You want to get more massage customers — but most massage therapy marketing runs counter to the evidence provided by the best available research.
Client education isn’t always consistent with current science, either.
We can change that.
As a former marketing professional who wrote ad copy, designed print ads and developed angles to convert reluctant buyers into regular customers, I have paid a lot of attention to how massage therapy practices, methods, tools and personalities are marketed.
Very little of this marketing ever cites supporting research, and some claims are completely contradicted by a basic knowledge of anatomy and physiology. Clearly, this approach to marketing works for a lot of people, but is it consistent with ethical, professional practice?
No, it isn’t. Check the ethical codes published by the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork, Alliance for Massage Therapy Education, state boards of massage therapy, and other professional organizations in our industry.
Most have guidelines regarding how we represent our credentials, what we do — and the limitations of what we do. Even Minnesota, which lacks state licensing, has a statute for all massage and bodywork providers that prohibits, among other things, “Advertising that is false, fraudulent, deceptive, or misleading.”
Consequently, my business partner and I have attempted to stay abreast of research. Our marketing and client education have changed to reflect that, and we have provided updates to our employees as needed. This has been extremely beneficial in building our business.
Keep Up with Research to Get More Massage Customers
Since pain is one of the primary reasons people seek massage therapy, we encourage all of our massage therapists to learn about current pain science, which is based on a rapidly growing mountain of research. Dependable sources of research on massage include the Massage Therapy Foundation and the Touch Research Institute.
Understanding the biopsychosocial models of pain and therapy, and how those are applicable to massage, is incredibly helpful throughout the process of establishing rapport, intake conversations, all hands-on work and client education throughout.
There’s No Need to Charge Extra
While many of our competitors have been adding upgrades and services to their menus, sometimes making outrageous claims about their effects, we have stripped those claims from our ads and simplified our service menu.
Instead of charging extra fees for the use of hot packs, stretching, taping, cupping or more pressure, we charge a price high enough to eliminate the need for extra fees. This permits our therapists the freedom to use whatever they know is best suited for each client’s needs — and our clients don’t have the stress of trying to decide whether to pay more for add-ons that may or may not be helpful.
There is a great deal of research examining the non-specific effects (both placebo and nocebo) of the treatment environment, how we present ourselves, how we communicate, what we say, what we do, whether we meet client expectations, how much we talk during the session, and other factors.
For the most part, these are things we have control over, and we can skillfully manipulate those factors to improve clinical outcomes with our clients, enhance client education and enhance our marketability.
Simplify Your Website to Get More Massage Customers
If you have a website, it will help form a new client’s first impression of your business, so make sure it works well, looks attractive and presents accurate information. Have someone go through it to find any spelling or grammatical errors, as those can undermine prospective clients’ confidence in you. If you can, have knowledgeable colleagues go through your website content to find any questionable claims or inaccurate information, too.
In updating our business website, we removed all claims related to:
- Blood circulation, toxins or metabolic byproducts
- Trigger points and pressure points
- Posture as a problem
- Energy, chakras and meridians
We removed these because there was insufficient research evidence to support the claims made on our old website.
Instead, we now have a page titled “Products and FAQs,” which briefly lists some of the retail products we offer, followed by a list of commonly asked questions and answers. For example:
What are the Benefits of Massage and Bodywork?
Massage is great for relaxation — but it can also help with a number of conditions. Some benefits of massage include:
- Reduced chronic muscle tension and pain
- More comfortable mobility and functional flexibility
- Better stress management
- Improved pain management
- Quicker recovery from musculoskeletal injuries
- Greater ease in any posture
- Helpful for symptoms of anxiety, depression, and PTSD
- Faster return to training/performance for athletes, dancers and other active people
Aside from the fact that these claims are all supported by research, they also speak to the main reasons people come to us for massage.
Research and Contraindications
Though our FAQs also address potential contraindications, we do not mention pregnancy there, because it isn’t a contraindication. Research shows that massage can be safe throughout a pregnancy, and we will see pregnant clients at any time unless there is a good medical reason not to.
The same can be said of cancer and many other diagnosable conditions. Clients who are pregnant, undergoing cancer treatment, or receiving other medical care are scheduled only with therapists on our team who are comfortable working with them due to prior training and experience.
In this way, we can help those therapists update their knowledge and avoid perpetuating outdated and inaccurate ideas about massage and those conditions.
Don’t Miss the Details
Think about all the details involved in a typical client visit. Some may seem minor, but controlling as many factors as possible can make a big difference to your clients. For example:
- Have a practice that’s conveniently located, preferably near public transit or with ample free parking for clients who drive
- Maintain your facility well and decorate it to be pleasing to the eye
- Minimize odors of any kind
- Maintain a comfortable temperature and level of humidity
- Use sound, such as music or white noise, and dimmed or colored light to create a comfortable ambiance
- All linens, bolsters and other equipment should be obviously clean prior to the session
- The reception and waiting area should be welcoming and comfortable
- Have good personal hygiene
- Wear appropriate clothing consistent with your brand and the desired business image
- Start and finish sessions on time
- Have clear and consistent business policies and enforce them.
When interacting with clients, research shows it’s important to establish a rapport, or therapeutic alliance, prior to starting any hands-on work. Failure to do so increases the odds of poor outcomes and client dissatisfaction. On the other hand, good rapport contributes to improved satisfaction and better clinical outcomes.
Some factors we can control that help establish rapport include:
- Making eye contact with the client
- Using their preferred name and pronouncing it correctly
- Using their preferred pronouns
- Treating them with respect
- If they have special needs, asking what accommodations they might need
- Adjusting your speaking volume as needed
- Asking questions about the health history information they provide
- Giving them time to finish answering questions before moving on
- Asking follow-up questions based on any new information they provide
- Giving them treatment options
- Informing them about how you would like to work
- Obtaining informed consent.
Streamline your services and the marketing by which you promote them so that clients will better understand what you have to offer. Ground your hands-on care in current science and keep up with the research in this field to build your reputation and better assist clients.
Establish healthy rapport with clients for beneficial outcomes. Employ all these methods to build a practice grounded ethics and professionalism.
About the Author
Jason Erickson, BCTMB, CPT, is a former chronic pain patient who became a trainer, massage therapist and educator. He practices at and co-owns Eagan Massage Center in Eagan, Minnesota, teaches research-based continuing education classes and helps people. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.