There was a guy I once heard claiming that you could assess a promising growth hacker based on his creative ability to find new experiments for any kind of situation around him. The idea is that his ability to prioritize wisely and run each idea quickly gives you a sense of how talented and rigorous he is. Basically, he was stating that growth hackers were artists of the Digital Age (something I deeply agree with) mainly for one reason: with a marketing budget that is usually close to zero, and when you must discover ways to get a steady stream of users, you better display some artistic thoughts or it is not going to end well for you. Today, I will accept this challenge and offer some ideas to growth hack one of my favorite places on earth and it is not an online business but a barbershop (yes it is 😅).
#1. The process I would follow behind all these experiments.
While a growth hacker is still a marketer on many aspects, the main difference is that he has to think about growth in a holistic fashion. Focusing merely on acquisition and activation is just one part of the job. We also have to be creative regarding retention, referral and other details that can push revenue to the top. This is partly why I will insist and write more in the future about what programming skills a growth hacker must possess to fiddle effectively with lines of code. People should realize that once they are in the trenches, this is a precious asset as most of the retention experiments you will have to run will be highly correlated with the product (be it optimizing your onboarding, improving a certain feature or even building an invitation program). If you can’t get your hands dirty by operating it by yourself, you are going to be slowed down and every change will need the help of 3 different departments before being introduced. In terms of agility, this is not quite the ideal way to achieve your goals.
#2. Spot and trigger new opportunities to be discovered. Find ways to create awareness.
Let’s say that we are located in a renowned Parisian street but no one knows us yet. We just opened and so, are very early-stage. Our first focus is to identify all the things that might create awareness about our incredible shop so that people pass the doorstep. Keep in mind while reading this section that in order to find which experiment provides the most efficient results, we’re going to ask every single customer how he discovered us.
I remember a freelancer who told me that at the beginning of his career, most of his customers were coming through referrals from friends and family. He was confessing that one of the best things he did was to take a few minutes with each of his connections to precisely explain to them what his work was about. Thanks to that, he got introduced weeks after weeks to new people who required his services. It allowed him to make money right from the beginning, but why did it worked? Here is one lesson I’ve learned:
Let’s get into digital ads now. Even though we’ll have a few constraints as we are a physical shop, there are some experiments that might be promising regarding highly located Facebook ads. For instance, here is how we could target a single neighborhood:
As you can notice, they let us fine-tune the settings in order to target everyone or just people who live in, went recently or are travelling to this location (useful if your business is trying to reach travelers). I’ve run a lot of advertising campaigns in the past and one of my next article will go more into details about all the things I’ve discovered along the way (so subscribe to my newsletter). But once again, keep in mind that there is mainly one rigorous mindset when you are a startup to avoid losing too much money: deploy several micro ads that target small audiences (let’s say less than 20,000 people), test the visuals, the punchlines, wait between 3 and 10 days (people may react differently throughout the week), kill the ineffective ones and double down on the winners.
Regarding ideas though, we would have to rack our brain a little. I think it is somehow fun to imagine a barber doing an advertisement on a social network; it could be interesting to emphasize on it. To track new customers and make all this more appealing, I would also offer a discount: « Hey you! Your favorite barber is now on Facebook. Come to 709 New Street and say you are the guy coming from the ad, it will be 50% free for you! ». No need to build a website as I could redirect them to google maps or to Calendly so they can schedule an appointment by themselves. After all, ship fast is our moto.
But let’s get serious, as I haven’t seen yet, a woman who takes care of her beautiful beard as she should (just kidding), we’ll suppose that all our clients are men. That being said, there is one saga every man on earth knows: Star Wars and its characters. I’m quite sure that by just putting Chewbacca in front of the store, he’ll get a lot of stares. By making him an awesome goatee and by proving my incredible talent to the world, I might create the inception in the mind of many pedestrians that I’m a barbershop and that I am opened here and now. I might also increase word of mouth as people should talk about it during dinners and around the coffee machine. This experience has a certain cost though as I’ll have to pay more than $400 to get a retail mannequin with the complete costume. Anyway, you get the picture: it may provide a good ROI on the long run and if not, it would at least intrigue more than one customer in the shop and give them some materials to engage a conversation with me.
Do you know how you can get every email address of every single male who has money? Sorry to all dating websites that I cannot mention and that block users with a paywall, but it would take less than one month for an experienced growth hacker to suck most of your database regarding paying customers. 😏
To give you an important number, Facebook lets Yahoo retrieve the email address for one people out of two (sometimes more if you are lucky).
Even though, we’re entering the kingdom of dark manipulation here, I will still be transparent with you so that you can understand the whole picture. There is an obscure side that lies in growth hacking and each one of us is free to use it at his own risks. Basically, when there is a woman involved in the equation, I have noticed that there was some schizophrenic part that is activated in men. I haven’t seen any referral more powerful than a girl that a man is trying to seduce (even his boss does not stand the fight). Depending on your level of darkness, we’ll simply tell them after a few minutes of discussion that they are all very charming but that they should take care a little bit more of their beard because as a woman we really love that. Which happened to be a good thing because we know the perfect place with the most wonderful barber of his time. 😁
That would of course be deceiving people but I am sure that if I would have to do it, this simple trick will fill the shop day and night. I won’t mention the name of the team who succeeded in making hundreds of single men install their app thanks to a similar strategy but it was genius. Anyway, if there is one thing you should remember from this article: referrals definitely aren’t equal and you have another proof here.
There is a beauty institute for men in Paris called Blue Corner. Truth be told, I remember stumbling upon them while I was on Google Maps. As the entrepreneur was promoting his company on Adwords and showing the ads on Google Map, here is how I ended up discovering them. I have discussed this with him personally and these campaigns are very appealing as they are sending him dozens of new customers every week. If you are a physical shop, remember that you are not living in your parents’ world anymore. A lot of people are querying google everyday before taking a decision. Look at Google My Business to connect with customers, whether they’re looking for you on Search, Maps or Google+…
#3. Design the most outstanding first experience.
If we want to retain them, making a compromise on the first experience is not an option. I even remember an entrepreneur arguing to me once: « you better focus 80% of your efforts on the first user experience as everyone must go through it ». Good news, that’s exactly what we are going to do. Here are the main variables we will have to continually optimize to reduce the “friction”.
Optimization point #1: The storefront and the interior design.
People who booked an appointment must recognize our sign in a snap. Others who are walking past the place have to understand our value proposition in less than 5 seconds. Think about the storefront of any shop as a landing page. We have to highlight the value and give them the desire to pass the doorstep. Our previous experiment with Chewbacca was a way to increase the desire in this direction. Of course, we must test his impact by putting him one month in front of the wall and by taking him off the next one. If we notice a positive difference when he is there, we will double down and add Yoda next to him.
Regarding the interior design, we’ll do it old school with large leather seats and some dedicated movie posters on a red brick wall that we will change every two months. We will try our best to make the place clean, original and we will give some hooks to our customers so that they can start a discussion with us if they want to (thanks to these old posters of the Godfather, Casablanca or Terminator). Because it has never been our job and that we do not have much experience in this space, we will need the help of the people who have been there countless times. Clarity is the perfect place to solicit their advices and avoid costly mistakes.
Optimization point #2: The waiting time.
If there is one thing I have learned, most people are impatient and don’t like to wait. If we want our customers to be happy from the first to the last second, we will have to deal with this embarrassing situation and avoid as much as possible to be late. It is common in these places to have someone ask if you would like something to drink and that’s a good start. However, we can go a little further to reduce the pain.
There is a company in Paris called Lecab. It is like Uber but with a better experience in my opinion. One of the things I appreciate in their service is that there is an iPad on the seat with a custom made application that let you access the latest newspapers, magazines as well as to listen to musical playlists curated by popular people. It may just be a detail but I think there is plenty of people who, like me, appreciate this kind of initiative. As our clients are less than 60 years old and are accustomed to the technology, we will try to capitalize on that.
For 2 months, we will try to rent the Duet Multitouch Coffee Tables (it costs more than $7,999 so that’s kind of expensive for an experiment). We will closely watch our customer behavior and see if it impacts their retention. Nevertheless, it should help us deal with the waiting time in a clever way.
Optimization point #3: The experience on the seat.
Sometimes, a customer does not want to talk and that’s fine. We will make sure to quickly notice that. However for others, there is nothing more powerful than a great discussion to make two human beings closer. If you are looking to increase proximity with your recipient, you have a simple mission: find his areas of interest and focus the conversation around them. This means to listen, to pay attention to details, to have stories to tell and to ask great questions. We will focus a lot on this aspect and train ourselves to talk about a lot of things regarding a variety of subjects. People enjoy talking to good listeners, but even more than this they enjoy talking to someone who is knowledgeable about things they’re interested in, such as their jobs or their hobbies. Everyone likes to talk about things that are important to them, so naturally they like other people who share their interests.
Even if it is just talks about basic things, when we will hire some employees, we will make sure they read and understand one important book: How to win friends and influence people by Dale Carnegie.
Another trick for generating affection is to remember and frequently use another person’s name. Since everyone likes to hear their own name, whenever you meet someone new, remember it and try to use it as you talk. From what I have seen, this is one of the most underestimated things among barbers. There is nothing less unpleasant than being for the 26th consecutive times to the same barbershop (so it makes you a core user) and having someone who do not even remember your name.
Optimization point #4: The payment and the last contact.
For their first visit, I will surprise every local customer by offering him a discount of 10% and some product samples (a way to get them to buy the real thing). That’s a classic and I have seen plenty of people use that trick. I don’t know if it has a real impact regarding the cases where you dealt with the previous aspects perfectly but let’s say that it is a way to end on a good note. I don’t have much ideas to optimize this point but if you have some, feel free to share them in the comments. As you will see below, I think there is more things to improve with loyalty cards though.
Update: Instead of giving them a product sample, I could also hand them a sticker with the barbershop logo so that they stick it on their Mac. A computer is probably one of these objects we use on a daily basis and so, we will come back in their mind every single day.
#4. Creating a habit and accelerating referrals.
Deliver great customer service and let your loyal customers do your marketing for you. At the end of the day, stuff sells because people like it and recommend it to other people. Nonetheless, let’s accelerate this natural behavior.
In my opinion, most loyalty cards are stupid and here is why:
- First, even though it won’t last for long, many are made with paper which can make you lose or forget them. That’s why I would automatically create a virtual loyalty card for every customer and make it easy to access through their name with a special url like « mybusiness.com/julien ». I’m quite sure there is a decent service that already exists somewhere to do something similar (if you know it, share it with us in the comments). That would keep us away from reinventing the wheel and we will be able to run this experiment faster. Of course, it must be a web service as we won’t ask them to install any application (it is too intrusive).
- From a customer perspective, they also tend to promise you no reward until you reach your 10th purchase. That’s like promising a 5 years old he will have a Ferrari when he will hit 31. That’s too far and the motivation to come back is very low. I prefer to believe in fragmented rewards and to lead the customer to form a habit step by step. To give you an idea about what I mean, here is an experiment I would run with local customers (once again only them): on the second visit I would offer a discount or an incentive attractive enough so that they remember to come, on the fifth visit another one and then, on the 10th visit, a free cut. Of course, I would have to make sure to stay aligned with my margins in order to avoid losing money but with local customers, retention is my priority as they could be clients for 5 or maybe 10 years (great customer lifetime value). There is a reason why Deliveroo or Takeiteasy are intensively giving away so many promo codes.
To remain aligned with this notion of Product/Channel Fit, I often advise startups to focus most of their marketing efforts on only one social network. Trying to be the best on Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, Instagram and Pinterest is the best strategy to be mediocre on each one. In our case, we will only try to grow on Instagram as there is a great engagement regarding fashion pictures. Their algorithms are also quite less aggressive than Facebook and it seems there is a better reach there for sure. We would make sure that all my customers are following us on Instagram. Why not even buying this Instagram counter ($300) as it could be enough to make them notice it and subscribe. To kill two birds with one stone, taking pictures of our most good looking beards (with their agreements) would be a way to bring legitimacy, to show that our work is an art, to come back in our followers’ minds but especially to increase the connection with the models while growing from their own social circle as we will tag them. A strategy Diego Elizarraras has already been using in LA by the way.
Interacting with our customers by SMS may also be a promising experiment to increase retention. I’m sure there is probably some efficient tactics to imagine using Twilio. Personally, I go every 7 days, but it should be easy to notice a recurring pattern for each customer. If we see that someone is passing the doorstep every 15 days, it could be smart to send him a text message and come back in his mind with an incentive if he haven’t visited us let’s say, for 20 days. We could also ally this strategy with emailing and do some partnership with surrounding shops for men. For people wondering how we could get their numbers/emails, the moment when we entice them to create their loyalty card seems a legit timing.
Update #1: Ask your satisfied customers to leave you a review at Yelp (or whatever platform is the most relevant for you), and give them a coupon with e.g. 20% discount for their next visit in return. Such platforms are incredibly important for offline businesses like barbershops. On the one hand you collect reviews, on the other you increase the odds of the person returning to redeem the coupon. Or they give the coupon to one of their friends and you got yourself a new customer. Similarly, on Facebook, the review will show up to the friends of the reviewer and we usually have some friends on Facebook that live nearby. Social proof goes a long way. The power of individual consumers’ opinions is further emphasized by the fact that customer reviews are seen as more trustworthy than traditional advertisements.
Update #2: When the customer is finally done with the cut and paying for the service. He can be given a 10% discount voucher/offer if he or she tweets about the experience or reviews the shop on Facebook. On Twitter, we usually define the location while tweeting so a relevant tweet will go to the followers of the person and also shows up in the area specific feed.
Update #3: This also means to engage with negative reviews by displaying the human side of your company: when you spot a negative review online, apologize to the customer and do what you can to solve the problem that has left him so unhappy.
Update #4: If my barbershop would have been based in the US, I would have probably given a try to Belly (the largest loyalty rewards program) in order to make some of my customers come back. For people interested about how this business got its early traction, there is an interesting study on GrowthHackers.
#5. Experimenting with pricing and increasing revenue.
Even if Intercom is making a lot of money with a complicated pricing, keep in mind the adage: « a confused mind does not buy ». Pricing for a barbershop should be easy and smart. We will use a simple system and round the prices to avoid to deal with changes. If we have a great retention, we will also increase our prices a few bucks while making sure that it does not affect our existing customer base. Also, if we can upsell our customers by selling them beard products (remember the samples we are giving to them during the payment phase), this would be a way to make even more money.
Here ends this essay. For those who have further ideas to growth hack a barbershop or any other places, feel free to share them in the comments. I hope you now see the mindset and the power of the experiments that we run on digital businesses and that could also be very lucrative for offline commerces. Anyway, if you could remember one thing from this article, it should be: If you do not want to deal with this experimentation attitude or cultivate this spirit of testing and optimizing the entire customer experience funnel, it is going to be very hard to find the golden nuggets that will bring you to a game changer. Here lies the dream every entrepreneur chases: find a model that brings tremendous results so that we can double down and optimize the machine.
Thanks to Nada Rifki for reading drafts of this experiment.
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