When you are putting chemicals on someone’s head to change their entire look, then you need some backup. That is the simple insight at work in Redken’s second iteration of the successful mobile app for professional hairstylists recently launched by the L’Oreal brand. Style Station 2.0 complements the style products’ consumer-facing strategy with a task-oriented service app for the people who are critical to the business model for Redken, whose products are available only through salons -- keeping the hairdresser happy, informed and a better buddy to the person in the chair.
"Part of our strategy was providing an app that would be applicable even to salons that didn’t carry Redken,” says Sarah Liang, director of interactive marketing, Redken 5th Ave. And so a key component was just an alarm and timer. Understanding how things happen in a salon, Liang and her researchers knew that most hairdressers still use kitchen timers at a station to time the coloring or treatment applied. With this app they can carry the alarm with them. “We wanted to translate a habit into something digital they could keep in their pocket,” says Liang.
And the kitchen timer is not inappropriate to the setting, since hairdressers want and need coloring “recipes” -- formulas to achieve just the right shade for each customer. This iteration of Style Station was timed to help introduce the new Chromatics line of color, and so it has over 1,000 such recipes.
Using apps to sell the seller has recently emerged as an important category for agencies helping brands. At this week’s OMMA Global in San Francisco, for instance, we featured presentations by both Aflac and Plantronics about how they created mobile tools aimed at the salesperson and helping them do their job better. One of the interesting aspects of mobile initiatives into the sales channel is the way some of the apps are aimed not only at the salesperson, but at the consumer working in collaboration with the salesperson.
In Style Station 2.0 we get a lookbook of hairstyles and colors that the stylist can share with their customers to get inspiration. And it can be customized to make the stylist’s own book of recommendations. An “Art of Consultation” tool helps the stylist hone the skills of helping the customer. If the stylist is already using the app as a timer, she can also use it with the client to walk through ideas. My own sense is that we will see more of this model where b2b apps are made to be used in collaboration with the consumer at the retail level.
But Liang also found in that in the year since Style Station was first introduced and used by over 28,000 stylists, her users wanted to get beyond utility alone. There were few updates that drove continued usage other than the tools themselves. “What we did find is giving them a better balance of content and utility was crucial,” she says. This version has push notifications, hosted chats with style experts and greater encouragement to engage the community in the app’s social setting –- the “Break Room.”
“The Break Room has been extraordinary for us,” she says of this social space. Stylists are using the in-app social environment to ask real-time questions and advice of their colleagues. “Many of them have conversations about clients they have in the shop right there,” she says. The community is giving answers to real-time queries about what to do with this customer who is 50% gray. According to Liang, education is an integral part of salon culture. Stylists are always looking for training in new techniques. The Break Room serves as a kind of customer service and school all in one, and is powered mainly by the audience.
While the aim of the app is not to sell the goods so much as to become an everyday presence in the stylist’s life, the back-end metrics can tell Liang a lot about how much it is helping the bottom line and the ways in which users peruse and share formulas. “If they spend a lot of time in the formulas area, we know they are using our product,” she says. And they can tell the cycles of need as well. Most shops are closed on Mondays but they see a peak of usage on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, suggesting that this is the time when many stylists are taking more time to educate themselves.
With this iteration of the app, Redken also ramped up the marketing. Style Station 1.0 was launched over a year ago at a trade show where thousands of professionals were directly exposed to the tool. Liang says that at the last minute, the company made the very good decision to move from iOS only to an Android app. This wider reach worked, as Android was responsible for 40% of downloads. This year, they introduced the app along with the new color line to 1,000 influencers so they had detailed hands-on experience. “Everyone already had it, but it was a matter of teaching them the talking points. It was a game of telephone,” she says. They passed it on.
Also in a first for Redken, they put the promotion on the actual tubes of hair color using a Microsoft Tag that linked to the download. They also have exposure at the distributor stores where professionals are resupplied. As a result, the 2.0 version of the app saw accelerated pickup -- with 5,000 additional downloads in just two weeks.