Tuned: L’Oreal, in touch and in tune with African hair
by Thabang Leshilo (@Thabang_Leshilo) It’s Saturday and I’ve made the dreaded monthly trip to my hair salon in Johannesburg’s bustling and trendy Braamfontein from my apartment in Greenside. In the midst of the organised chaos that afternoon, it’s the new L’Oréal Professional African Salon Institute that catches my attention as I drive out. “Why is that?” you might ask.
Braamfontein, directly across from Park Station (Jozi’s central railway station), is a densely populated space filled with a diverse group of people constantly moving in and around from all over South Africa and the rest of the continent. After Eight, as Grace the owner has creatively named it to emphasise her unique selling point, is one of roughly 75 downtown salons specialising in ethnic hair.
All pursuing attention
Among the juxtaposed makeshift African hair salons, trendy cafes, spaza shops and vintage boutiques, brands — such as KFC, Vodacom, Nike, FNB, McDonald’s, Puma, and Virgin’s Branson Centre of Entrepreneurship – all pursue the attention of upwardly mobile African consumers and compete with high noise levels from a multitude of different sources.
Everyone is selling and pushing their agenda aggressively, from churches and magic healers of any ailment (including reproductive complications) placing flyers and posters on every surface to the Asian retailer with disposable fashion at a bargain and the street vendors who have fresh fruit and loose cigarettes on offer just outside the Pick n Pay. It’s a wonder how any communication gets through to anyone.
Brands so often talk at or to consumers through a number of communication channels, but they don’t necessarily talk with them in an ongoing conversation. Consumers are becoming smarter than that and they can tell the difference when brands are purely speaking to them through advertising and promotional activity, and when they are genuinely being engaged in a meaningful conversation.
Building credible relationships
But back to the L’Oréal Professional African Salon Institute that’s caught my eye. As a woman who has been braiding her hair since the age of six, I can tell you that ethnic hair care is certainly not a territory that L’Oreal is famous for among African consumers. So where and how would it even begin to go about building a credible relationship with consumers?
According to Elle magazine, this institute is part of a global network of L’Oreal training institutes and the first of its kind in Africa. The training centre aims to address job shortages and a lack of financial means for education by offering a flexible approach to training at an affordable rate.
“Many hairstylists in South Africa are self-taught, so there’s a need for more professionally trained hairstylists in the industry,” Jane Maclaren-Taylor, L’Oreal professional products division general manager, tells Elle.
Although this may not be an income-generating investment, the presence and premium experience of a professional hair institute dedicated to African hair will build the brand’s credentials in African hair care, and, despite the institute being primarily targeted at budding hairstylists, its presence in the hub of an African hair district will certainly have a spillover effect.
L’Oreal’s approach is ingenious: it has naturally integrated and immersed itself into the everyday world of the consumer, and any thoughts or perceptions that consumers might have previously held about the brand not being for them may very soon change.
L’Oreal has not only understood the cultural nuances of its consumers; it has gone a step further by acknowledging the importance of this craft that is African hair care. Aspiring consumers in an emerging market, particularity in the beauty and hair care category, are looking to be educated and inspired by the way a brand looks, behaves and interacts with them.
Gateway for engagement
The institute is a gateway for consumers to engage with the brand on a very personal and intimate level in a very familiar environment, without L’Oreal having to aggressively sell its agenda. By understanding the relationship between people, the things they buy and their social environment, L’Oreal’s presence allows for an organic dialogue to begin between the brand and consumers and, in time, build credibility.
In summary, brands need to create meaningful and interactive touch points that are rooted in cultural understanding.
By understanding how people engage with things within their world and environment, brands can very naturally immerse themselves into the everyday life of a consumer and build an authentic relationship that gives meaning to the brand and keeps consumers engaged — just like L’Oreal is doing with its Professional African Salon Institute.
Thabang Leshilo (@Thabang_Leshilo) is a project manager (brand) at strategic marketing consultancy Added Value South Africa. As a ‘next-generation’ marketer with fresh and curious eyes looking into the industry, she has a keen interest for brands that are culturally in tune with and able to integrate and immerse themselves into the everyday realities of the consumer.
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