Salon App Is Dyed-in-the-Wool Cool

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Salon App Is Dyed-in-the-Wool Cool
Salon App Is Dyed-in-the-Wool Cool

Client: Redken 5th Avenue NYC
Agency: Firstborn
Objective:
Create a practical, single-resource mobile app to give salon professionals the power to easily create custom hair color formulas on-the-go

The Data: Sixty-six percent of salon stylists say they own smartphones. To put that into perspective, less than half of consumers in general, roughly 44%, can say the same. That's why hair salon brand Redken's Style Station—a free app for iPhone, iPad, and Android that allows stylists to devise, mix, and share custom hair color formulas—is such a smashing success with its target demographic of professional hair colorists, says Sarah Liang Kress, the brand's director of integrated marketing communications for digital and mobile.

But that would make Redken's foray into mobile seem like a foregone conclusion, and it wasn't as simple as all that. According to research conducted by Redken, stylists were slow to respond to traditional digital advertising and, in general, were not heavy computer users.

So Redken embarked on an extensive study into the habits of stylists before taking the mobile dive, Kress says. For the past four years the hair care brand has conducted annual wide-ranging surveys of all the hair stylists and colorists in its own database, as well as across other manufacturers and its trade partners in the industry.

The findings were deceptively obvious. Redken discovered that stylists, as a group, are early adopters of mobile—which makes sense considering that they spend most of their time behind a chair rather than sitting at a desk near a computer. It became clear, therefore, that mobile is, in fact, the ideal way to reach them.

“The app's become a central platform and channel for us to communicate with the stylist community,” Kress says. “We've heard anecdotally that a good number of people who don't currently use Redken products do use the app because the tool itself is so universal.”

The Channel: Getting the competition to regularly tap the Style Station icon and engage with Redken is a big coup for the brand. But what gives the app its widespread appeal is the absence of any hard-sell tactics.

“This app is not a platform to push deals or be very ‘brand-y' or ‘advertising-y,'” says Dan LaCivita, president of Firstborn, the digital agency that built the application. “We really tried to preserve the integrity of the app as a platform of utility.”

Though there's limited integration between Redken's mobile site and the app, Kress says the brand views Style Station almost as its own channel. Rather than make the app into an extension of its product-centric online properties, Redken subtly links it to specific product launches. For example, when Redken launched its Chromatics line in March 2012, Style Station got a strategic upgrade.

“We're trying to create a marriage back to the product where it makes sense, but we don't want to force it,” Kress says. “There aren't different apps for different product launches; Style Station is a one-stop shop for whatever stylists need.”

The Backend: The app's backbone is a feature called the “Formula Finder,” which allows stylists to calculate the ideal color formulas from Redken's Chromatics line by selecting a client's current and desired hair color. Other features include a look book section where stylists can upload pictures of clients' new 'dos; a timer that lets colorists set multiple alarms to keep track of various clients; a consultation tab where stylists can get information to teach clients about hair care and maintenance; and access to the “Break Room,” Redken's social media network for stylists.

Style Station also includes a custom CMS through which the hair care brand exports and uploads fresh color options whenever a new product line gets released—a special feature for which Firstborn's in-house 3D studio created digital three-dimensional colorless hair. Redken could then use a slider—like a mini Adobe Photoshop palette—to make the hair any color it wants.

The app, which acts as a digital hub, has also given Redken the opportunity to cut back on the volumes of printed matter it used to distribute to the stylist community. “Instead of people tearing images out of magazines and then looking all over the place trying to find clear plastic folders to put them in, we're updating and upgrading that experience,” Kress says.

The Strategy: Style Station is the mobile embodiment of Redken's core education motto: “Learn better, earn better, and live better,” Kress says.

“The app serves a business need, but it also definitely translates Redken's core brand identity and represents the brand really well,” she says. “It's a partnership between the brand and the salons.”

Redken is also big on education; it organizes nearly 5,000 classes each year—and at the beginning of each one, the instructor starts off by asking all the students with smartphones to download the app.

The Results: To date, the app's brought in roughly 75,000 downloads. Users spend about 27 minutes a month on it and return an average of eight times. Redken estimates that roughly 78% of the salons that carry Redken products employ stylists who use the app.

“I thought the number would start to dwindle and that there'd be peaks and valleys, but engagement's remained constant,” Kress says. “I mean, there are so many apps out there I end up deleting or only try once—which is why these stats just blow me away.”

The Takeaway: Part of Style Station's success is attributable to its sleek design, strong aesthetic, and user-friendly interface across all devices, including iOS, Android, and Windows phones. Firstborn's LaCivita says his team always develops multiple versions of every app it builds to ensure collective usability. Some brands attempt to roll out the same design over different operating systems to save time or money and it generally doesn't work out well in their favor, he says.

“We always ask, ‘How will this best function across all systems?'” LaCivita says. “Because someone might have a great iOS experience and then everyone who downloads it through Android thinks it sucks.”

According to LaCivita, Redken was smart about its app development; it did the required legwork and it didn't make an “app for app's sake.”

“The number one thing about Style Station is that it's solving a real business problem and provides a genuinely beneficial service for stylists and salon professionals,” he says. “It's an app that makes their lives easier.”

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