Massage Specialization as a Marketing Tool: Focus on the Client

By Michelle Burns, BSRN, BSAlt.Med., LMT, BCMT
January 12, 2016

Massage Specialization as a Marketing Tool: Focus on the Client

By Michelle Burns, BSRN, BSAlt.Med., LMT, BCMT
January 12, 2016

One message frequently given to massage therapists is to "find your niche." For so many therapists, this can be one of the biggest challenges — defining their preferred target market. And often, massage therapists have a challenge building a successful business without defining their niche.

A common thought in the massage community is to focus on learning new techniques that will then guarantee more clientele. So, many therapists invest hundreds, and sometimes, thousands of dollars in continuing education to learn techniques to try to increase their clientele and revenue. Sometimes it works well, but sometimes it doesn't. Part of the reason it may not work is because, too often, the public (read-potential clients) have no idea what those techniques do, and how the techniques may help them. That is not to say specializing in a technique is bad, because it isn't. But specializing goes way beyond a six or 12 hour weekend class. And the more specialized a practitioner becomes, the more important client education as a part of marketing becomes. Potential clients have to understand the mechanism and indication for the specialty before they will commit to participating in a session. While we, in the massage community, may know what Airrosti or Bowen or Pfrimmer is, how it works and what it does, that does not help people who might benefit from the work understand how it may help them.

Focusing on the outcome of the session rather than specific techniques that will be used helps a potential client make an informed choice. For example, telling potential clients that you specialize in helping people with shoulder injuries to regain ROM and decrease pain, as opposed to telling them you specialize in myofascial release. The first statement has two advantages:

  1. It is about the client, not about the therapist. It answers their question, "what will I get out of spending time with this therapist?"
  2. It is independent of the techniques I use to accomplish the goal.

Why It's Important To Focus On The Client

Too often, people in a profession have internalized profession specific information and language and forget that those outside the profession don't understand the "insider" language. Those not in the profession may have no idea what a specialty can or cannot do or how it is done. For many people seeking help dealing with pain, injury repair, and rehabilitation, the myriad of practitioners available can be overwhelming. If the specialties being offered are unfamiliar, the person seeking help becomes even more confused — "where should I spend my limited monetary resources for the most benefit?" When faced with a description of services that lists unfamiliar specialties in which a therapist is trained or certified, it can lead to additional confusion and overwhelm. The client may just choose something that sounds familiar and hope it works. They may be lucky and find someone who can help them, or they may find a therapist that doesn't really understand their problem or help them achieve their goal. The client may then become frustrated and reticent to try a different therapist.

When communication is focused on the specialty, the information becomes about the therapist — "Look at me! I can do this and this and this!" – and not about what the client needs. When communication is focused on offering a benefit that the client can relate to, the techniques used to accomplish the goal becomes less relevant. For example, a musician with repetitive use injury of the wrist is less interested in what technique the therapist knows than they are whether or not I can help them play again without pain. Telling a musician that the practitioner is certified in myofascial release does not answer their question as to whether or not that therapist can help them specifically. However, if the therapist tells a musician that they specialize in preventing wrist injuries or helping decrease wrist pain and supporting healing, the musician is much more likely to see the benefit and feel more confident working with the therapist that addresses their needs.

A Powerful Tool

Deciding to specialize in: a specific population, such as pregnant women, athletes, or geriatrics; conditions, such as fibromyalgia or migraines; or a body part, such as the shoulder, hip, or ankle, rather than a technique, opens the door to using a variety of techniques depending on the individual and situation.

One of the attractions of becoming a technique specialist is that the workshops are focused on bodywork techniques, often with lots of hands on practice time. Massage therapists are often more comfortable learning techniques than sitting in a didactic, data rich class. Becoming a specialist in working with specific areas of the body or specific populations involves a lot more in-depth knowledge about the body part or the population. It can't be obtained in a weekend CE class. And it doesn't rely on just one technique. To become a specialist in serving specific needs and populations, a therapist must invest time and focused attention on learning everything they can about the population or body area. That may include:

  • In-depth understanding of anatomy.
  • In-depth understanding of physiology.
  • In-depth understanding of kinesiology.
  • In-depth understanding of pathology.
  • A very good understanding of how different techniques can be applied to the area or population and what techniques are most helpful.
  • In-depth understanding of how and why the techniques work.
  • Understanding of research evidence to support the techniques used.

A therapist who commits themselves to a deep understanding of a population or body region has a built-in niche and a ready market. Marketing to the target population becomes much easier as the market understands exactly what you can do for them and recognizes your confidence in your skills.

Finding Your Specialty

If you still aren't sure what you want to specialize in, think about your clients. Is there a particular condition or injury that several of your clients present? Maybe you have several clients who indicate they have fibromyalgia or play golf. Gaining an in-depth understanding of their condition or hobby will result in several of your clients all benefiting from your new focus. As you develop your skills and understanding of this condition or population, they will spread the word to others with similar problems or focus. Word of mouth marketing is built in when focusing on a specialty that speaks to clients. Specialization can be a powerful marketing tool. Choosing specializations that speak to a target market increases the power of your message.