of data that can be collected:

  • How much interest each method of promoting the event generates.
  • How many students are from outside organizations. 
  • Average distance traveled. 
  • How price and travel costs affected a student decisions to attend a seminar.
  • Finding out what kind of events/functions students would like to see more of.
  1. Teacher Reviews or program similar to Rate My Professor but with a more targeted scoring system. Please note that while this can provide valuable information for students and dojos alike, it can also foster negative competition.
  • Social Media Marketing Campaigns
    • Can tell you the demographics (location and lifestyle) of those who may be interested in starting or staying. (eg. Facebook currently gives basic demographics on post engagements, like age range and location.)
    • Provide a way for students to stay connected with their dojo and feeling like a part of it.
    • Drum up interest in events.
    • Best ways to deal with negative publicity/trolls.
  1. Student Networking – Finding out the impact of the relationships students form with each other due to this common interest and how strongly it correlates with retention, recruitment, and whether or not it affects decisions to leave. Forums/Social media are a great way to utilize Interaction Mapping methods.
  • Disseminating information out to member dojos – Many of these solutions can be scaled down for individual dojos, but the information collected and results analyzed as a whole can also be valuable to dojos so they can focus on their marketing efforts as well. A guide to Aikido market trends could be produced yearly to be given out to all dojos.
  1. Scrape webpages to determine online presence and patterns of public impression of Aikido. Determining where Aikido stands in terms of reputation is important since it provides an understanding of what most people’s first interaction with Aikido would be (online.) This way we can attempt to start shifting the tides of reputation if it turns out that it’s poor by either generating more positive publicity, or identifying factors that are promoting the negative ones and discover compromises that do not sacrifice the values of Aikido but creates no criticism either.
  2. Surveying non-practitioners through a polling company to see what the general population’s impression of Aikido is, which can help identify what the current reputation of Aikido is versus where we want it to be.

Sample Questions

  • What is your current level of exposure/understanding of Aikido? 
  • After seeing this video, how likely are you to look for a local Aikido dojo? 
  • After reading this description, how likely are you to look for more information in regards to Aikido? 
  • If you heard your favorite actor began studying Aikido, how likely are you to seek out more information on Aikido?


This project will yield a detailed analysis of factors shaping recruitment and retention issues with schools as well as generate models useful for the prediction – and thus mitigation – of these issues.  Through constant calibration of these models to shifting internal and external environmental factors, the dojos and their organizations will be able to adapt these findings to future needs and be better equipped to predict future trends.