I’ve written a lot, taught a lot, coached a lot on the subject of USP or Unique Selling Proposition. While most of our Worldwide Salon Marketing Members ‘get’ the reasoning behind all the Emotional Direct Response salon marketing ads, flyers, letters and other material in the Simple Salon Marketing manual, very few owners of salons & spas even attempt to understand the importance of having a truly unique message for their prospects and customers, and it’s effect on your salon’s income.
In 1961, famous American advertising executive Rosser Reeves introduced the idea of USP in his book Reality in Advertising.
According to Reeves, there are three requirements for a USP:
1. Each advertisement must make a proposition to the consumer. Each must say, “Buy this product, and you will get this specific benefit.” (Your headline must contain a benefit – a promise to the reader.)
2. The proposition must be one that the competition either cannot, or does not, offer. Here’s where the “unique” in Unique Selling Proposition comes in. It is not enough merely to offer a benefit. You must also differentiate your product.
3. The proposition must be so strong that it can move the masses, i.e., pull over new customers to your product or service. The differentiation cannot be trivial. It must be a difference that is very important to the reader. (What Reeves was talking about here was making a BIG promise. But not necessarily an expensive one.)
By contrast, so much beauty industry marketing, particularly among average ‘corner store’ hair and beauty salons, is so timid that it disappears, becomes invisible. “Come to us and we’ll make you look much better…” Vague, wishy-washy nonsense.) Now, big companies spend millions, billions of dollars building a strong brand.
There are lots of soft drink manufacturers, many of whom sell a ‘cola’ product. But you can only buy Coke from Coca Cola. Unfortunately, YOU don’t have the kind of money Coca Cola has to build a ‘brand’. So we use ‘guerilla marketing’ methods to achieve differentiation in a USP. One of the best methods I know to create a strong USP is when your product or service has a unique feature, one that competitors can’t boast about. Of course, if you have that advantage, it all becomes pretty easy. Okay, I hear you thinking,
“But what if I’m just an average salon doing pretty much the same kind of stuff as the competition?”
According to Reeves – and I agree – uniqueness can either come from a strong brand (an option 95% of salons can’t use) or from a claim not otherwise made in that particular form of advertising. And that’s what you should be doing in your salon.
In other words, saying something about your business or service that others could be saying, but aren’t!
It’s called Making the Invisible Visible.
Here’s an example of that process in action:
For years, Schlitz brewing company dominated the market by ‘telling the story’ of how they made their beer. No different from the way everybody else made their beer, but they ‘made the invisible visible’.
Decades ago (there’s nothing much NEW in this concept) Milwaukee’s famous Schlitz brewing company went from nowhere to market leader when they started ‘telling the story’ of how they made their beer, in painstaking detail. Ironically, they made their beer exactly the same way every other brewer made beer, but crucially, nobody else was telling the story.
There’s another VERY large advantage to taking this approach. I call it ‘claiming the high ground’. Once you’ve done it, your competition is left to look like followers instead of leaders if they copy you. Famously, Reeves crafted a USP for M&Ms – ‘It melts in your mouth, not in your hand’ – that had the opposition chasing them for decades, and is still in use today. What could the competition do, run an ad that said “we also melt in your mouth, not in your hand”? I don’t think so.
If you’re a reasonably intelligent salon owner (in other words, one of the few who understand that the money’s in the marketing, not in the product or service) then you might have picked up on a couple of crucial lessons in this post.
Creating a USP is not necessarily about how good your product or customer service is. Everybody claims they provide ‘great customer service’. Big deal. As you can see from the examples I’ve quoted here (Schlitz and M&Ms) they didn’t talk about how good their product was. Instead, they talked about stuff that was actually peripheral to what was in the bottle (or the box). So, think: what can you say about your business that is unique (or perceived to be unique), that either cannot be said or isn’t being said about a rival salon? And remember, it’s not about you, the business, or the product – a truly ‘sticky’ USP is always about the customer, and the benefit to that customer.
Here’s ONE way for a salon to create a truly Unique Selling Proposition:
First, write a LIST of things that aggravate and annoy (your potential) customers. For example,
Being kept waiting
Getting shoved from one therapist/stylist to another
Dirty, unhygienic floors, rooms etc
No parking nearby
(You can and should be able to make a LONG list of things that pee people off about salons.)
Second, pick at least ONE of these, and provide a GREAT answer to it.
Example: one of our Member salons decided that what annoyed her mostly middle-aged clients was going to a salon and being served by therapists or stylists barely out of their teens. So she came up with a cracker of a USP: “You know what it’s like when you visit a salon and you’re thrown in with an inexperienced junior? Well, at (salon name) the average age of our staff is thirty eight, with an average experience of 15 years! So you can rest assured your skin is being looked after by people who know what they’re doing!”
No meaningless blather about ‘Our customer service is exceptional’ or ‘We’ve won the industry’s top awards’. Just stuff that matters to the customer.
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Listen to Amber Ahmed, of Amber Esthetics Spa in Montreal, Canada. Amber joined Worldwide Salon Marketing’s Client Attraction System program and in the next three months her sales literally more than doubled as she rolled out the direct mail campaigns, in-salon promotions and online marketing systems.
Take a look as Amber talks about how she ramped up sales so dramatically – and takes us on a quick video tour of her newly-built spa in the heart of Montreal….
Over the years I’ve had many business owners come to me for marketing guidance and ask “give me a way to find a hundred new customers” or words to that effect.
And I always tell them “There is no ONE way to get a hundred new customers. There’s a hundred ways to get ONE new customer, and you’ve gotta use all of ’em.”
Having said that, if there was one piece of advice that stands out above all others, it comes down to taking Massive Action.
Like John Abbott, a member of my Private Client consulting group. John owns a traditional, old-style barber shop (opened in 1935) in the suburbs of Brisbane. His sales were falling dramatically, down 17% year on year.
So we put together a plan, and to his credit, John got out of his comfort zone and took the action required. Here’s how he describes the results…
“Is your salon business CONGRUENT” Online forums are wonderful things to browse around picking up useful bits of information here and there. But no matter what information you glean, it’s completely worthless unless you implement it, or put it to use in some way.
On one forum today I noticed a salon owner asking opinions on whether staff ‘should be allowed to wear facial piercings‘… and that led me to wonder about the whole issue of something called ‘congruency‘…. the ‘quality or state of agreeing or corresponding’ – in relation to business, marketing & sales.
Car dealer John Hughes forbids his salesmen to wear sunglasses on their heads – because it’s incongruent with his business philosophy
In my home town there’s a famous old-fashioned car dealer, one of the biggest and most successful in Australia. John Hughes is well into his seventies, absolutely loves his job, and has some policies that younger people might find more appropriate to the nineteen fifties.
For example, John refuses to allow his salesmen to wear their sunglasses perched on top of their heads. He believes such habits only confirm the entrenched public opinion about car salesmen being hucksters. It’s not congruent with his decades-long drive to establish his brand as trustworthy.
When you go to visit your accountant, you’d find it incongruent to see him and his staff wandering around the office in board shorts and T-shirts – yet completely correct for the staff of a theme park to be so attired.
Would staff with facial piercings be appropriate for a high-end day spa in a 5-star hotel? Probably not. In a tattoo parlour? Absolutely. Would hair stylists dressed as though they’re about to go nightclubbing be congruent with a salon that brands itself as a rock ‘n roll ‘destination’? Naturally.
(And there’s a major difference between hiring an employee who is merely competent, and one who is congruent with the business.)
You have to be aware of what ‘fits’, and what doesn’t. Do you market yourself as super-sophisticated venue yet your location, fixtures and fittings let you down? Or you have a brothel on one side and a lumber yard on the other?
At the other end of the scale, there seems little to recommend being ‘cheap and cheerful’ – no appointments necessary, bare-bones prices, second-hand furniture – and at the same time insisting on a website that screams Million Dollar Salon.
Here’s a checklist:
What’s the essential message you want to convey to clients and prospects – Calmness? Efficiency? Glitz and Glam? Fun?
If it’s ‘Efficiency’ for example, are you always on time? Is your welcome procedure always the same? Do your staff process payments and book appointments quickly and smoothly?
If you project an image of professionalism, is this reflected in your staff uniforms?
If cleanliness is God, are you a Nazi about the toilets, the floors, cobwebs in the corners?
If you’re aiming for affluent clients, do you provide such clients with an experience your ‘average’ clients don’t get?
What does your phone manner say about you and your business…for example, do you have a set phone answering procedure, or is it ad hoc?
As always, the Message has to fit the Method, in all things.
Want to bring in a PILE of cash to your beauty or hair salon business, but don’t know where to start?
Louise Adkins of Lavish Skin in Benalla, Victoria has been a Member of WSM’s Client Attraction System for 10 years, but she’d never tried selling memberships to her clients like this before.
In this video, Louise describes how she followed the Membership strategy, added a few flourishes of her own, downloaded one of the Salon Membership Promotion Templates from the Client Attraction System– and got to work!
Result: $31,000 in one-day sales, plus more to come.
Here’s how she did it…
Now, for just ONE DOLLAR, you can TEST DRIVE the exact same system Louise uses to drive her salon’s marketing.
There’s a good reason why service businesses – like yours, presumably – should never go out of business. (Conversely, it’s a mystery why many of them do.)
The reason they should thrive comes down to human nature; people like to do business with other people, not faceless, corporate entities, or machines. Businesses that rely solely on technology to sustain their revenues come and go. Remember Kodak? Gone. MySpace? A $700 million white elephant. History is littered with businesses that failed at least in part because they deliberately kept their customers at arms length.
But those who strive to serve, face to face, can weather almost any storm.
One personal example:
Mitchell Falls, in the Kimberley,
Michelle and I like to do road trips, touring our vast country, towing our camper trailer. (Cue excuse to show holiday pics here.) Last week, after our most recent 10,000km drive through the Kimberley region of Western Australia, I took the trailer to the local dealer for a routine bearings-and-brakes service.
It’s a husband and wife operation, just Jim and Lynda, operating out of a rented warehouse in the northern suburbs of Perth. Three days later, when I went back to collect the trailer, Jim had not only done the routine stuff, he’d replaced a couple of broken parts, lubricated all the fiddly bits I somehow never got around to, fitted a new battery under warranty, and even re-fitted a water pump I’d jerry-rigged after it was damaged on the notorious Gibb River Road.
And the total bill? Nothing. Nada. Zero. Refused to accept payment. Jim knows that I sing the praises of this particular make of camper trailer. Accordingly, in a Facebook group I run for this brand, I duly extolled the virtues of Jim’s excellent service, and others chimed in with similar sentiments. Jim knows that businesses like his live and die on the strength or weakness of the relationship between him and his customers.
It doesn’t actually matter that his product is acknowledged as one of the best. The previous owners of the dealership had the same product, but their attitude to customer service was appalling, and it showed in sales.
As a consumer, you can’t have a relationship with a machine, or a website, or a call centre. You can only have a relationship with people, In the end, even the biggest businesses are just people doing their thing, except that the bigger the business, the more its people hide behind the grand facade.
(The smarter people behind the biggest of businesses know this. Apple didn’t need Steve Jobs for his technical or engineering expertise. Apple needed Jobs because it was Jobs who had the relationship with the company’s customers. To them, Jobs was Apple.)
Many of our Member salons & spas take customer service to the extreme. One makes a habit of sending hand-written birthday cards – real ones, in an envelope, in the mail, with a real stamp, not just a lazy text message or email – to her top 500 clients. That’s an average of 40 a month, every month. But it comes back in spades of sales. Another will open her salon on a Sunday if a customer can’t make it any other time. These are the kind of ‘above and beyond’ actions that people extol to their friends.
It’s not doing the expected that people talk about. It’s doing the unexpected. The small and inexpensive gift, brought out from under the counter as the customer pays her bill. The random phone call a few days after your visit, from the owner who asks “Hi Jane, I just wanted to check that you were happy with our service when you were in this week?” This is the kind of service you just can’t get from a machine, or a website, or a call centre.
To quote Henry Ford: “A business absolutely devoted to service will have only one worry about profits. They will be embarrassingly large.”