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Debbie Gonzalez: How Massage Envy is Disrupting the Category - Again

Updated: Apr 9, 2018

Shifting perception about spa services from luxury service and price-based marketing to an essential part of our wellness routine.

Massage Envy
"Being something of a pioneer and now the category leader puts you on a different playing field in terms of brand awareness, consumer perceptions and credibility." Debbie Gonzalez, CMO Massage Envy

Babies, pets, and now wellness. With stints at Gerber and PetSmart prior to joining Massage Envy, the company’s chief brand officer Debbie Gonzalez, has spent her entire career in senior marketing roles at brands she is personally passionate about. Coming up on her second year with the company, Gonzalez is refreshing the brand with a new look and positioning as it embarks on its next phase.

In its recently launched advertising campaign ‘Because Everything’ Massage Envy

wants to help you manage the side effects of this wonderful thing we call living. Sounds inviting, doesn’t it? That’s exactly the strategy behind Massage Envy’s new brand positioning. It reminds us that everyday living takes a toll, and that total body care should be part of a total wellness routine right alongside eating right and exercise. It’s simple, yet profound, much like the concept that first put Massage Envy on the map: a membership-based business model that made massage therapy and skincare accessible to everybody in locations from coast to coast.

We had an opportunity to sit down with Gonzalez on why she joined the brand and the process she took to position this category leader for exponential success on into the future.

CMOO: You’ve been with Massage Envy for less than two years, but have already played an important role in a major rebrand. Tell us how those decisions were made.

DG: “It was clear to everyone in the company that with more than 1,100 locations, we were perfectly primed to build on an already amazing level of success, to define what we believe the brand should become, and to create that future.

Before Massage Envy entered the marketplace, people had the choice of splurging on expensive spa services or waiting until physical therapy was in order. As the brand that introduced the affordable and accessible massage service concept, the evolution of the brand was to underscore the benefits of a regular massage and facials as a wellness lifestyle, rather than just an occasional indulgence or luxury.”

CMOO: We’ve seen other brands attempt to duplicate your model. How has that affected your strategy?

DG: “While anyone can open a massage location, bringing loyal clients back again and again, by providing an expected level of quality and consistency is much more complex than you might realize.

However, what we’ve learned over the years did inspire us to do more than a simple rebrand and logo update. Our ‘Total Body Care’ vision focuses on how we stay proactive and position ourselves for continued success. We looked at the brand from the inside out, starting with our core values and company purpose and vision. We talked to everyone, from clients to franchisees. Out of these discussions came one critical shift: we moved from a mission-based statement to purpose-based statement, which puts the client front and center. That purpose is simply ‘to help people feel their best.’ And while the statement is simple, its meaning is quite profound. When you think about what that means for how we evolve our model and how we go to market, it’s very powerful.”

CMOO: Speaking of business models, how did you find the transition from senior marketing roles at non franchised brands to now being the Chief Brand Officer at a franchise system?

DG: “What’s interesting is that in my 12 years with PetSmart, I spent most of my time working with the merchandising team and our vendor partners, which is very similar influencer dynamic to a franchised system. Those large brands were heavily invested in our business, critical to our success, and an essential part of how we went to market and were included in every aspect of go to market strategies. The same is true of our franchisees so that experience is very relatable.”

CMOO: Tell us more about how your services are expanding beyond massage.

DG: “With our new advertising campaign entitled ‘Because Everything’ we wanted to introduce the concept of ‘Total Body Care’ as a cue to pause and check in and tune up. We think treating your body well shouldn’t be a luxury, but rather think of it as managing the side effects of living in the same way that working out and eating right are priorities for overall wellness.

We added skincare to our offerings about eight years ago, which has been a very high-growth area for us. In fact, Massage Envy has provided members and guests with more than 4 million facial services and 100 million combined massage and facial services to date. We plan to expand this area as well as our retail offerings, so that people can continue feeling their best after the appointment ends.”

CMOO: It’s clear that you’re passionate about “feel good” brands, which must make your work with Massage Envy quite enjoyable.

DG: “That’s very true. The arc of my career has brought me to brands I am personally passionate about. From Gerber to PetSmart, wellness was always at the forefront, which makes the work meaningful. At Massage Envy, we’re all passionate about making a difference. The individuals who work at Massage Envy wake up everyday with a shared purpose of wanting to help people feel their best. When you talk to franchisees, it’s clear that beyond Massage Envy’s solid business model, they were attracted to the idea of owning a business designed to help people. That kind of buy-in has informed and inspired our brand evolution and is quite unprecedented.”

CMOO: How involved were franchisees in the strategic evolution?

DG: “The interviews and surveys that were undertaken during the research phase of the brand refresh were done with our regional developers, therapists, clients, franchisees, associates, and other key players. We wanted a 360 view of brand perception across the board. We also wanted to know what franchisees hoped the future would look like. To have so many viewpoints included has allowed us to define the future of our brand with clear themes.

In a service model, when you’re bequeathing ownership of a brand vision to tens of thousands of people, ‘influence and inspiration’ are the name of the game. You must hand it over and trust that your vision is shared, while continuing to work with these partners to ensure they are achieving their goals.”

CMOO: Talk to us about that engagement process.

DG: “At our annual franchise conference, which draws 2,200 attendees, to our region-wide events, meaningful, ongoing engagement is our objective. From corporate down to every franchise location, we are continually evolving to support our brand promise at all levels. For instance, we printed the brand promise on small reference cards so that our front desk associates can access it with ease. After all, they are the first person that a client meets when they come through our doors. The positioning needs to be integrated into all of the training and messaging they do.”

CMOO: Tell us more about how you’re positioning yourselves for success in the future.

DG: “Being something of a pioneer and now the category leader naturally puts you in a different playing field in terms of brand awareness, consumer perceptions, and credibility. However, we are still part of a fairly young category, so we’re working diligently with our business partners to define the brand. Ensuring the Massage Envyvision is understood and owned by all makes it real for the consumer.”

CMOO: What’s the most rewarding aspect of your role as Chief Brand Officer?

DG: “I hear stories of personal transformation every day, and that is incredibly rewarding. Members tell us how chronic pain had been interfering with mobility, childcare, and everyday activities and how Massage Envy is helping them in truly dramatic ways. It speaks volumes about the power of holistic wellness. With more than 1.65 million members and counting, we know that total body care can really change your life.”

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