Massage therapist Stratton Poulson, who runs Stratton Poulson Therapeutic Solutions, in Dallas, Texas, specializes in trigger-point therapy, deep tissue massage, and applied anatomy and kinesiology.

He has been in practice for five years. He is just about 27 years old.

As a member of the Millennial, or Gen Y, generation — people born between 1981 and 1997, of which there are about 73 million members in the U.S., Poulson doesn’t hesitate before researching products prior to making a purchase; using text messaging to communicate both personally and professionally; and sharing information about his purchasing experiences via email and social networking.

He also knows he needs to use the latest technology and networking techniques to reach Millennial consumers. Half of his clientele is under age 30.

Who are Millennials?

Millennials were raised by baby boomers, the generation born between 1946 and 1963 and possessing a keen interest in holistic health care and self-help practices, including meditation, yoga and massage therapy.

Because of the interests and habits of their parents, Millennials don’t find massage therapy esoteric or confusing; they grew up with it in the mainstream. The oldest among them was 14 when David Eisenberg, M.D.’s 1993 report, Unconventional Medicine in the United States, opened the floodgates to research and media reports on complementary medicine.

Millennials are the most ethnically diverse and college-educated generation in U.S. history; they are tech-savvy, confident and seek new experiences, according to demographics experts. They are also considered super-influencers, meaning the technological, communication and purchasing trends they initiate are imitated by older consumers.

Marketers debate the exact year-span of the Millennial generation, but for this article we’ll look at people ages 18 to 34 —o r, the people you should be marketing massage to in a way you don’t market to older consumers. Although no generalization holds true for every member of any group, there are measurable trends that indicate Millennials aren’t swayed by traditional types of marketing and advertising.

There are three primary reasons why marketing to Millennials looks different from how you market to their parents: the way Millennials engage in the purchasing process; their use of technology; and how they communicate.

All three are linked together, yet provide unique challenges — and opportunities — for reaching Millennials with your message.

The Research Generation

Content is king is a phrase popular among marketers — and in terms of reaching Millennials, no phrase is truer. Millennials use technology — smartphones and tablets — to find out everything they can about a product or service, before making a purchase or scheduling an appointment.

One of the things they tend to seek out is comparison data — reviews and information about pricing — because they expect to be able to find the best experience as well as the best price on anything, immediately, by searching online.

Yet, the idea that Millennials always expect a deal (think Groupon) is a myth, said Jeff Fromm, co-author of Marketing to Millennials: Reach the Largest and Most Influential Generation of Consumers Ever. “They will pay full price if they value a brand, but at the same time, they won’t value a brand that doesn’t create excellent value,” he said. “How do you create value in the service industry? Content is one way.”

Millennials grew up with technology delivering content, so they know they can grab some short-form content on any topic, Fromm explained. “If you have content that informs and inspires me, you’re going to win.”

What this means for a massage therapist is creating and updating a website that includes articles about massage therapy, as well as videos and a blog. Website content should be pushed out regularly via a social media page, with a headline and hotlink back to the therapist’s website. Usefulness is key, Fromm said. Millennials are smart, educated and not interested in hype or vague descriptions.

“Millennials will research, research, research,” said Zack Hanebrink, MassageBook’s head of marketing. “They have put in so much work reading articles that by the time they’re ready to talk to someone, they are already completely sold, because they’ve done their homework.”

Hanebrink suggests determining what your target Millennial clientele needs from massage—relief from sports-related injuries? Limbering up from a desk-bound office job?—and then creating content that addresses those concerns.

“Give them information about their pain, their conditions and how you can help them,” he said. “Answer their questions, such as, ‘Do I have to take my clothes off?’ and ‘Is massage effective for low-back pain?’”

Although these types of information are no different from what you might tell a 50-year-old prospective client over the phone, the delivery of it — via Facebook, blog post, tweet or text — is.

Tech Savvy

It’s no longer enough to put up a website consisting of a photo of your session room, menu of services and contact information. To matter to Millennials, you need to offer online booking, text reminders, blog posts, videos and articles. You need to keep your social media pages and accounts updated consistently.

“You can’t be a massage therapist who refuses to use social media and still market to this group,” said Las Vegas, Nevada, massage therapist and marketing consultant Kris Kelley. “Build and develop relationships with clients,” he added. “Everything should revolve around that.”

According to a special report from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, The Millennial Generation Research Review, the number-one key to marketing to Millennials is understanding social media, as Millennials spend an average of 1.8 hours every day on social media websites.

“For younger clients, you have to meet them where they are at,” Poulson said. “Things like billboards, newspaper ads — we don’t care about them, we don’t pay attention to them. What will make us act are things we are actively plugged into — Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.”

Value is an important component of social networking posts, Poulson added. “I see massage therapists on social media who might [post], ‘I have appointments available today’ or ‘I have a two-for-one special’ — and that’s not marketing, that’s just asking people for money.’”

Instead, he said, make your posts stand out in a person’s newsfeed. Post a photo of stretches a client can do at the office, or an article that describes how massage can help someone injured in a pick-up basketball game. Focus on the experience and value that your massage sessions can give them.

You can also capture Millennials’ attention with unique experiences, said massage instructor Ariana Vincent, L.M.T., M.T.I., B.C.T.M.B. “Offer sessions that are unique and interesting, like lomilomi or a package that is a little out of the ordinary,” she said.

Companies including MassageBook, MINDBODY, Schedulicity and SpaBoom help massage therapists create sites with integrated booking and reminder tools so that your message gets out to Millennials and makes it easy for them to reach you online.

Even if your clients are more than 35 years of age, remember — the younger generation is influencing the use of technology across age groups. Paying by smartphone, crowdfunding and daily-deal websites are all examples of technology and product-development tools pioneered by Millennials but increasingly expected and utilized by baby boomers.

The Goldman Sachs report, Millennials: Coming of Age in Retail, noted, “Millennials are characterized by technological savvy, built on access to the Internet, mobile, and social media. This makes them better informed, more demanding, and more capable of driving change than any other generation before.” Note, too, that by 2017, Millennials will be outspending baby boomers for the first time, according to the report.

Text messaging is the best way to reach Millennials — and, in fact, many members of this generation have trouble reading cursive handwriting, so sending birthday greetings and thank-you messages via text could make more sense in reaching this generation than a hand-written card, according to the report, Three Insider Secrets for Selling to Gen Y, by Millennials marketing expert Jason Dorsey and The Center for Generational Kinetics.

“I use text messaging almost exclusively in my practice,” Poulson said. “People text me to book an appointment, I send an appointment confirmation text, and I send directions to my practice with text.” If you don’t have text functionality in your massage practice, he added, “You are missing out huge with the young generation if you force them to make a phone call.”

Word Spreads

Just as online and text channels are the best way to stay in front of Millennials, those same channels are how these young consumers will share information about your massage practice, even more than the word-of-mouth communication that has brought new clients to massage practices for decades.

Millennials post reviews on consumer-review websites such as InsiderPages, Yelp and MerchantCircle. They tweet about purchases. They text friends about their experiences. They post to Facebook.

“With brands and services, what used to be a one-way conversation is now a multifaceted, 24-hour-a-day, seven-day-a-week dialogue between brands and their customers and among their customers,” noted The Millennial Generation Research Review from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

“[Millennials] have the confidence to stand up for what they believe and the confidence, technology and network to voice their opinions.” It’s estimated that up to 80 percent of Millennials are willing to share information about their brand preferences online, the report noted.

The oldest Millennials are coming into their prime purchasing-power years. Although the Great Recession of 2008–2010 resulted in this generation getting a late start with adulthood markers such as securing professional employment and owning a home, this generation is beginning to gain economic traction.

The Pew Research Center’s report, Millennials: Confident. Connected. Open to Change, noted, “[A] nine-in-ten either say that they currently have enough money or that they will eventually meet their long-term financial goals.” Although just 31 percent of Millennials say they currently earn enough money to lead the life they want to, 88 percent believe they will earn enough in the future, the report noted.

Even though they face economic challenges the older generation may not, Millennials are aware of, interested in, and utilizing massage therapy, perhaps at a much earlier age than did baby boomers.

Massage therapist Kym Berner said she sees many 17- to 30-year-olds at the Massage Envy Spa she worked at (at the time this article was written) in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

“They are using cell phones and tablets frequently and need the trapezius and neck work,” she said. “With all the things going in the world and in their hectic lives, they may not necessarily possess the coping mechanisms that their elders do, and need a way to decompress.”

Massage, Berner said, can be the gateway for Millennials to find “the connection with their own body, mind and spirit.”      

The marketing signs all indicate it’s time for massage therapists to utilize social networking, texting, blogging, videos and communication technology in ways that capture the interest of the Millennial generation — which by 2020 will comprise 33 percent of the U.S. adult population.

They are your next generation of massage clients.

About the Author:

Karen Menehan is MASSAGE Magazine’s editor in chief.