By Yael Friedmann
Originally published in Massage & Bodywork magazine, May/June 2008.
Branding is a marketing tool used not only by the corporate giants of the world, but also by the small entrepreneur. In fact, small business owners—just like you—can benefit greatly from creating a brand that holds true to your professional services.
What is branding?
In the simplest terms, your brand is your image. A brand is a collection of visual cues: colors, logos, and typefaces, as well as emotional associations people have with your company. For example, United Parcel Service (UPS) works hard to ensure that dependability is part of its brand. When people encounter one of the UPS visual cues, such as the distinctive brown truck, the company hopes those people will think, on an almost automatic level, “Dependable. If I give UPS my package, I can count on it arriving safely.”
Your brand should reflect your company accurately and positively. Yet it’s important to set up a brand that you can maintain. Inconsistency will kill you professionally.
Everything about you and your performance as a massage therapist is part of your brand. This goes from your attire, to the services you offer, to where you practice. All of these things need to be in tune with the expectations of your target audience, while remaining authentic to yourself.
Make this easy by creating a brand that is consistent with who you are and what you want to do. If you’re passionate about extreme sports and athleticism, you can brand yourself as a specialist in high-end luxury massage, but do you want to? You’re not going to be happy doing the work, and your clients aren’t going to be happy either. The same would be true if the situation is reversed: the massage therapist who wants to work in a high-end spa isn’t going to be thrilled helping golfers work through low-back pain.
It’s more authentic, realistic, and ultimately profitable to brand yourself in a way that attracts the type of people you want to work with, thereby allowing you to do the work you enjoy.
It’s important to remember that there’s a clientele for everyone. Your brand, if it accurately and positively represents you, will help you draw in the right type of customers. Consider carefully who you are, what type of work you want to do, and the type of client with who you want to work. This, coupled with your modality, will help you find the brand that fits.
Branding can help your practice in many ways. Building a strong and highly visible brand is one way to generate word-of-mouth referrals. Experts tell us that word of mouth generates 87 percent of all business, and that percentage may be considerably higher in service-oriented fields, such as massage therapy.
Effective branding also creates secondary revenue opportunities. If you’re well regarded within your community—which has gotten to know and trust you through both your branding efforts and then subsequently trying, liking, and benefiting from your work—you can then explore other opportunities. Teaching seminars and workshops, for example, becomes far easier and much more lucrative if the teacher is well known and respected. Some massage therapists have gone so far as to license their own lines of products.
These secondary revenue streams are essential for the long-term health of your practice. As much as we all love the work we do (and I firmly believe that anyone who succeeds in this field does so because of a genuine passion for bodywork and commitment to healing), there is, by the nature of the work, a limit to how much we can do in a day. Expanding our practices to become more profitable can be done in a number of ways, such as hiring employees. However, many of these options require a great deal of investment money. Branding yourself successfully allows you to capitalize on those secondary revenue opportunities without having to tie up a lot of your own money.
One of the most overlooked, yet essential, elements about branding is the role it plays in helping your clients. It’s no secret that the vast majority of the public has a minimal understanding of what bodywork is, much less how to select the right massage therapist for themselves. However, if you brand yourself effectively, you’ll be able to provide valuable educational outreach to your clients and potential clients.
Branding can explain who you are, the type of services you offer, the role massage plays in healthcare, the people who could benefit from massage, and what type of experience to expect from your practice.
Elements Of A Brand
To build an effective brand, you need to address three distinct areas: your services, your message, and your visual cues.
The combination of the experience and the quality of your work makes up the service component of branding. This is the most critical element. You might not have the best business cards or be the world’s best public speaker, but if you excel at the service component of branding, you’ll build a strong practice. Without this element, you could have the best marketing in the world, and your practice will still not thrive.
Pretend you’re one of your clients and take a look at your practice. What is it like to get a massage from you? Do you have to seek out a dingy storefront, far off the beaten path, with a small sign you need reading glasses to comprehend? Or is the practice in a bright, well-lit place that’s easy to get to? When you walk into the office, what is the reception area like? Is it clean, restful, and pleasant? Does the furniture look like it’s been rescued from a dumpster? Does anyone greet you, or do you wait in icy silence until it’s time for your appointment? Are there magazines to read or is music playing? How does your practice make you feel?
The next element in this is obviously the work. It should go without saying that your goal as a therapist is to give all of your attention and the very best of your skills to your client. Yet, during one massage I received, I was sure the therapist didn’t know if I was a man, a woman, or a penguin. Obviously, I didn’t go back. That particular therapist made it clear to me that his brand was, “I’d rather be anywhere else right now.”
Every practice should have a message, also called a tagline. This message, in a few simple words, should sum up your practice and express something about your business and your style. For example, my practice is named The Bodywork Center. My tagline is “Tune Ups for Healthy Living,” a subtle play on the confusion my business name sometimes causes.
In my opinion, one of the best business taglines comes from outside our field. Kay Jewelers, the national jewelry chain, runs a great commercial that uses the line “Every kiss begins with Kay.” This clever phrase emphasizes that this retailer is really in the business of selling romance.
Taking a cue from Kay, a great tagline for a massage therapist should emphasize what the client hopes to get from the experience: flexibility, improved health, strength, or whatever your target audience values the most.
Your Visual Cues
The visual elements of your brand are actually what most people think of when they hear the word branding. These are the items you see: graphic components used to attract customers’ attentions and help bring them to your practice.
Visual elements include the color scheme you use, logo, sounds, symbols, tagline or message, and the typeface or fonts associated with your company.
Realistically, however, most massage therapists have neither the time nor the resources to explore equally every avenue of branding. Perhaps the most important element for the independent practitioner is a company logo. Once you have a powerful, effective logo, you can use that as the cornerstone of your branding efforts. Put your logo in your advertising, next to your listing in the phone book, on customized clothing, on your signage, on your website, and so on. The more the public sees your logo, the more they’ll learn to associate it with you and your services. This is called building name recognition, and it’s an essential aspect of branding.
The Consistency Concept
For your branding efforts to be effective, it is imperative that you embrace the consistency concept. Every time your company makes a public appearance—whether in advertising, in person, in print, or on TV or radio—there must be a consistent image conveyed to the public.
Everything you do must reinforce the brand you’re trying to build for your business. This means using the same, consistent logo for your advertising and business cards. Remember, the more often the public sees your logo, the more likely it is to remember it. This means wearing logo-embroidered clothing when you teach a class or attend a wellness fair. And it means ensuring that products you offer with your company name and logo on it are of high quality, reflecting the type of business you want to be.
Branding also extends to the Internet. From the color scheme you use to design your website to the links you allow, every bit of your online persona should reflect positively on your brand.
From Start To Finish
Branding can carry customers through the massage therapy experience. The first point of contact you have with a client may well come from a branding effort, such as seeing you speak at a community wellness fair, where you wore your company-identifying shirt and handed out brochures from your practice. The experience they have at your practice—from the tangible, physical aspects of your office to the nuances of the bodywork they receive at your hands—further reinforces the branding you’ve created. The follow-up component is particularly critical: any effort you make toward client retention or referral generation at this point will further cement the value of your brand in the client’s mind.
You never know what point will be of particular importance to clients or what will stick out in their minds as being exceptional. That’s why you need to pay attention to branding all throughout the experience—from the beginning of the encounter to the follow-up e-mail reminder.
Branding takes a certain amount of time and energy and many massage therapists shy away from it, scared that it may detract from the time and energy they have to offer to their clients. However, the rewards of effective branding are so strong that the prudent massage therapist realizes the necessity and value of the effort. Start small, but do something. Your practice deserves it.