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Massage Envy’s Gonzalez Takes Health Of The Brand To Heart

Massage Envy chief brand officer Debbie Gonzalez is on a mission to educate consumers on the importance of “total body care,” with the hope of getting people to think differently about massages and skin-care services so that they incorporate them regularly into their lives.

That’s why the 14-year-old company--which has more than 1,000 franchises throughout the U.S.--kicked off a massive rebrand effort back in November that also focuses on attracting more men to its traditionally female-oriented client roster.

In this exclusive interview with CMO.com, Gonzalez detailed the rebrand, the company’s new targeting strategy, and how she measures success.

CMO.com: Can you talk a little bit about yourself and your career in marketing?
I’ve been with Massage Envy for about two years. I joined in 2014 and took the position of chief brand officer. I came most recently from PetSmart, where I spent 12 years in the marketing department in various different roles. Prior to that, I had started my marketing career at the Kellogg Company, Gerber Baby Food, and some time at Herman Miller out in Michigan; I did work during my time at Kellogg a little bit in Mexico, as well. Throughout my career, I’ve had the opportunity to focus on areas that I’m very personally passionate about--namely, health and wellness. The move to Massage Envy was a logical progression in that career path.

CMO.com: When and how did you first become interested in marketing?
Throughout graduate school, marketing was always a passionate passion of mine. I went to an international business school, and a lot of the programs we had there were real-life projects with real companies. Kellogg was one of the companies that had come to the school, and I took on an internship with them in Mexico. That was it for me. It was love at first sight in terms of the work and the diversity of the work, as well as the progression of the industry. There’s never been a day that’s the same or a challenge that’s the same. That’s what’s kept me interested.

CMO.com: What does a typical day look like for you?
My role is two-part. I manage what we call the employee brand and the consumer brand. We are a franchise organization, but as we developed what we want the brand to become and the vision for the brand, we knew that it was important for us to also define what that meant on the employee and brand side. I manage both sides of that, and I have someone that’s in charge of the employee brand in addition to the SVP of marketing on the consumer side.

I’ve been tasked to set a vision for the culture for people who work in the franchise locations. That means things like the programs that we offer to attract people to the brand and keeping them as well.

CMO.com: What is your biggest challenge?
When I took on this role, the brand was about 12 years old and growing very quickly. We had the advantage of entering a white space, since services such as massage and skin care were reserved for kind of high-end experiences. Massage Envy was able to bring those experiences to people and make them more affordable. We grew over the 12 years to over 1,100 locations and with great success. I quickly realized that our mission isn’t just about making massage inexpensive or making sure that it was on every corner, but it was about making it an integral part of everyone’s wellness routine. I realized we needed to change the perceptions of the brand from “massage at a price point” to an integral part of people taking care of themselves. It’s not just about putting an ad on television.

CMO.com: Part of this has been adapting your marketing to males, right? Can you talk about that? I’ve bought my husband and dad spa packages that I end up using because they don’t want to go.
This was something that came out of segmentation research that we did. We found that 46% of men are getting a massage or skin care somewhere. Our percentage was much lower than that, and we figured out it was a perception issue. Massages are often seen and marketed as somewhere ladies go with their friends, and even things like the slippers and robes can prevent men from feeling like it’s something that they need or want to do.

We started by working on what we deliver, and now we are at the point where we are thinking about how we represent the brand. We had a logo and graphics that were very female-oriented. It was very scripted, soft, and very feminine. We wanted to move to something that was more gender-neutral so we didn’t give off the vibe that this is a place where only women go. You’ll now see us represent men much more equally in our advertising in all of our marketing. And the situations that we represent aren’t just people laying on tables. We present scenarios such as going for a run, traveling for work, and other relevant reasons from a lifestyle perspective that you should be getting a massage. These are all very relevant to men and women.

CMO.com: You’ve recently undergone a rebrand. Is this all about being inclusive of men, or is there more to it?
There’s absolutely more. That was one piece of it, but we saw several opportunities to revamp the brand identity. We did a lot of research, and we combed through a lot of research that we already had and saw several opportunities. We learned that we really didn’t have the credibility that represented us as a national brand and a leader. People would see how we were portrayed in our graphic look and feel and assumed we were a one-off experience. Most importantly, we wanted to start to represent the brand in a way that allowed us to go beyond massage and deliver total body care in our services over time. So we’ve delivered facials for many years, but there wasn’t great awareness of that. We are looking at other services for the future, too, so representing the brand as a total body care entity provides us a way to expand our services further.

CMO.com: To kick off this rebrand, you launched the “Because Everything” campaign. How is it different from Massage Envy marketing of the past?
The campaign launched last year in November and was meant to get consumers to think differently about both massage and skin care and also about the Massage Envy brand. So prior to that time, any of our advertising would have been very offer-oriented, very price point-oriented, showing people getting a massage or showing people getting a facial--very little of feature-function benefit, if you will. Today you’ll see us portray very relatable moments, such as sitting in the middle seat on a plane to a new workout. Those are all things that people encounter, and they can benefit from massage or skin care to manage the side effects of those parts of everyday living.

CMO.com: What have you had to do behind the scenes in terms of rallying employees and getting them behind this new brand message?
We introduced this brand message to our network in April 2015, well in advance of the campaign launch in November. We wanted to make sure that they understood it early. We launched it at our national conference, where we have over 2,000 attendees that are franchisees, managers, and regional developers, and we gave them the background on why we were doing this. We took them through the background of all of the learnings that we had had over the years and some of the newer ones around segmentation and the dynamics of how the industry was changing, what we knew about the consumer, what we knew about the perceptions of the brand, and some of that was very new to them. By giving them the background and explaining that this rebrand wasn’t a novelty, it got them to really rally behind the new brand message, long before we even kicked off our new campaign to introduce our new positioning.  

CMO.com: How are you measuring the success of the campaign?
We had always been doing brand tracking, but we put in a new program in advance of the campaign that was going to give us a little bit more granular learnings, allowing us to learn and modify on the fly. We are tracking things like brand awareness; we’ve seen monthly ticks up in that measurement since this campaign started. We had seen that metric stay relatively flat over the past couple years. We’ve also seen our numbers tick up in terms of the perceptions of the brand, the quality and expectations of the service, how people perceive the brand. Those are things that we’re continuing to track. We also look at business metrics, like guest counts. That one takes a little longer to measure, but we’ve seen some correlation to the “Because Everything” campaign and how it impacts our guest counts, as well. The lead metric we’re tracking is perception, but that is going to take longer to to see results.

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