It's All Marketing
By Josh Corman

SETH GODIN’S name is all but synonymous with marketing expertise, and the best-selling author, renowned speaker and Marketing Hall of Fame inductee shared his unique perspective with attendees of the 2021 ISPA Stronger Together Summit. In the Summit’s opening Power Session, Godin challenged the audience to redefine what they think of as successful marketing in the first place.

Defining Marketing Differently
Seth Godin began his session with a deceptively complex question for the ISPA community: “What is it that you make?” The answer isn’t as simple as listing the product your business manufactures or naming the feelings you hope your spa generates in guests, according to Godin: “My argument is that successful marketers make change happen. We are here, whatever it is we do, to change the state of somebody who has hired us, who has engaged with us, to cause a change to happen.”

It may not be found in Webster’s Dictionary, but this definition of marketing offers spa leaders the perfect opportunity to embrace a slightly (or completely, as the case may be) different lens through which to view their attempts to serve existing guests and reach new ones in the weeks, months and years ahead. After all, what industry is more focused on changing its customers’ state of being than the spa industry? The challenge, however, is that many spa leaders have not clearly defined the specific change that they are seeking to make in their guests through their services. The solution? Get specific. “Everything you do in your spa,” explained Godin, “has to have a reason, and that reason is [built] around two things: Who is it for? And what is it for?”

The answers to these questions must be clear and precise. The answer to the question, “Who is it for?” is no longer “everyone.” The days of one brand of ketchup in every refrigerator or only three TV networks to choose from are over. This proliferation of choice among consumers may, at first, seem to make marketing more difficult, but according to Godin, there’s a real freedom in leaving “everyone” behind and instead embracing a target that easier to define: “The internet makes it impossible to reach everyone, but you can reach someone. So our goal is not to say this is a compromise, but in fact, this is a tactic, a stepping stone on our way to making the change we seek to make for people who are like this. And we are being specific about it. We’re doing work that matters for people who care. We ignore the people who don’t care. That doesn’t matter.”

Though it may seem counterintuitive, shrinking your spa’s pool of potential guests to only those who need and are interested in the treatments and services the spa provides can actually make marketing more effective—and easier. As Godin put it, once a potential customer has voluntarily “enrolled,” or decided to make the choice to value what your spa offers, “suddenly, you don’t have to yell at them. You don’t have to go hunt them down. Suddenly, they are not prospects, they are students.” Viewing the people your spa markets to as students allows you to focus on educating them through the story of their experience with your spa because they are already bought into the value of the change you are trying to create. “Our goal is to be remarkable, with a story that resonates with people who are enrolled, that is unique enough that we are hard to replace, but not so unique that we don’t know what to do about it.”

To help develop that story, spa leaders must also answer the second of those two questions that Godin believes should define everything you do in your spa: What is it for? When you can clearly define the change that your spa is seeking to make and who it is that has enrolled in the choice to value that change, you have the ingredients for a resonant story that aligns your offerings with your guests’ needs.

Positioning vs. Differentiation
A big part of what draws people to certain brands, products or stories is the status they convey and the desire that status creates to become and remain affiliated with what that brand, product or experience represents. One challenge facing the spa industry is that there is often no obvious and visible indication of a guest’s affiliation with a spa or its services like there is when someone wears branded clothing or purchases a new car. As Godin observed, “You look really relaxed. Did you just get a massage?” is not a question most of us are likely to hear.

So how, then, to confer status, engender affiliation and inspire the kinds of word-of-mouth testimony that can drive guests into your spa? Or, as Godin put it, “How do you create an environment where it’s likely that I will talk about it?” His answers to that question skewed far from the traditional. Among Godin’s suggestions: opening a spa with an unlisted phone number so that only people who knew about it could visit the spa or giving gift certificates to your most engaged guests that can only be used by someone other than the guest themselves. The point of these kinds of unorthodox moves is that they generate conversation. If the person who uses that gift certificate has a great experience, it’s likely that they’ll talk about that experience and the spa that provided it. It’s also likely that, because the certificate was given to that person by someone already enrolled in the idea of spa, they are more likely to enroll in that idea themselves.

Bold steps like these may at first seem to be about differentiating your spa from the competition in an effort to stand out, but Godin drew a distinction between differentiation, which he defined as an attempt to illustrate why your business is better than others, and positioning. “Positioning means I will send away business often if I can sense that the person I’m engaging with is not somebody who I am optimized to serve,” Godin said, adding: “What you’re able to do is say, ‘For people who believe this, and for people who want that, we’re the only one. If you don’t believe this, or you don’t want that, here’s the phone numbers of five other people who can help you. And if you are not eagerly sending people to other opportunities, then you’re differentiating, then you’re hustling and you’re trying to be everything to everyone. What I’m pushing hard for here is begging you to be specific, to be on the hook, to be really clear about who it’s for and what it’s for.”

Krulak’s Law
What does retired United States Marine Corps General Charles Krulak know about operating a spa? It’s a fair question, but one that Seth Godin had a ready answer for. Krulak’s Law, as it’s known, states: “The future of an organization is in the hands of the privates in the field, not the generals back home.” On his blog last year, Godin offered this translation of the law for businesses: “The experience people have with your brand is in the hands of the person you pay the least. Act accordingly.”

No matter how well trained, well compensated, well educated or well regarded a spa’s leaders and executives are, the reality is, as Godin noted, that the guest experience is affected far more by the front desk staff, attendants and service providers who they interact with than by the people at the top of the org chart. “The receptionist is the Vice President of Marketing when I walk in,” Godin elaborated. “And that person who you hired last week to do pedicures? They’re the Senior Vice President of Marketing for that hour they’ve got my feet in their hands. They’re the marketing department.”

Godin recognized that this view may require a shift in thinking on the part of spa leaders, many of whom may have difficulty relinquishing the responsibility of marketing to those team members with whom guests interact most frequently. The bigger shift though, as Godin argued, may be that recognizing this reality will force spas to consider how they manage those employees. “What it probably means is you’re going to have to train people more, pay them more, reward them better, figure out how to give them the authority, the responsibility, the dignity [and] the flexibility to be your marketing department, ‘cause that’s all you sell, right?”

As with nearly all of the insights Seth Godin shared with the ISPA community, this advice encourages something of a paradigm shift in the way that spas approach—and even define—marketing. But as he pointed out, that shift has nothing to do with the length of your treatments or the products your therapists use and everything to do with how you connect those—and all the other parts of the spa experience—to a story worth telling for people who need to hear it. After 15-plus months of coping with the effects of a global pandemic, there is little doubt that spas have a story worth telling, and that there are plenty of people who need to hear it. The time has come to start telling those stories.


Footsteps on the Moon
For all of Seth Godin’s brass-tacks advice about reaching new guests and building brands, he still brought plenty of high-minded inspiration to the Stronger Together Summit. Perhaps the most inspiring moment of his session was a story he told about meeting the one and only Neal Armstrong at a conference in New Mexico. As Armstrong stood outside, speaking to attendees, he turned to face the enormous full moon hanging in the sky and said, “I’ve been there.”

“So when you feel like the pandemic, like current events, like the employee shortage, like the ability or inability to get where you’re going is too hard, just realize that in 1969, the sum computing power that NASA had at its disposal was less than the phone in your pocket,” Godin said. “And yet they pulled it off. Go outside and look up and realize that there are footprints on the moon, that what you are seeking to do is to offer solace to some people who can afford it, and who desperately want it. And now our opportunity or challenge is to figure out how to be specific, how to be empathic, how to be consistent, how to tell a true story to people who want to hear it and help them get to where they want to go.”