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Helping Consumers Make the Choice: Creating the 'persona' of a shampoo
by Murray Hunter
2013-07-08 10:55:46
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Shampoo today is very much seen as a commodity with 30 second ads on TV, a few facings on supermarket shelves, and intermittent logos on billboards around urban haunts. Shampoo is an extremely competitive market, fragmented into so many categories, which all display the hallmarks of separate markets today.

Yet behind every shampoo, or putting it more correctly; every shampoo is a persona of something we as consumers value. And this is even with the discount brands, that offer thrift, utility, little effort, and freedom from imagination, a persona in its own right.

How we see this 'persona' depends upon the marketing paradigms we use to look at a product and the market it lives in. The ancient, but evergreen 4P's let us look at a shampoo in-terms of product, including brand and features, price, as if it is the all important determinant, position, breaking up the market into simple segments, and promotion, as if this is an afterthought.  

We can associate a shampoo with mass markets, and think in terms of thrusts and market share. We can look at niche market differentiation, or specialist markets like salon, or anti-dandruff, to try and escape the 'ruck' of other mainstream products.

But the above only partly covers the reasons why people actually buy a shampoo in the first place. And the reason is not uniform within the population. Shampoo marketing is not the utilitarian product-markets that general marketing theory makes out, but something rather deep within our psych, manifested through imagination.

Some manufacturers and brands are better than others at tapping this 'psych'.

We have aromatherapy shampoos that are meant by association to kindle life within us, safeguard our hair, and give the user a persona of health and beauty. We have other shampoos that do a reasonable job of washing our hair in a fast, efficient, and ethical manner. We have other versions that do it all cheaper, yet other versions that add a tinge of 'coolness' through 'mentholation' to make us feel fresh and vibrant, and yet others which make us feel we are saving the earth.

We are told that washing our hair with gingko, ginseng, vitamin E, or beeswax will do something magic. The aesthetic ingredients are transformers, taking us into some part of our imagination. And that is the key, a shampoo is about our imagination.

This can probably be best explained through the classic shampoo "Gee Your Hair Smell Terrific" by Andrew Jergens back in the 1970s. It competed against S.C. Johnson's Agree and Faberge's Farrah Fawcett shampoo, that would turn any user into stardom.

"Gee Your Hair Smells Terrific" delivered a simple but deep message to the psych - self efficacy and confidence. "Gee" enabled you to engage all those around you. "Gee" sold confidence.

"Pert" or "Rejoice", the supposed breakthrough in the 80's had a similar message. 'Pert' preached convenience, emancipation and freedom from the drudgery of washing and conditioning your hair. 'Pert' was something the modern woman needed on the way to her dominance of the world. To conquer the world, a woman needed to be able to wash and condition her hair very quickly, and that's why women are so successful today. This message is still very powerful today after more than 30 years.

So what are the lessons here?

A shampoo is not just a shampoo, it's a persona which needs creation and nurture just like a child. A shampoo cannot be a 'wham bam, thank you ma'am' thought. It just won't work. "Me too", just like "moo" and "barrrr" are yesteryear. Following the leader won't win any manufacturer accolades and might not even get a guernsey with any major retailer anymore. That all went out with the babyboomers.

Today's consumers need a product that they can identify 'spiritually' with. Something that equates to an issue important for them. It can be a utilitarian need that 'Pert' provided, or it can delve deep into the personal psych like 'Gee'. The creator must think about this and make the choice. If the shampoo has no identity of its own, then it has no value.

Any product must encapsulate a story via the ingredients, texture, fragrance, name, and packaging, supported by specific brand personification. The product must not only have the imaginative power to transport you to the jungles of Borneo, it must have a good reason for doing so. This reason must be good for you physically, emotionally, and/or even spiritually. And this message must be a personal one, not something of the mass encounters of the third kind. Any message must be personalized and integrated with the noise the rest of the world is generating. This is where any outstanding brand is separated from the rest.

The brands that invite the imagination to wander and create a picture with a message "I need that, it's good for me" become the classics.

So this is the key in shampoo marketing today - you must trigger imagination in a way that produces emotions that enact an urge to purchase. And when I say urge, I mean urge, because thinking must have little to do with it. Thinking only inhibits purchasing. It's the emotions that do the buying in people. Any value that a product offers must be associated with emotion or otherwise the value will never be seen.

So now for the $100 million question; How?

Somehow, value must be integrated with someone's personal world view. A product must enhance self esteem, confidence, status, safety, seeking of affection, security, or even thrift. The persona of the product must convince the consumer that it will enhance and/or complement his or her world view. And this means both outlook and in-look at the self.

Finally this must be undertaken with total sincerity. There are too many brands on this earth that promise to save the whales, rainforests, and stop global warming, something that no product can do. Products only reflect the core ethics of a firm, not blatant CSR magic shows to con the stupid. Put the substance behind the product, and get the message across correctly and thou shall be rewarded. Such is the brave new world of marketing.


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