How can hair care truly speak their language?
UNDERSTANDING PROCTER & GAMBLE'S HAIR CARE "WHO"
... and how can understanding their hair, their lives, their journeys turn around a declining category?
Aaron Steele, P&G's Consumer & Shopper Insights Leader for North America Hair Care, felt strongly that much more deeply and authentically understanding their target users would be the change agent their business needed, and chose ELEVEN to partner in this important research.
Through several weeks of close collaboration, we dove into a wide range of in-context interviews and immersions that didn't just give us the insights the team needed, but also ultimately helped change the team's culture to one focused on more user understanding. The result? Stories we'll never forget. Action plans for everyone. And, most importantly, P&G hair care's best year in a decade!
Read on to learn more, with many thanks to Aaron for his inspiring leadership, his championing of the user in inventive ways then and since, and for letting me share this work today.
OVERALL CHALLENGE - Help P&G’s Pantene, Head & Shoulders, Herbal Essences, and Aussie teams more deeply and authentically know their consumer targets, and build immediate and long-term marketing strategy that reflects these learnings
CLIENT PARTNER - Procter & Gamble - Pantene, Head & Shoulders, Herbal Essences, and Aussie
PHASES - Research
TEAM - ELEVEN: 3 Researchers, 2 Industrial Designers | P&G + Partner Agencies: 1 P&G Consumer & Shopper Insights Leader for North America Hair Care, 14 additional P&G team members (from Associate Brand Managers to Brand Directors), 15 partners from 6 other agencies
DURATION - December 2014 - February 2015
LEARNING TARGET - Top consumer targets for each brand, at important moments in their lives (examples include teen athletes, African American women going natural, engaged women, new moms)
CORE RESEARCH CHALLENGE - How can we quickly but authentically get to know such a wide range of users, and build immersive experiences despite having a large team? How can we ensure that each team’s wide-ranging learning goals are met, and meaningful action plans are created all together?
PRIMARY METHODS/TOOLS -
“What We Know” sessions - previous learning integration, with presentations from ELEVEN, P&G, media planning agency, and creative agency attendees
Qualitative research training
In-depth interviews (79)
In-context immersions (22)
Synthesis + action plan creation sessions
KEY DELIVERABLES -
Interviewee recruitment + coordination
Assorted overview insights/learnings
Detailed user profiles
Marketing outreach guidelines
Co-created action plans for each brand
PRIMARY CONTRIBUTIONS - proposal scoping and writing, key stakeholder interviewer, research plan designer, participant recruiter, “What We Know” session presenter and leader, on-site interviewer + coordinator, synthesis/action plan session leader, primary driver of subsequent analysis, executive presentation builder, and client point person throughout
SKILLS THIS HIGHLIGHTS - I believe this project sheds light on my ability to balance user and client needs alike, in order to bring the right work to life. I'm proud of the trust we built with Aaron and the team from day one, our ability to build authentic experiences and really get to know our users even with many people in the room, and ultimately our impact, turning a 7-year decline into their best year in a decade!
Our challenge: help P&G turn around their major brands, through foundational insights into each of their key consumer targets.
Enable staff, from VPs to new associates, to much more authentically know their users, to hear the stories themselves, to internalize what they learn, and to think differently about users moving forward. Pair these transformative learnings with multi-agency knowledge sharing and synthesis, to collaboratively build in-depth outlines for how to move forward, including each brand’s 2015-2016 marketing, trial, and media plans.
Specific learning objectives included understanding users by hair type and life stage, investigating major life transitions these users are navigating, identifying any other important target users and life stages to focus on, and bringing this all together to prioritize future targets and how best to connect with them.
CONTEXT + CONSIDERATIONS
By early 2015, P&G was seven years into declining performance in the hair care category, and each of its major brands - Pantene (#1 hair care brand in the world), Head & Shoulders (#1 shampoo), Herbal Essences, and Aussie - were in need of a turnaround.
Our client partner, Aaron Steele, felt that enabling everyone from the VPs to the “worker bees” in each brand to much more deeply understand their users would be essential in making products and campaigns that really speak to her and to him, and to ultimately catalyze this turnaround.
His goal, which soon became our goal? Help these four brands get to know several of their core targets, through multiple immersions, and in cities where those users like to be. Aaron suspected major change wouldn’t happen unless everyone on the team heard these stories firsthand, so we all set off to listen and learn together, and made sure to incorporate as many of their own learning goals as we could. Though the logistics were complex, the right path forward was clear.
To better understand so many different user journeys, while also doing so on a tight timeline, we zeroed in on the highest potential learning opportunities: the target users that mattered most to each brand (with a meaningful range among those), and the moments of life transition that tend to trigger major changes in behavior.
A couple other major drivers shaped our approach: stakeholder learning priorities, and our desire to create immersive, real learning opportunities. With the former, we started early and asked often what our stakeholders needed to learn in order to inform the right work thereafter, we included all in the in-person research, and ensured that everyone’s voices and insights were heard during our synthesis sessions. We strove to say “Yes” even when it was complex, and to adjust along the way in order to give the richest and most valuable experience to all, and to take our wrap-up sessions as far as they needed to go for everyone to have a plan in hand.
With the various learning priorities in mind, we dove into crafting a wide range of in-context interviews and immersions for each of their major brands (Pantene, Head & Shoulders, Herbal Essences, and Aussie), focused on each brand's key targets (by age, gender, ethnicity, and/or stage of life), taking place in three cities (Boston, Chicago, and Cincinnati), and involving 6-14 P&G and agency partners on the ground for each. We spoke with 79 consumers, across 22 ethnographic immersions, in ~2 weeks… all serendipitously concluding a day before the famous 2015 Boston blizzards began!
Despite so many immersions, and with so many of us in tow, we worked hard to ensure we still get the right insights. We knew we needed to be true to authentic, immersive learning with consumers. How could we make them feel comfortable with 14 of us in the room? As such, we asked target users to pick the places they most liked to spend time, and bring a couple of friends - be it at happy hour, the mall, or the diner next to school. We broke the teams into small, often 1-on-2 conversations led by team members comfortable with research, to help teach the wider team how to connect with interviewees, and to make sure everyone let their guard down, and covered hair care but also life.
Finally, to make sure the insights we gathered along the way were not just inspiring but impactful, we wrapped up each brand’s session with group synthesis and detailed action plan generation. Needless to say, it was one of the most intense but also exciting collaborations we’ve had.
| METHODS |
STAKEHOLDER INTERVIEWS - Conducted interviews with key P&G and agency partner teams, to introduce upcoming research and to better understand previous work, their expert perspectives, and major goals
“WHAT WE KNOW” SESSIONS - Led in-person sessions to review previous work and learnings and discuss research goals, including 30-minute presentations from ELEVEN, P&G, media planning agency, and creative agency attendees on Day 1 of each brand’s immersions. Offered quick coaching in qualitative research methods and our discussion guide
TARGET USER ETHNOGRAPHY - Conducted in-depth in-person interviews and immersions focused on each brand’s top targets, in Cincinnati, Chicago, and Boston
CONCEPT EVALUATION - In separate cases, shared early marketing concepts with interviewees for initial feedback
SYNTHESIS + ACTION PLAN CREATION SESSIONS - Concluded research by turning collective observations into insights for each major target, prioritization of target users, and action plans (immediate and long-term) meant to best connect with them
| TARGETS |
PANTENE IMMERSIONS - Boston + Cincinnati:
> Engaged women @ bridal expos, restaurant
> African American women going natural + not @ cafe
> Pregnancy + new motherhood @ home, restaurant
> Hispanic women @ cafe
> Salon experts @ salons
> Women turning 40 @ bar
HEAD & SHOULDERS IMMERSIONS - Chicago:
> Millennial men and women @ bar
> African American women going natural + not @ beauty stores
> College men @ bar
> High school teen athletes @ diner
> Hispanic women @ cafe
HERBAL ESSENCES - Chicago:
> Hispanic women @ mall
> College students @ campus
> Teen girls @ mall
AUSSIE - Cincinnati:
> Millennial women @ bar
> New moms @ cafe, bar
As we asked users about everything from identity to daily routines, major life changes to recent hair care purchases, and observed them and others throughout, we learned more than we could have anticipated about who’s important to P&G, and what’s important to those people.
A few sample insights include:
HAIR INSIGHTS across hair types + conditions:
> MEN: If men care about their hair (great hair or lack thereof)… they often do so silently
> DANDRUFF: It’s not me, it’s you. It’s time to redefine the problem to fix: #1 - this is about conditions (oily in summer + with sports, dry in winter); #2 - you can talk about dandruff, just not first; #3 - don’t make them sacrifice great hair - soft, smooth, nice-smelling
> WHO INFLUENCES THEIR HAIR? People who know more than me (stylists), people like me (vloggers), people I want to be like who are still super relatable (authentic, relatable models), and, ultimately, me (trial)
LIFE + HAIR INSIGHTS across key thresholds + groups:
> BRIDES will always want to look their best on the big day, but have 1,000 other things on the list too, and just as many voices telling her what/who/how to prioritize… plus a good dose of pressure. Timing + placement are key if you want her to hear or be helped by you
> PREGNANCY involves a lot of predicting the unpredictable… NEW MOMS roll with whatever really ends up happening. #1 new reality: “me" time = 3% of the time (and they’re fine with it). Make their 3% (whenever they can actually take it) count
> AFRICAN AMERICAN WOMEN GOING NATURAL rarely have an easy path. They feel more empowered than ever to do the big chop yet can feel powerless once it happens if their hair’s not on board too. Let’s do all we can to help them fully embrace the chop… and themselves
In addition to insights to serve as guidance and inspiration for future campaigns, we concluded each brand’s session by building extensive action plans for each sub-team in attendance.
Each set of recommendations aimed at being immediately actionable, as well as including principles and other important considerations to shape a longer-term plan. Each team returned home with a list of which users to prioritize, how to try to reach them, and some guidance on messages and mediums they might connect with. We helped lead these sessions, and kept asking “What else do you need for this to become reality?” but also were excited to see some teams take over, excited to discuss together which ideas they most connected with, to start drawing up timelines, and make it their own right away.
Though we cannot share the full plans publicly, we are able to elaborate on a couple of sample priorities that came out of our discussions:
> AFRICAN AMERICAN WOMEN + INCLUSIVE MARKETING - Though African American women were a stated focus ten years ago, after our sessions, and how much we learned about how complicated it can be for them to navigate their hair journeys, they have been declared a priority. And, not only are African American women a focus for Pantene moving forward, but prior to our work, the marketing teams didn’t fully understand how important it would be for those women to see people like them in advertisements. These women want companies to demonstrate that they value and respect them, which is an insight that has had ripples in all the hair care brands as well, making all advertising more inclusive - “I want to see people like me.”
> DANDRUFF LANGUAGE + TEEN ATHLETES - For Head & Shoulders, it was a revelation that dandruff is something people don’t want to talk about, that they see it as something very condition-specific, be it weather or sports - “It’s you, not me.” The language around dandruff needs to change to not only make people feel more comfortable, but also to help them understand the conditions that irritate it, and to give them a semblance of control. A group this is particularly true for is male teen athletes, especially high school football players. Our evening eating burgers and fries with several of them at their favorite diner near school led to some conversations that the leadership team still bring up today, including recognizing how dandruff is the last thing a teen wants if he’s going to talk to someone he likes in class. With this, H&S and the other brands are thinking differently about puberty, and how they can be more helpful during this confusing and sometimes self-conscious transition.
I have been so grateful and excited to hear that our collaboration became the turning point for P&G hair care, leading to their best year in a decade, thanks to the culture change that the ethnographic immersions helped usher in, and the insights that still resonate and have led the business in exciting new, prioritized directions.
First, culture change - as Aaron describes, the experience of bringing so many specialities together for our ethnographies, putting their agendas down and stepping outside of themselves, was more powerful than anyone anticipated. The team that returned to P&G after had a different level of empathy for the people they were trying to understand, had stories that haven’t left them, and think differently now about trying to step into others’ shoes, and why that should be a priority.
As for systemic business change, the action plans we generated together have not only been implemented, but the insights that fueled those are continuing to inspire next steps. For example, as a follow-up to the recommendations noted to focus on and think differently about teenagers (especially teen athletes), Head & Shoulders just had the most success from sharing samples in the history of the category, and will be sending samples to 80% of high school football players in the country in the coming year. Pantene is now reaching out to half of the engaged women in America (and better know how and when to reach them - clue: not wedding expos), and Aussie is rethinking what new moms most want. And stay tuned to a range of other new outreach programs and even product offerings emerge from the work we did together.
Many congrats to the P&G team for taking the time to come together during the heat of a crisis, to try a new approach to building strategy, and to emerge with self-generated action plans that have led to such an immediate and real transformation. And much gratitude to Aaron for trusting us to lead this important work, and for helping catalyze such a fundamental shift within P&G since under his leadership. We’re excited to see what all he and the team take on next!
WHY THIS PROJECT STANDS OUT
COLLABORATION + TRUST
Trust builds the best work
We built an incredible relationship with our client partner, Aaron Steele, from proposal writing through long after the project’s end, which was not just special, but helped us take our abilities even further. Aaron has an incredible vision for what he wants to do with hair care and with teaching empathy to others, and through his enthusiasm and our early bonding, we wanted to do everything we could to exceed his lofty mission. With this trust, even though it was our first collaboration, he felt comfortable knowing we could somehow make magic happen despite how executionally complex the ask was, and under the pressure of needing to turn around a category in crisis. Alongside this, Aaron notes his appreciation of our commitment to building similar relationships with all of his stakeholders, including asking various teams for their own learning goals and expertise as we built our plan, inviting them to join the research and helping each person connect with users, and ensuring everyone felt they left the sessions knowing what to do next in each major project.
Ethnographic gymnastics, in quality and quantity
Tasked with 20+ user targets and various related immersions, a wide range of learning goals to accommodate, four brands to build multi-day research sessions for, and 6-14 clients working with us on the ground for each, we put our logistical hats on and got to work. We knew that an important element of sinking into research on the client-side would be seamless transitions and experiences through all of the above, and valued attention to detail highly. At the same time, it was even more important for us to build quality ethnographic immersions that helped the interviewees feel at home, and comfortable sharing their true selves and thoughts with us. Though more logistics were involved, it was worth every extra phone call and Uber ride to meet users where they really were. We played with thoughtful structure and extreme flexibility, and are pretty darn proud of how it all turned out.
Insights that still resonate
We were lucky to have the above arrangements lead to conversations and connections we could have hardly anticipated. Every researcher came away with stories he or she still tell and that, when brought together with the larger group on each final research day, offered clear priorities for next steps, a-has that continue to fuel ideas today. Aaron also shared sample insights from previous projects that have been impactful in the past, which we used as inspiration to craft our own deliverables in a style that would most effectively speak to P&G leadership, and would better serve as tools for the long haul. Once again, key in creating meaningful isights was also our commitment as a group to sharing them, workshopping them together, and coming away with a few bullets that resonated with all in the room.
IMPACT ON P&G
Their best year in a decade
We could hardly have anticipated just how impactful our work would become for the 30 client partners that joined us, or for the business nearly immediately thereafter. It sounds as though our collaboration inspired a shift in team culture, new expectations for how deeply they need to get to know their users, and a different level of empathy for each group. With some high-yield action plans, appropriately prioritized target users, the right messages and mediums for them, P&G has just had its best year in a decade, and the growth continues.
"Working with Jeanette taught me the courage to fight for what I believe in. She has a passion for the work that I haven't often encountered before, and she brings that and a zest for life every day.
Also, for me, when working with a consultancy, the most important thing is building trust and relationships. Jeanette and her team invested time and built trust with me and others in the organization. She listened first, and asked everyone what they wanted and needed, and made a plan that fit all those needs - those are skills, habits you can't teach. She managed to unify all of us, even with an incredibly complex group. Even though it was the biggest investment I made all year, and pretty high risk, I wasn't worried putting it in her hands - she had built trust and credibility. And by doing that first, we were able to lean forward together and do something, and ultimately be successful."