How Sticky is Massage?

Stickability ImageIn the world wide web, “stickiness” refers to how long you can keep a user on your website or how often you can get them to return. It is a measure of user engagement and loyalty.

So how loyal and engaged, that is to say, how sticky are massage customers? Judging by the frequency with which Americans get regular massage, the sad answer would have to be that massage is not very “sticky” at all. [Note: If you want to bypass the calculations and jump to the bottom line numbers, scroll down to the last three paragraphs.]

There are only two professional consumer surveys done for the massage profession. The one commissioned by the American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA) is annual and the other, sponsored by the Associated Bodywork and Massage Professionals (ABMP), is biennial.

While neither of them explicitly states how often American adults get massaged, with a bit of combining and extrapolation of the two surveys, we can arrive at a reasonable approximation.

The most recent ABMP survey reports that, of the number of people who actually got a massage in 2010, their frequency of utilization was as follows:

  • 22% had 1 massage
  • 22% had 2 massages
  • 28% had 3-5 massages
  • 6% had 6-10 massages
  • 17% had 11-20 massages
  • 3% got 21 or more massages

The previous ABMP survey, for 2008, reported these percentages:

  • 32% had 1 massage
  • 21% had 2 massages
  • 35% had 3-5 massages
  • 5% had 6-10 massages
  • 5% had 11-20 massages
  • 2% got 21 or more massages

Now, since both the AMTA and ABMP surveys report the total number of adults getting a massage in a twelve month period, we can use the percentages above to get a range of how many total U.S. adults appear in each frequency category. In the AMTA survey, the total number of adults getting massaged ranges from a high of 24% in 2007 (pre-recession) to their current figure of 18% (between July 2010 and July 2011, unchanged from the prior 12 months). The ABMP figures are strikingly lower. In their latest survey only 16% of US adults got a massage in 2010, up from 14% in 2008.

To chart it out I multiplied the ABMB frequency of utilization percentages by the percentages of people in the U.S. reporting they received a massage in the two time periods surveyed by each organization. Here are the results of each survey by category.

Frequency of Massages Per Year AMTA ABMP
2007/08 – 24% 2010/11 – 18% 2008 – 14% 2010 -16%
7.7% 5.8% 4.5% 3.5%
5.0% 3.8% 2.9% 3.5%
8.4% 6.3% 1.0% 4.5%
1.2% 0.9% 0.7% 1.0%
1.2% 0.9% 0.7% 2.7%
0.5% 0.4% 0.2% 0.5%

Hang in there. We are almost to the finish line. While I wish that the ABMP survey had broken out the specific number of people who got 3, 4 or 5 massages in a year, using the data we have, we can sort the frequency into three sub-categories:

  • Infrequent users – 1 or 2 massages per year
  • Occasional users – 3-5 massages per year
  • Regular users – 6 or more massages per year (less than the average number of haircuts per year)

With these definitions and using the best case ABMP figures, we can see that, at the most, only 4.2% of the adult population in the U.S. are regular users of massage. The best case data from the AMTA puts the percentage at 2.9%. Ouch! No wonder the associations do not make it easy to get this number and prefer us to focus on the 16 to 24% who got at least one massage in a year. In another article I make the case that this lack of loyalty and engagement, of “stickiness,” is primarily a result of the high price of massage and discuss what we can do to make massage more affordable and accessible.

One final note: We need to have better data and better analysis of the data we currently have. We can’t make good decisions about our future unless we have good data. The calculations above should have been readily accessible to anyone. The glaring discrepancies in the results between the two surveys should be explainable. The ABMP should be congratulated for the relatively comprehensive and transparent way in which it presents its data compared to the AMTA. However, I would urge both organizations to make all of their raw data from every study they commission available to anyone for analysis. The truth is out there, we are just having a hard time finding it.

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9 Responses to How Sticky is Massage?

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