Spas—and spa branding—have been an integral part of life for hundreds of years before ‘self-care’ was ever trending. Across the world, people on nearly every continent have been heading to bathhouses, hot springs, and mineral baths to enjoy the restorative and, according to many, healing properties the water offered. The word “spa” actually comes from the city of Spa, Belgium, where tourists have been enjoying the natural mineral baths for centuries.
Today, the term “spa” refers to more than a natural hot spring or mineral bath. It’s a place where visitors can enjoy skincare treatments and massage therapy in a soothing, relaxing environment. No matter what a spa offers, though, its branding needs to communicate cleanliness, relaxation, health and self-care. A spa might be upscale or value-focused, old-school or super trendy, and its branding should reflect these traits alongside promising a clean, relaxing, wellness-focused experience for guests.
Everything you need to know about spa branding
Before we get into the specifics of spa branding, let’s cover the branding basics.
Your brand is how the world perceives your business. Your brand identity is the collection of design choices and assets you use to shape this perception, like your logo, your color palette and the fonts you use. Branding is the practice of actually building the brand: designing your website, determining how your team will interact with consumers, choosing which stock to carry and crafting an effective logo.
To do branding effectively, you need to determine your company’s personality. Who are you? What do you offer? Who is your ideal consumer? Who are your other consumers? What sets you apart from your competition? What do people expect from you, and how are you meeting that expectation?
As we mentioned above, people expect a relaxing, rejuvenating experience from a spa. No matter what kind of spa you are, people expect you to deliver an experience that makes them feel rested, pampered and most importantly, physically and mentally better than they felt when they first walked in.
So how do you communicate this through branding? Think about the design elements you see repeated in other spas’ logos and branding:
What colors do you see? What similarities do you notice between the logos? On the flip side, what colors don’t you see? What kinds of art styles, fonts, shapes and types of logos do few (or none) of these brands incorporate into their branding?
These brands share a common vocabulary, but you probably wouldn’t get them mixed up. Why? Because each one is carefully designed to express its own unique brand persona while communicating that it’s a spa that offers spa services. That’s good branding in a nutshell: crafting a look and feel that sets you apart from competitors, but not so far apart that consumers don’t know what you offer.
Factors to consider when you’re branding a spa
Once you’ve dialed in your brand persona, it’s time to start building your brand identity and determining how you’ll brand your spa. There are a lot of factors to keep in mind as you work through this process, like which services you offer, what sets you apart from other spas in your area, the value you offer and how you can effectively express your spa’s cultural roots without coming across as cheesy or appropriative.
Let’s tackle that last point first. Depending on where you are in the world, the word “spa” can bring different images to mind. In Russia, it’s often a day at the banya, complete with veniks and a felt banya hat.
For many Koreans, it’s spending the day (or staying overnight!) at the go-at-your-own-pace jjimjilbang, where you can enjoy hot tubs, wet and dry saunas, a massage if you’d like and even a game room.
If you’re introducing a new, international audience to the kinds of spas you’re used to back home, it can be tempting to lean into cultural or geographic branding. This can be a great choice because it instantly communicates to guests that they can expect something a little different than what they’re used to from your spa.
But what if you aren’t introducing your audience to a type of spa from overseas? What if you just like the aesthetic of images like Buddha and mandalas, or the colorful tiles one might find in a Moroccan hammam?
You might want to rethink your branding and opt for something else that expresses your unique brand. Using cultural imagery in an inauthentic way, particularly when it isn’t your culture’s imagery, is cultural appropriation. At best, it makes you look tone-deaf and at worst, it’s offensive to the people from the culture you’re appropriating. If you aren’t sure whether a design is culturally appropriative or not, ask yourself why you’re considering that particular design. If it’s because it authentically represents the services, practices and even origin of your spa, you’re probably good to go. If not, try something else that isn’t culturally significant.
This leads us to another source of imagery inspiration for your spa branding: the specific services you offer.
Maybe your spa specializes in clay and mud treatments. Work that into your branding somehow, like perhaps choosing a deep muddy brown for your logo or a geometric image of a face wearing a mud mask. Maybe your spa only uses organic products in the treatments you provide—communicate this through eco signifiers like images of leaves and plants or by using the color green in your branding.
You might even opt for a logo and other branding that depicts your spa and its services directly, like this:
Your unique services can be a great differentiator about your spa, but think about what else sets you apart. Here are a few things to think about:
- Are you a relatively inexpensive option that’s accessible to everybody?
- Do you take a holistic approach to rejuvenation and offer things like yoga classes and a workout space?
- Is your clientele primarily regulars with memberships, or is your spa the kind of place reserved for special occasions?
- Are you a standalone business, or is your spa located within a hotel, associated with a salon or otherwise nested within another business?
- Do clients come in for scheduled services and leave promptly afterward, or is your spa the kind of place where visitors come to spend the day?
Last, keep this in mind: nobody wants to go to a dirty or loud spa. Nobody. So no matter how you design your brand identity, make sure there’s no possible way for it to communicate “loud” or “any level of cleanliness below perfect.” It can be tough to visualize ideas like this, so take a look at these examples from industries where loud and messy are good things:
See what we mean? This kind of branding is great for social media strategists, hipster burger joints, music venues and trendy clothing stores. Not so much for spas.
Building a cohesive spa branding strategy
Now that we’ve covered the “how” of spa branding, let’s take a look at the “what” of spa branding:
Branding your physical space
When it comes to spa branding, branding your physical space is the most important part of your overall strategy. Why? Because it’s both the space and the product—people don’t just come to get a massage or bask in the infrared therapy room; they come to enjoy your spa as a safe, relaxing place.
Building a relaxing space means opting for soft lighting, noise-muffling materials, easily sweepable floors and color palettes that create a sense of calm, like blues and natural wood tones. There’s a reason why you’ve probably never seen a bright red wall in a spa—or a thick shag carpet.
Think about the physical realities of being in your spa: if it’s the kind with saunas and hot tubs, you don’t want any materials that dry slowly or can potentially harbor bacteria in a moist environment. If it’s the kind where visitors book hour-long (or longer!) massages to take a load off after busy weeks, you’ll want thick, noise-canceling walls between the service rooms.
Think about everything else visitors will come into contact with at your spa, too, like towels and robes. If there’s a cafe onsite, your drinkware, silverware and even menu will play into your branding strategy.
Branding your spa’s online assets
Even though your physical space is your visitors’ main point of contact with your spa, your online assets should communicate your brand just as consistently. After all, this is the first point of contact many of them will have—and what they see on your website and social media pages could be what makes them decide to head to (or avoid) your spa.
So working with an experienced web designer is hugely important. Ideally, go for someone who has experience working with spas and other self-care brands, whose previous work and aesthetic could really suit and lift your brand. Your website should showcase your products and services, and make the process of choosing, booking and paying for treatments seamless. Your social media channels should catch user’s attention and further establish your brand’s tone of voice. Help your brand stay at the top of clients’ minds by posting valuable content, like deals, promotions and general uplifting imagery.
Some spas carry proprietary products. These products might be unique formulations or white-label products carrying the spa’s logo.
Opting for proprietary products like this adds a new element to your brand strategy. Similarly, choosing to carry a specific brand of products, like Kiehl’s, communicates your position in the market (upscale versus value-focused) and shows clients that your spa maintains the same values as the brand of products you carry.
Using specific products in your spa means branding the way they look, feel and smell. It’s no secret that our sense of smell has a powerful connection to our memories. So if visitors associate a particularly delicious scent with your spa, any hint of that scent elsewhere will have them yearning for another visit.
You can even ensure that they can keep or even gift your brand mementos to friends by making your spa’s products available for purchase. Word of mouth marketing goes an impressively long way, so don’t forget to design attractive, on-brand packaging for each and every item. Every interaction a visitor has with your spa, even if it’s just a box they’ll open up and recycle, should be branded.
Your team’s role in branding
How visitors perceive and interact with your spa’s staff members are also part of your spa’s overall branding strategy.
Create a great atmosphere for your team to work in and make sure they feel fulfilled and valued. This will keep your turnover to a minimum and influence members to be proud to work for the brand.
Do visitors primarily come to your spa for treatments like massages and body scrubs? If so, they’ll be interacting with staff quite a lot. Build your brand into this experience with a loose script for the team to follow during visitor interactions and specific sensory experiences visitors can expect from treatments, like a certain scent of lotion or the touch of a specific material or tool.
Outside the intimate interactions between a visitor and staff member, things like team uniforms and the team’s overall presence in the spa can be part of your branding strategy.
Take the (cold) plunge with your spa branding
As a spa owner or director, there’s a lot to think about as you build your spa branding strategy. A lot of these factors, like choosing the right color palette and designing your logo, are central to branding any kind of business. But getting beyond these, it’s important that you develop a spa branding strategy that makes promises to prospective visitors, then delivers on that promise once they’re in to enjoy your facility. Their relationship with your spa doesn’t start when they walk through the door; it starts when they first hear your name. So be holistic, not only with your massages, with your spa branding too.