With hair-care products having to jostle for space on crowded retail shelves, simply touting the promise of healthy hair is no longer enough to win consumers over.
Head & Shoulders was determined to move beyond dandruff.
Anthony Rose, associate director of global beauty ER (external relations) at Procter & Gamble, says a few years back the company decided it would try to shift consumers' perception of the brand.
"We wanted it to connect more meaningfully as a beauty brand," Rose says. "It is known for anti-dandruff advocacy all over the world, but we believe it needs to have that dual identity, and some of our work is aimed in that direction. We're not walking away from anti-dandruff advocacy, but we're working on getting the cosmetic imagery out there - and it's slowly succeeding."
Some of the ways P&G is doing this is by having a bigger presence in beauty magazines and "closer connections to buzz-worthy properties" or people in the beauty industry. "It helps us get an association and a more cosmetic beauty-related feel in the industry," he says.
As the hair-care category becomes one of the most competitive markets in the world, it has forced a number of players to retool some of their products, as well as their PR tactics.
"The best PR programs truly understand the DNA of the hair-care brand they are working on, and then develop initiatives that communicate that brand's unique point of difference," says Liz Kaplow, CEO of Kaplow Communications, which works with St. Ives and Shiseido. "There's so much out there, you really have to look at the brand you're working with and say what is different and unique about it, and how you can develop a program for it."
The competition, Rose says, helps keep his team sharp.
"You have to figure out what the next big thing is," explains Rose. "In this industry, in about a year, the tactics are replicated by your competition and reapplied."
With 35 to 100 product units and numerous variations within the product lines, it's "amazingly confusing for consumers when they are at the shelves," he says. "So, what drives the consumer to pick up your brand [and not] another? There has to be some external catalyst. We are working on that."
Rose says the biggest influencers in hair care are still beauty magazines, radio, and local TV.
"Over the past 18 months, we thought we'd see a stagnation in the overall proliferation of beauty magazines, [but] that has not happened," he says. "In fact, the beauty-magazine world has grown even bigger, as has the opportunity for brands to be featured in these magazines."
Rose believes that a constant push of PR and influencer marketing initiatives is what helps fuel P&G's success in the category.
"We succeed because we execute PR and influencer marketing programs on a sustained basis," Rose says. "A lot of companies do stuff that is only initiative-based. They'll have a launch, there will be a burst of news and activity, and it goes away. We want to establish a much deeper bond between our brand and consumers. Therefore, we must have multiple touchpoints through beauty magazines, stylists, radio, and local TV."
WISE USE OF SHELF SPACE
Rose says players in the category must learn how to use shelf space as a way to connect with the consumer at the point-of-sale.
"It's the first moment of truth," he says. "It's where consumers pick up the brand. There is a ton of stuff that can be done in that space. This is an area in which we still have a lot of learning to do.
"There are many other activities that can be customized in-store around the brand presence," he continues. "I don't see anyone in the US doing [that] with a great deal of quality or excellence."
Stephanie Smirnov, MD at DeVries Public Relations, which works with Pantene, says partnering with stylists and pitching stories that focus more on the technology and ingredients of the product are recent shifts she's seen.
"You almost can't succeed from a PR standpoint without a stylist affiliation of some kind," she adds. "We're always looking for the right mix of expertise this brand will need. If you have the right group of stylists, it gives you more opportunity to display your work on the red carpet, backstage at Fashion Week, or even working with very rank-and-file hair stylists who are working on films or TV shows. They're working and shaping the images of beauty that we see in pop culture everyday."
And while the number of magazines covering the hair-care category has increased dramatically, Smirnov says that doesn't mean it's any easier to get coverage. She points out that beauty editors are looking for stories that are about more than just "sexy" claims.
"To break through and get qualitative coverage from an editor, you need to show that there's real technology, or at least ingredients with functional benefits, in your product," Smirnov says. "Not every brand is doing that, but I think you'll start seeing it more.
"This was much the way skin care always functioned," she adds. "Skin care always had a higher bar of efficacy than hair care, but that gap is narrowing, which is good because it forces PR pros to be more disciplined and intelligent. It's not enough just to talk about smooth, shiny hair anymore."
MORE THAN JUST A BEAUTY BRAND
Marcia Sewell, marketing education manager at Luster Products, a line of personal- care products aimed at African-American women, says consumers are much smarter than they were just five years ago. She stresses that what's most important to them is whether or not the item you're selling them will actually deliver on the promises that it makes.
Michelle Flowers, president of Flowers Communications Group (FCG) in Chicago, helped to coordinate a recent and very non-traditional hair-care event for the company.
Last spring, FCG helped set up the Luster Products Pink Empowerment Tour. The event took place in a number of markets across the country and was designed to help get African-American women back in the workforce.
Urban League affiliates, hair stylists, Mary Kay Cosmetics, Dress For Success, Healthy Images, and Sophisticate's Black Hair and Style Guide all partnered for the event, which provided job-training skills, as well as make-up and dress tips.
"It gave them the opportunity to ask us hair-care questions," Sewell says. "And it gave us a great opportunity to recommend products and give them those [items] to take home."
"They were really attempting to demonstrate their commitment and support to the African-American community, while at the same time reaching their target consumer," says Flowers. "[The event] was all designed to reintroduce the brand to the consumer base and demonstrate their commitment to improving the quality of life in the African-American community."