I recently moderated a panel on marketing health and wellness to consumers at the New York Spa Alliance. As is often the case at spa industry events, the “pampering vs. wellness” debate popped up. Is pampering an important part of wellness? Or should spas avoid referencing pampering at all cost lest they be perceived as a luxury indulgence? Both sides of the debate were represented in the forum.
If you’ve read my prior articles on “In Defense of Pampering” or heard me speak on this at other industry events (video), you know that I am a passionate proponent of pampering (say that three times fast.)
Note: for other examples you could also see “Pampering is not a Dirty Word” or my recent “Hugs for Sale” article on professional snugglers (a profession I support, although I have not had an opportunity yet to experience the service.)
At the conference, Todd Walter, the CEO of Red Door Spas, showed some interesting research from the International Spa Association suggesting that spas do a good job of marketing to consumers around the top two themes that they are looking for in spas: relaxation and stress relief. But the next three consumer desires were underrepresented in our marketing: pampering, indulgence and escape. This is what consumers are looking for, but spas don’t want to market this because it sounds too frivolous.
Todd also talked about the importance of differentiation as a strategy for success in the spa industry, and I couldn’t agree more. In a side conversation, I mentioned to one of the attendees, “a spa brand could become very successful by marketing themselves as being all about pampering and indulgence.”
“I’m not so sure about that,” she replied, “everyone is afraid to market themselves around pampering.”
“That’s exactly why someone could be successful by doing it.” If everyone is going one way, someone can stand out from the crowd by offering a different perspective. Especially when it’s exactly what consumers are asking for (to test this, just do a twitter search for “spa” and “pampering” any day of the week and see what consumers have to say.)
Susie Ellis, the President and CEO of SpaFinder Wellness and the President of the Global Spa and Wellness Summit, said that the industry used to be too focused on pampering. But then the pendulum swung the other way towards wellness and this has been good for the evolution of spa (although pampering became a dirty word for a while.) But now we are being reminded that pampering and wellness are not exclusive concepts . . . pampering is also important and spas are finding the right interaction between these two concepts (certainly better than most of our other healing institutions.)
Susie’s comment holds true as I do see that more spas are marketing pampering today than they were just a couple of years ago (again, search.twitter.com.)
Spa and wellness consultant, Mia Kyricos, who was also on the panel, said wisely, “My wellness needs are different every day. One day I might know I need to eat better or exercise more. But some days I might just feel ugly and the best thing I can do for my wellbeing is a beauty treatment. Or maybe I just need to do something that feels good.” Wellness is personal, and there are many paths to achieving it.
Pampering is not only about indulgence. Sometimes, it’s just what the doctor ordered.
So how do we know when pampering is an important part of wellness or a frivolous pursuit? Maybe it has to do with the intention behind it and how mindful it is. My favorite comment of the day came from a member of the audience, Sallie Fraenkel (also from SpaFinder Wellness,) who said, “There is such a thing as pampering on purpose.”
by Jeremy McCarthy
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Jeremy–this is great food for thought. You’re right–people are afraid to make a treatment sound like it’s for pampering-purposes. Also to your point, I agree that most menu write-ups now focus on showing the physical benefits of a service, whereas at first (when spas were becoming popular and more common), they’d try to make the treatment sound relaxing and luxurious.
I believe the downturn in the economy played a part in this. Clients I’ve spoken with said they felt guilty and selfish spending money on something they felt was “frivolous” and didn’t show tangible results. Similarly, they felt more comfortable giving a gift certificate to someone else for a spa service than they did spending this money on themselves.
That being said I think in all things, the pendulum tends to settle somewhere in the middle. Giving yourself a break from every day stressors and having a bit of time to tune into yourself are so vital to our health. Especially nowadays when technology has enabled, and created a desire for instant gratification and people are trying to match that speed and productivity.
I must admit, when I first heard the word “pampering”, it felt an instant resistance to it. Why? because to me it means an indulgence. A luxury I do not NEED. An extravagance rather than a healthy albeit fun choice. I think my worker/doer bee got into a sting over the true meaning of that word.
What do I NEED vs what do I CHOOSE to do for ME. It was me sparring with the professional vs personal. Very interesting. I would love to have been on that panel. What fun to ponder.
When I mindfully sat back and observed my immediate negative response, my feelings became clearer. I was too defensive re: what I need vs what I want. Truth be known, I realize I use massage for therapeutic value but also pampering. I never had given that thought wings till now.
I DO think it is my one indulgence. To spend that money on myself. I have often said, “I am boring, (tongue in check.) I don’t smoke or drink nor spent much money (OK, except if travel is on the horizon, I NEED to explore.)
Weekly massages literally saved my life 13 years ago after a bad car accident. I have chronic pain and scar tissue that bites and can’t sit for a long time. I am forever to my massage therapist who I have had for 15 years. She helps me immensely. Massage to me is a necessity and perhaps pampering, but personally that is not the word I would like.
Just my thoughts. I like “A gift of healthy happiness I choose to give myself.”
I forgot to mention how much I enjoyed and related to your phrase, “vital to our health”.
I totally agree.
Denise, you are right, the economy has a lot to do with spas turning away from pampering and indulgence as people are worried about being labeled a luxury during tough times.
Judy, I call what you describe, the “pampering paradox.” People do have an adverse reaction to pampering because we are conditioned to think we should be productive all the time and doing something simply because it feels good, does seem like an indulgence and unnecessary. And yet, we also know the research that feeling good is important for our health and wellbeing. It is interesting to consider this in the context of research on willpower also. People somtimes need to indulge so they can give their willpower a break for a while. So indulgences are good and a part of what makes them good is that we think they are bad. (It sounds like a zen koan!)
Hi, Jeremy. Love your “zen Koan” how original. You are so right re: the pampering paradox. This morning I was looking at my nails and thinking, “I have done my own nails for years. I do not like doing them. I used to go and get them done. What is with that…I am busy. What is my time worth?”
I paused to ask myself what my internal dialogue was. It was, “You are going to Italy and Croatia in July. You can save the $75 and spent there.” Interesting. As if it was a choice of either or.
What IS the value of my time?
Then I wondered if men in general go through this same bargaining. Do you know about the research on this, Jeremy. Entitlement? Self Care? Luxury? Do they question spas as a luxury vs self-care?
Love the connection to Willpower as mine is at the top! I can delay gratification with the best of them. Blame good thing I love being a coach and feel so much joy watching others soar to wellness and happiness, too.
Yes the teacher needs to learn…;)
Thanks for your ever-inspiring wisdom, Jeremy.
Judy, thanks for your vital-to-our-health mention. To Jeremy’s point about the pampering paradox, it’s so funny because I’m absolutely one of those people who feel like I need to be doing something productive, all the time. And yet I’m completely aware of the need to just “be” with myself and how productive that is in the grand scheme of things. On top of that, you’d think that by working in the spa industry I’d perhaps be a little less Type A…interesting.
As an aside, I just noticed the pie chart above which shows “healing centers that people enjoy visiting”. Hilarious! Yet so true. As I looked at that, I found myself thinking about how most people probably don’t view spas as a healing centers. Which takes us back to the whole pampering vs. wellness discussion, I suppose. A never-ending circle!
I love knowing you and I are in the Type A club and smiling in awareness. I love being an “A”, too. Life is always filled for stuff for me to savor.
When my son was born, I looked at his incubator. It had “A+” on it. I teased the nurse he got the top grade in the nursery not to mention was a chip off the old Mom block for personality:. She roared. His blood type was the same as mine.
Spas as the only healing centers is brilliant marketing based on truth. BIG TIME will be when insurance companies finally comprehend WELLNESS saves them money! I hope I live to see it, not that spas would want to enter that nasty arena as we clinical psychologists know. it took us years to fight Washington to get insurance coverage, only now to have coverage less and less. Sad. but I digress.
I also agree about the gift certificate. I once received a hefty spa gift certificate to the American Club in Kohler WI about 40′ from here. I never could find a time that worked. I gave the several spa treatments ( hold on, you will love this) to my massage therapist. she was thrilled as she had never been. It was a win win. At my age now, you bet I would find time to go, but 15 years ago, I was hell-bent on working all the time but was always happy doing it. Now I FEEL life a whole lot more. I enjoy mid 60’s wellness and hope and pray to keep it that way.
I hope working for the spa industry is fun and rewarding, Denise. A secret fantasy I have always had would be to be a spa tester. To go to spas all over the world and report back on the treatment. Talk about a dream job!
GREAT discussion. Jeremy you are a blessing to the Spa and PP arenas.