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Massage Today
March, 2005, Vol. 05, Issue 03

Got Massage?

By Linda Riach

Once upon a time there were many farmers all over the country with dairy cows producing milk of every variety. Some milk was from Jersey cows; some from Holsteins; some from Guernseys; some was organic; some not so organic, and so on.

Some farmers mixed their milk with chocolate to create another offering for milk connoisseurs.

The diversity of the products was almost endless: one percent, two percent, with and without acidophilus, and more. Enterprising dairy farmers worked hard to meet the varied needs of their markets. Then, one day, the farmers realized that dairy consumption was going down; Pepsi, Coke, Snapple, Starbucks, orange juice (thanks to the efforts of the Orange Growers Association), Budweiser and Red Bull all competed for the attention of a thirsty public. The farmers realized that they'd have to do something for their industry to continue its growth. That's when the dairy farmers' organizations got together to determine how they could raise consumer awareness and the desire for all things dairy.

Thus, the (now) famous National Milk Mustache "Got Milk?"® Campaign, which is jointly funded by America's milk processors and dairy farmers, was born. The goal of the multifaceted campaign was to educate consumers on the benefits of milk and raise milk consumption by creating a single identity for milk. The industry created a brand - and it's working.

For the past 26 years, I've been lucky enough to be part of the massage therapy profession and to watch it grow. During that time, the industry has matured; it has created a standing and recognition of which it is rightfully proud. Endless success stories about high-profile sporting events, inspiring studies, expanding educational programs, and certification development ideas are tossed around to help meet the needs of the future by massage action leaders, as well as hardworking organizations. The opportunities and challenges in these areas are as vast as the inspiration these people and their efforts offer their individual communities.

Expanding equally fast is the volume of opportunities presented to the massage therapy industry by professions, including pain medicine, sports medicine, athletic training, physical therapy and spa communities, which are all part of growing global markets. There are opportunities for massage therapists to secure their scopes of practice in sports and sports medicine, pain medicine and pain management, rehab, psychotherapy, and more. But with growth comes expansion, sprawl and diversification. The industry has become so spread out, so disparate, that many of us hear only snippets of those accomplishments or the potential opportunities. This growth has also meant that many practitioners now only identify with their individual communities and not with the idea of a unified interest.

None of us presume to have the one "right" form of massage or the one "best" response to the needs of a touch-thirsty public. Each facet of the industry is an important part of a gleaming gem. One facet may shine especially brightly in a certain light, but the strength and durability will best be recognized if the whole gem is swathed in flattering light so that it gleams. So now, as we turn to face new challenges (much as the milk industry did), there are questions that we need to ask ourselves in examining what next steps should be taken to showcase the whole massage therapy industry and to keep it thriving.

For me, the answer about how to best respond to the burgeoning opportunities on the horizon is straightforward: Put more focus on communications as a practitioner and as a community, in our organizations and as a whole. Why? Because much of the public is not aware of the power and efficacy of massage therapy in all of its forms. Few are adequately educated to be able to identify how to find a therapist qualified to meet their needs, expectations and personal preferences. Few understand that it will require a series of visits to experience lasting results. And, on a more technical note, most consumers are not aware of all the research that has been done to establish the credibility and efficacy of massage in many situations.

The truth is that the market for the services of massage therapists is boundless; in fact, it's booming.

There are 77 million aging baby boomers primed to hear the message about your services. There are as many varying needs for therapeutic touch as there are people in the world. And yet the industry is so disparate, so spread out, that it is not seen as a single entity to consumers. We in the industry are missing an opportunity, which, by harnessing our combined strength, can corral the full potential of growth for the good of all. So, how can the massage therapy community promote itself within these venues? What needs to be done to teach to these opportunities? How do we establish credibility and working relationships with those who might be sources of referral?

A powerful unifying force lies in the creation of a brand for therapeutic touch - to use the brand to educate the masses, drawing them in for individualized pursuits of health and wellness. Promoting the use of massage therapy for pain and wellness management is easier than promoting the products made by the drug companies if for no other reason than there'd be no long laundry list of side-effects and contraindications. In a day and age where stress-related illnesses are at almost epidemic proportions, with such a potent tool in our tool box, don't we have a responsibility to promote what we have to offer and to find the resources to do what it takes to invest in, create and promote the brand as a whole? We also owe it to the students who will be attempting to make a living. As school graduation numbers increase, so must the numbers of people needing, desiring and pursuing the use of their services.

The world of massage therapy is as diverse as the universe of clients who need its services. There is room for all under the tent. To that end, we must all work together to solidify and hold in even higher esteem our expectations for each modality through modality-appropriate accreditation so that the end user can be ensured a positive, consistent experience. As the experience is unified, word-of-mouth increases and awareness goes up. Simply put, a rising tide lifts all ships.

While we are not producing a single product, we should be working to promote a unified experience, a brand called "massage." That brand should embody the experience for the customer of the personal pursuit of wellness and the role of the practitioner as partner in that ongoing endeavor. If we can get behind that, there's no end to the people we can reach.

Click here for previous articles by Linda Riach.


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