What’s in a name?

Do you really know who your customers are?

That customer database that you’ve been developing over the years can be an amazing asset. But, if you’re like most smaller businesses, you probably have a customer name, an email address and maybe if you’re lucky some additional details like home address, products and services purchased, etc.

The problem with limited information in the database is that the less you have the less you know. The less you know, the more you treat all of your customers the same. Should a 65-year-old woman receive the same offers and communications as a thirty-year-old male? Should a physically active younger person receive offers on arthritis medications? Imagine the ROI on that email.

We recently asked one of our clients to give us the names on their email list. It was quite extensive. This client has over 14,000 names on it. And yes, all had been receiving the same email communications over the years. Through our data visualization partner, we were able to run the database through an analysis and turn the names into deep, insightful marketing information. In fact, we now have the capability to turn a name into 210 different data points. From their age, to where they live, to the value of their homes, to what they buy, to what their interests are etc.  Yes, big brother is watching you.

How is this possible? Once we receive a name as well as whatever other information is possible, like an address, the technology reaches out to credit bureaus, online profiles etc. and pieces together an entire picture of your customers. We’re then able to see logical groupings from a 100,000 foot view. Then, we can segment even further to interest, location, age, income, etc.  We may find that our audience is primarily 55+, retired, interested in golf and travel. Well, now we know something to make an entirely more relevant communication.

Where we used to have one segment (everyone) we may end up with numerous. Then we can test each segment to see what communications move the needle as each segment will respond differently. This is how we can begin to move marketing from an expense into an investment.

Make 2012 the year you get closer to your customers. If you need a little help, give us a call.

Hot Stone Communications

ROI communications for health, beauty and wellness brands

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Spas and Dish Soap

As a communications agency that focuses on wellness brands, we’ve come across lots of different types of clients. All of them come to us looking for the same thing, “we’re ready to go to the next level,” they say.


Before we begin, I tell them that we need to get a deeper understanding about their brand. A little soul searching if you will. “Who are you?” I ask. I look at their deer caught in the headlights expression and deduce a few things on my own. They don’t know. The collateral I typically see are pieces filled with stock photo pictures of people relaxing or having a treatment. The same ones you’ve seen a million times. The services menu proudly displays a list of available services under a picture of a smiling woman having a massage: Swedish massage and a price. Deep Tissue Massage and a price. Hot Stone Massage and a price.” You get the idea.

What most spa owners, and frankly countless others, seem to forget is they have a competitive set; other businesses that offer the same spa services.  When there are enough of them in your competitive set, and you all deliver essentially the same services, we call you a commodity because your industry is commoditized.

Here’s a good definition of commoditized: “The act of making a process, good or service easy to obtain by making it as uniform, plentiful and affordable as possible. Something becomes commoditized when one offering is nearly indistinguishable from another.”

“Nearly indistinguishable from another.” Sound familiar?

I hate to burst your bubble spa owners, but you’re in a commoditized business. You got two options. Lower your prices and be the high volume leader because price wins in a commoditized world. Or, differentiate your services and maybe even raise prices. I prefer the latter.

There are so many spas that offer Swedish massage, deep tissue and virtually every other option that you and your offering just becomes another option for consumers to consider. With so many options out there, why would someone choose you? Why are you special? Are you special in the areas that actually interest a prospect?

Let’s look at another commoditized industry and see how they handle it. I can’t think of a better example than the dish soap business. You know that aisle at your supermarket full of different bottle shapes, colors and sizes? That is your problem in a nutshell. That’s what your business looks like to your customers and prospects.

What the dish soap companies realized early on is that they all deliver essentially the same thing – a product to clean your dishes. When there are over 20 entrants in the category that all do the same thing, what do you do to stand out? First, you figure out what is important to your target audience. They want clean dishes and more. What’s the more? Well, some dish soap, “cleans down to the shine.” Some dish soap is, “better for your hands.” While other dish soap, “is antibacterial.” Now the target audience has a choice to make because we’ve given them something else to consider. It’s more than dish soap now. Get it?

So you are a spa with massage and facial services. Now is the time to really consider what your “more” is. Maybe it’s how you deliver your services or the environment that your services are delivered in. Maybe that’s a place you can create stronger differentiation.

I had the pleasure of going to the Osmosis Spa in Northern California several years ago. They have their own signature treatment where you rest in Japanese wooden tubs filled with a fragrant blend of finely ground cedar, rice bran and plant enzymes. It’s kind of like a mud bath except they substituted a warm bed of softly ground evergreens for mud. The warmth is generated biologically by some sort of enzyme action, creating its own gentle penetrating heat and is quite a nice experience. That treatment is what made them well known and is clearly a solid element to use for differentiation. But, what made the whole experience wonderful for me was from the first moment I walked into Osmosis, everyone whispered to me. It was the most serene environment overlooking Japanese gardens. But what made it special was the fact that the staff made it a point to be as quiet as possible in order to respect my need for peace. I remember that to this day.

Therefore, how they delivered their service was differentiated. They whispered. They respected peace. Now, even years later, I don’t remember the massage, but what I do recall the most was that Osmosis was one of the nicest spa experiences I have ever had.

So what is your differentiation? What makes you special? What will your customers remember about their experience with you? Are you a spa with real differentiation or just dish soap?

If you’re having a hard time figuring that out. Give us a call. We’d love to help you. Hot Stone Communications. 415 235 8111.

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“Goose” your Spa Marketing Efforts

Goose your marketing

We continually get calls from potential spa clients that are all looking for the same thing—“please help me grow my business, quick!”

If I had a quarter for every time I heard that, I could almost pay our office rent.

There are many strategies available for growing a business. Some are more immediate and predictive than others. PR and advertising are great but they do take some time to get up and running before they yield a return so when I hear a client ask for an immediate return, I wonder what kind of goose they have. Yep. You heard me right.

I ask the same question each time, “do you have a database with the emails of your current and past customers?”

“Yes,” is the typical reply. “What have you done with it?” I ask.

“Not really anything besides mailing an occasional coupon,” is the standard response.
“Ahh. So you’re the type of business that wants to have a relationship with your customer while their standing at the cash register with their wallet open but after that it’s over?” You can guess their answer–because it’s probably a lot like yours.

On average, the spas we’re helping have approximately 5,000+ email addresses in their database. Let’s be clear. That database is your goose that laid the golden egg.

So at this point, our prospect’s goose is mortified, under nourished and considering moving to another business; one that loves and cares for golden egg laying geese.

So I explain, “that client database you have. It’s filled with names that have successfully passed through the first hurdle in your marketing effort—Awareness. They’re the ones who have already selected to do business with you out of the myriad of other choices. They are your first and best opportunity at fast revenue” Unlike PR and advertising, where there will be some level of a gamble depending on your story and budget, database marketing, CRM and social media activities will deliver a predictable and faster result.

Now here’s the big idea!

Why don’t you light up that database with a marketing effort that transitions your old clients and prospects from a quiet and solitary database to a social media platform, where they can help you grow your business by competing for monthly prizes all while promoting your brand to their friends and family.

Here’s how it works:

Develop an HTML email that reintroduces your brand and offering to your database list. Hit them with a compelling unique value proposition that is powerful and relevant. Invite them to join your Facebook page where just by being a “fan” they are eligible to win monthly free treatments (Incentives are critical for action).

After you begin to apply the status update strategy that I discussed in my last post, you’ll soon have the opportunity to access thousands of potential prospects all with the power of a recommendation from a close and trusted friend.

So here’s some math. There are 5000 names in your database. At least 1000 of them are dead as a doornail by now as people quit their email addresses faster than a job at a fast food restaurant. Let’s say that 3000 actually take you up on your offer (everyone wants something for free you know) and they join your Facebook page. Since each Facebook user on average has 140 friends. That means that your status updates will now have the opportunity to reach approximately 420,000 prospects. That’s called leverage. Now, you just need to learn how to strategically manage status updates.

So, go find your goose. Give it a hug and maybe some water and go grow your business.

And as always, if we can help you in any fashion, please feel free to reach out to us.

We’re here to help. www.HotStoneCommunications.com.


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How to use Social Media for Spa and Wellness brands

Growing your social media presence takes care and feeding


You’ve officially jumped on the social media bandwagon. Much like the internet craze during the dot com days where companies had no idea what the internet was, but they knew their business needed to be on it, the social media craze feels the same to me.  In my career I’ve been responsible for putting more dot com brands online than Yahoo. And, even Yahoo was a client of mine.  I’ve also been responsible for Facebook followings of more than 1,500,000 fans so needless to say, I’ve learned a few things that I’ll share with you.

Where did this social media craze come from? Well, it was born out of necessity. You see, we as a society, have been let down by the icons that we used to believe in. In a nutshell, we’ve lost faith. We’ve lost faith in all those institutions that we used to believe in because we’ve since learned that they didn’t feel the same way about us nor about their responsibility. To put a finer point on it, we’ve lost faith in our politicians. We’ve lost faith in our religions. We’ve lost faith in our beloved brands. Since when does Tylenol create their children’s brands in a facility that has the cleanliness of a Mexican jail? Since when do politicians have affairs with prostitutes? Well, its been happening for awhile but now through the power of instantaneous communications we know about it and it rocks us to our cores. Don’t even get me started on the clergy.

The one thing we haven’t lost faith in is our friends and family. Our friends and family won’t lie to us and steer us a wrong direction. It is for this reason that social media has become the tactic de jour for those seeking to market their brands, products and/or services. Because, unlike other tactics, social media relies upon our evangelist customers to help sell for us. And, since our customers are doing the heavy lifting for us, the result is a more authentic recommendation that doesn’t smack of marketing.  Interestingly enough, the millennial audience (those born between mid 1970’s to 2000) does not want to be marketed to. In fact, they dislike it so much they will go out of their way to avoid being “marketed to.” Consider this, two “viral videos” were created by a large cell phone manufacturer.  One video contained branding at the end of it and the other contained a URL only. The version with no branding had approximately 1.2 million views. The version with the branding received less than 200,000. Therefore, audiences were more willing to share messaging that wasn’t perceived as marketing.

The main message here is that social media allows your brand to receive authentic support from it’s best audience. What’s more? Those evangelist customers now have the ability to communicate their support of your brand to their “friends.”  According to Facebook, the average number of friends that each Facebook user has is approximately 130 – 150.  That means every time an evangelist customer says something nice about you in their newsfeed, 130 – 150 other friends see and are affected by that message. The viral growth that can happen as a result of this affect is astounding. We call this strategy “buzzing the newsfeed.”

Ok, so back to social media and your spa. I’m sure you’re proud of yourself because you put a Twitter account and a Facebook page up, but so far the viral spread hasn’t happened and your wondering where the magic is? If so, you’re just like every other spa looking for the tidal wave of business with zero cost.

So why isn’t it working? Simple. You’re using it wrong.

Twitter is the tool for communicating time critical news and offers. Facebook is the place to create dialogs. I’ll explain.

Southwest Airlines made over $3,000,000 dollars last year by sharing last minute travel deals on their Twitter account. Here is an actual tweet: “Southwest Airlines Offers $39 One-Way Fares Between PHL/PIT & PHL/BOS Area (taxes, fees, & exclusions apply): http://cot.ag/90t6ul” This is great because it tells their fans about an actual deal that they can take advantage of right now. It’s not about being friends here. It’s about providing value to their customers (at least the ones who care enough about Southwest to follow)

Now, on the other hand, Facebook is an entirely different animal with a very different required strategy.

Facebook is about creating dialog with your customers and having them help to spread the word. Therefore, those of you who thought it was a great idea to link both your Twitter and Facebook status messages are blowing it because you are not recognizing how to appropriately leverage their respective strengths.

Facebook is about creating dialog, not promoting your latest price point for a massage. Lets backtrack a moment.  Remember that viral opportunity with Facebook that so many are looking for? Well, you don’t get it by merely saying “Massage sale this weekend.” The goal is create and promote conversation that your fans will want to support. It’s through their support that your message becomes viral. Either by them clicking the “like” button so that their 130-150 friends see that they like a particular message or brand which in turn can be rebroadcast by new friends and so on and so on. Or, you create and spur conversations that ask your current fans to dimensionalize their experience in such a way as to help you market your brand or service.  In this case, your fans are your new advertising copywriters and based on their assessment or review of your service they are automatically selling their network, as all in their network will see their response.

So what’s a better Facebook message than ‘Massages on sale this weekend?” Here’s an example from a resort I love in Fiji.

Jean-Michel Cousteau Fiji Islands Resort DYK: Our massage therapists are trained at the renowned Post Ranch Inn. Read a rave review of our spa here!”  Solid key message delivered that when rebroadcast through “liking” or commenting to those who are unaware of the resort they will have received a strong and memorable key message. That status update can stand on its own to help position the resort as a first rate experience.  Here’s another great one:” Jean-Michel Cousteau Fiji Islands Resort Take a kayak out into the Savusavu Bay and experience the serenity of the South Pacific.” This is a core activity at the resort in Fiji. There were 21 people who “liked” that message and 5 additional comments that dimensionalized their own Fijian actual kayaking experience further. That means that using 140 friends as the median number of friends, that the resort, through earned media, delivered a message to potentially 2640 new prospects with implied endorsement. That’s powerful.

So what do you take away from this? When you use Facebook try to spur conversation. The more conversation that happens as it relates to your status update, the more potential viral spread will happen. Therefore, do not simply promote a message of massage or facial sale; try describing your treatment and its ingredients. Give people an angle to comment on, “I never tried it before but I loved my cranberry facial,” “I melted over the Hot Stone treatment” What is fabulous about how you deliver the treatment? Enlist your followers to tell their experiences — it is through their eyes and their experience that you will gain a lager following, but you need to set yourself up for success in the first place with status updates that are worthy of response.

Make sense? So please, take a closer look at your social marketing messaging and think of how you can spur dialog, not promote a sale.  And, as always, if you need a little help, call Hot Stone Communications we can handle all of it and more for you.

Hot Stone Communications is a communications agency that focuses on the spa and wellness industries. Located in the San Francisco Bay Area, Hot Stone Communications utilizes a fusion of public relations, advertising and social media marketing to help smaller spas and wellness clients define their brand, acquire new clients and turn current clients into evangelists. For more information on how we can help you, contact us:


415 235 8111.

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Consultant vs agency–the age old debate

Courting the press is a time consuming process, and many business owners, particularly entrepreneurs who wear multiple hats, lack the time, desire or expertise to manage a solid PR campaign. If you own a small business, you’re most likely better off using a small boutique agency or a consultant. A “small potato” account will usually be treated as such at a larger firm and relegated to junior personnel who are going to be learning on your dime. Better to take that dime and give it to a focused boutique agency or consultant to extract every ounce of its value.

Cost is another factor. The average big PR agency will bill senior staff time at $250 per hour and junior time at approximately $125 per hour plus fees for overhead and administrative efforts.

Leaner boutique firms, such as Hot Stone Communications, tend to command lower fees than bigger firms since they don’t support bloated executive talent, enormous office space and corresponding overhead.

Free agent consultants with little to no overhead will charge the least at approximately $75-$100 per hour. A recent report I read (I don’t recall the source but I will locate it and update this when I do) stated that the average monthly retainer for spas was between $4,000 – $6,000 per month. The highest was $10,000 and the lowest was $2,000 per month. Beware of the lowest bid. This is one of your biggest decisions as a business owner. Don’t base your decision solely on price.

Before selecting a PR firm, learn the answers to the following questions: 1. Who exactly will be working on your account–senior or junior staff and at what percentage dedication. 2) How does the firm intend to measure it’s success 3) Take some time to review their big and not so big hits. Does their work speak to you and your brand? Are they the kind of people you would want to have dinner with? Because you will be having dinner and some of the folks I’ve met would only warrant a quick cup of coffee.

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PR or advertising for your spa or wellness brand?

Your consumers are so bombarded with advertising that it’s no surprise they are tuning advertising messaging out — especially from the companies they have never heard of before. That means your one-off efforts to win customers probably hasn’t worked out that well has it?

Public relations has become the preferred communication strategy among progressive marketers hoping to build new products or service brands from the ground up.

A study by the research firm Erdos & Morgan for the American Advertising Federation found that among 1800 corporate executives canvassed–PR was ranked third in order of importance behind product development and strategic planning–among various business initiatives used to meet sales and marketing objectives. Advertising came in sixth. The perfect blend of both is ultimately the goal of any brand with long term success on their mind.

The down side of choosing PR over advertising is that it means relinquishing some of the control over your message. But the upside is that it often gives businesses a critical third party “plug” from a credible source. Consider the mere nod from Oprah that can catapult a new author onto the New York Times best seller list.

Additionally, while ad buys are static–when they are over, they are over, a good PR strategy has “legs.” In other words, the news item gets additional exposure as other press outlets pick it up.

Ultimately, Public Relations is part of a larger communications strategy that applies the right amount of PR and advertising simultaneously to move the needle effectively, and if done correctly, with positive ROI.

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Growing your Spa in a Slow Economy

Many small to medium sized spa or spa products businesses are making important decisions about their communications programs at this slow point in our nations economy. Unfortunately for some, their decisions to save money can ultimately cost them their customers in the long run. Communications budgets do not have to be six or seven figures to move the needle for your business. Public Relations can be a relatively inexpensive and quite powerful tool if used correctly.

Given the slow current economic climate, many companies are afraid to invest in advertising or marketing activities–thinking they are making the right choice to “save money.” However, cutting all types of communications activities, such as PR, advertising, promotions, special events is one of the worst common mistakes that companies make. Instead, those that want to succeed should keep the marketing pressure on since many competitors may slow their spending on marketing. This leaves a perfect opportunity to steal a competitor’s valuable market share. These are the most efficient customer wins since your same dollar spent on marketing will provide more benefit now when it is not in competition with your competitors dollars for eyeballs.

Actually there is a very well known Harvard study regarding share of voice to share of market. One of the best strategies in a down economy is to increase communications activities and grow your market share while your competitors sleep.

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