On 14 August 2013, we held a workshop with representatives from the hair industry. The cast included salon owners, an event manager, a marketing manager, an industry body representative and our co-host, Eleven Australia, a hair product wholesaler. The purpose of the workshop was to explore the different ways that the hair industry and particularly hair salons communicate with clients – with a view to identifying areas that could benefit from newer communication technologies.

The main conclusions were that salons could use newer technologies to:

  1.  Improve how appointments are made and confirmed; and,
  2. Expand the ways salons build their business and brand.

 

INTRODUCTION

Hairdressing is a face-to-face, or scissor-to-scalp, activity where most communication with clients happens while they are in the salon. Outside the immediacy of the salon, communicating with clients remains a challenging proposition.

Booking an appointment

The booking of appointments most often occurs either in-salon or via phone. Online booking is still a small proportion of total sales (~10% for our group). Those salons that offer online booking are generally using vendor software to facilitate this service on their website. Notably while our salon owners were aware that software vendors enable booking via Facebook, no one had set this up.

The clients that book online are typically viewed as the early adopter set, and are more likely to promote, rate or otherwise participate in digitized user feedback.

“People who use online booking are the sort that will write on Urban Spoon”

Given the growth in ecommerce, that is being further fuelled by the adoption of smartphones, the proportion of bookings undertaken online can be expected to increase substantially over the next few years. (For example, of the 52% of Australians that have smartphones, over 40% have used their mobiles to shop online. See our slide-deck “Know your customers” for more details.)

Appointment confirmations & reminders

For those that send appointment confirmations, SMS is typically a preferred method as it is received on the client’s mobile phone and has a high probability of being read. It has some troubling limitations though:

“SMS confirmations can be dodgy – if a client types ‘Yep’ instead of ‘Yes’, the system struggles.”

The problem is that SMS are not smart. They fail to make use of our technologies.

  • A client must type a response rather than simply click a button.
  • There is no easy way to use an SMS to call, email or otherwise contact a salon to change an appointment.
  • An SMS can’t interact with a client’s calendar – it’s not easy for them to ‘add to calendar’ or setup a reminder alert.
  • SMS do not always make it easy for the salon to process the confirmation.

Notably, the key target market for a better solution may be the more bearded sex:

“Men send text messages to make appointments”

The single-syllable male is a likely candidate for technologies that better integrate booking, confirmations and manicures into their phone.

Product sales

Salon websites are typically used as brochure sites – image-heavy contact pages that are the modern equivalent of the ‘yellow pages’. This makes sense given the specialist nature of their business and how difficult it is for a hair salon to meet the long-term commitment required for more content driven websites.

“We aim to keep our website fresh – but it’s hard.”

It also reflects the difficulties that salons face in selling product online. Having said that, with the growth in competition from various ecommerce sites, salons are starting to look for ways to participate in this trend.

In this respect, salons have a strong competitive advantage versus their online competitors in that they have a direct relationship with their clients. The challenge is to find ways to make it easy for clients to purchase product from them. This is where we have been working to tailor a solution for salons.

Marketing

Snail mail was considered the most effective form of marketing for a hair salon. A hand signed letter is appropriately personal and perhaps reflects the more intimate relationship that we all have with our hairdresser.

It was interesting then that the less labour-intensive email is considered a viable alternative for marketing to clients. This assumption is that an email is easy and has a fair chance of getting delivered to a client’s inbox.

“Email is more about a ‘Call to Action’ than building your brand”

But as our event marketing representative was quick to point out, the “problem is I don’t know who has read my email.” In her case, she tends to send emails to clients with increasing frequency as an event approaches, simply ”because no one responds.”

Herein lies the rub. Email as a communication medium has been so diluted by overuse that most messages received are never read or responded to.

Perhaps email is really a negative marketing exercise for personal service firms like hair salons. We know that something like 90% of email is spam. For true spam marketing firms, if only 0.1% of respond then that is enough for them to make a return on their investment. For a hair salon, this success ratio is implausibly low. In this context perhaps the most insightful comment was:

“Email is a tick-the-box medium”

Perhaps the most divisive part of the discussion was around social media. About the only thing that was clear was that no one had a clear idea about how effective it was for marketing purposes.

It was notable that there was a strong generational gap in relation to attitudes to Facebook. The youngest person in the room suggested that we:

“Checkout the iPhone dock of a 20 year old – you’re more likely to find Facebook than Email.”

While the crustier over 30’s, suggested that Facebook is purely a social medium.

“If someone sent a serious email by Facebook I would not open it…”

Still, the raw data suggests that social media is worth exploring as a marketing medium – as our industry representative noted the AHC Youth Network has over 20,000 followers that are very active via Facebook Chat.

CONCLUSIONS

The hair industry is only just starting to come to terms with an increasingly mobile and online client base. The most obvious areas where newer technologies could be used to improve the effectiveness of salon communication are in relation to appointment management and the development of ecommerce capabilities. It is too early to make an assessment about the effectiveness of social media for marketing. The one common thread across all the discussion was the need to extend the reach of the salon in a way that facilitates a closer relationship with their clients across the hairdressing cycle.

 


 


Governments have mixed feelings about the transformation in data that is occurring. On the one hand, the opportunity to keep a closer eye on the marauding masses motivates them to require our data exhaust to be trapped and stored away – just in case they might like to look at it later on. And on the other, there is the opportunity to make our data open and accessible so that we can use it to drive all kinds of efficiences.

This week we can see both trends unfolding:

  • The UK’s midata initiative is stepping ever closer to enabling practical services – check out the 10 ways it can help at the UK govt’s BIS site.  I liked OUseful’s.Info exploration of what midata might mean and links to related issues. And Mydex has added their take too.
  • The Australian government’s exploration of new Data Retention laws have been causing a stir recently. It’s a sad reflection on the government that there is no comparable easy-to-navigate site to find out more – A ‘Back Pocket Brief’ prepared by the A-G’s department and released under Freedom Of Information is here and a speech by the Attorney-General on 5Sept here. Elsewhere Delimiter has kept tabs on the feedback from those in the know.

Also this week:

  • Understanding what ‘customer centric’ means – Customer Blog
  • SWIFT thinks that banks will be the hub of the Digital Asset Grid – the intention economy – American Banker
  • The state of Facebook e-commerce – TechCrunch
  • A nice infographic about what makes a good website – Bit Rebels
  • And Subscription Commerce gets some coverage – Viral Blog
All the links can be found at Bitly here…http://bit.ly/Qe4rAI

 


If fear and greed sell newspapers, then they will work just as well for VRM?

One of the recurrent themes in the VRM space is the need to protect us from the forces of darkness that are gathering in the digital silos:

  • Facebook deconstructed in the WSJ (here)
  • Big data as big brother – O’Reilly Media (here)
  • Ranking customers by the friends they hang out with – NYT (here)

Fair enough. I’m a believer that one of the primary drivers of VRM is the aggregation of customer buying power. If customers choose services that will protect their interests, and do so in numbers to warrant the attention of vendors, then there is no doubt that the vendors will follow them.

So when we see further research showing that customers don’t like personal marketing and want more control, everyone should pay attention (here).

Also, a video of Alan Mitchell from last year’s Lean Summit, the UK Midata initiative, Australia’s digital mailbox dogfight and some other tidbits of interest…you can find all the links in the usual place (here).