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Massage Today
April, 2009, Vol. 09, Issue 04

Create Your Niche in the Marketplace

By Cary Bayer

What do people think of when they consider your service? Do they lump you in with the rest of the competition? If you're tired of trying to carve out a living in a competitive massage therapist marketplace, consider creating your niche to position yourself apart from the rest.

Creating Your Nouveau Niche

The word "niche" is derived from the French word "nicher" meaning to nest, where a person or thing is best fitted. In the marketplace, the word refers to being specialized, setting something or someone apart from the competition. There are two excellent ways to create such a niche.

One is by doing something nobody else does, and the other is by creating a perceived point of difference. The former is accomplished by having a unique training; the latter is achieved through advertising.

Let's consider the first way: Suppose there are 15 successful LMTs working in your market. And suppose you're the only one who practices Thai or Lomi Lomi massage. Positioning yourself as a Thai or Lomi Lomi expert brings you the overwhelming share of the market for those specialty techniques. This creates a huge surge in business.

Last year, I taught a CE seminar in which one participant was an LMT in the southeast who owned a day spa that offered prenatal massage. It was the only day spa in her city that offered massage for pregnant women. Mid-sized cities like hers are composed of huge numbers of pregnant women at any given time. This gave her spa a point of difference in the marketplace - it was her niche.

Let's take another example. Suppose you work in a small market in which all the other LMTs work out of rented offices. In other words, no therapist in your area does outcalls, and you don't mind driving. You could then position yourself as the therapist who makes house calls. At a time when medical doctors no longer do, you could stand out. You'd have no competition, giving you the lion's share of the market for clients wanting massages in their homes. Naturally, you would charge a premium for that service.

Advertising 101

Advertising, as mentioned above, can create a position in the marketplace. Let's return to the outcall example. Whether you're working in a city in which nobody else does outcalls, or even if you work in one where virtually everybody does, your advertising can set you apart by positioning you as the therapist who makes house calls. Your promotional brochure and Web site could support that position. Miller Brewing's Miller Lite became the leading light beer when that category took off in the 70s, not because they were the first in the market, but because they were the first to promote the brand. Try to imagine a sports event on TV today without light beer commercials.

What if you're a massage therapist with no specific training that sets you apart from other LMTs in your city. How do you stand apart then? This, by the way, is the same problem that faces most packaged foods and products that you pile into your shopping cart at super markets every week. The answer in this case is advertising.

You could depict the hour that you give people on your table as a mini-vacation. I know of a few therapists in the south, who do just that. The copy would have to position the massage as a brief getaway, and graphics would have to further illustrate copy points with palm trees and the ocean, for example.

Advertising can be remarkably effective for an LMT. In what seems like a previous lifetime, I used to work in an ad agency in a small town called New York, New York. The company--Doyle Dane Bernbach--was widely known as the most creative agency in the business. Years earlier, they helped put Volkswagen and Avis on the map, and gave Heinz ketchup a huge point of difference. All three clients had perceived difficulties in the marketplace, but for all three it created enormous breakthroughs. I'll share this marketing history with you because it can help you see how much intelligent advertising can make a difference for you, as well.

Volkswagen was a small and ugly little import from Germany when it entered the U.S. in the 50s. Doyle Dane copywriters and art directors came up with novel new ways to see the auto. "Think small," it implored readers leafing through magazines like Life. "It's ugly, but it gets you there," said another ad, citing the sturdiness and reliability of the Bug that they helped make adorable.

Avis was number two in the car rental business, miles from the leader Hertz, and barely in front of number three. My agency's creative positioning: "When you're number two, you try harder." The slogan revolutionized the way Avis staffers felt about their jobs, changing them to highly dedicated employees.

Then, the piece de resistance, Heinz ketchup Here was a product with an obvious disadvantage: it took forever for the ketchup to pour out of the bottle. All the other brands delivered the goods much faster than Heinz. What to do? The agency turned the whole matter of speed on its head, by reframing the argument altogether. Their positioning for their ketchup became: "Too thick to win a ketchup race." Doyle Dane succeeded in changing the context entirely. Instead of the competition being about speed, they made it about thickness - and the results became a part of marketing history. Heinz is far and away the most successful ketchup in the world.

Beyond Positioning?

If your work stands head and shoulders (no pun intended) above your competition, chances are good that you're so busy you don't need to position yourself in the marketplace. You already enjoy the number one position. Only one therapist per market gets to enjoy that status, however. For everyone else, being "busier" will make a big difference, and positioning is one good way to accomplish that increase in numbers of massages given. If you don't have a point of difference with regard to the modalities you offer, use advertising to create one.

Click here for previous articles by Cary Bayer.


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