Plenty has been written about the increasing reliance of consumers on the Internet for their healthcare information. According to a recent study by the Pew Internet & American Family Life Project, so much of health care is moving online that many physicians assume everyone uses the internet. However, that assumption could lead to patients missing out on important information, or being unable to access certain tools. With so much happening online, it is easy to forget the important offline – and often unexpected–resources that can influence consumer healthcare perceptions and behaviors. Such as…your hair stylist.
A 2010 study of African American women (Johnson et. al) confirmed earlier research studies revealing that, where health is concerned , many consumers listened to recommendations from their stylists at beauty salons. The 2010 study examined the impact of beautician-provided nutritional counsel to African American women in a beauty salon setting. The study found that the women who received instruction and materials from a beautician increased their average fruit and vegetable intake from about 2 servings a day to 3 and a half a day at the end of the program.
Those of us who work in healthcare communications know that behavioral change is very often the most coveted, and elusive, goal. It is one thing to provide information, but it is quite another for an individual to act on the information they receive. Meaningful lifestyle changes resulting in healthier habits often requires multiple exposures to a single message, delivered from credible sources and provided in varied formats. The 2010 study used a single source of information – the beautician – to achieve fairly remarkable results.
This insight is particularly important as African American women suffer disproportionately from a wide range of health disparities and can be difficult to reach using online or traditional offline channels. Scholars have posited that the influence of hair stylists is rooted in the cultural fabric of African American women, who have evolved a unique oral cultural tradition around beauty salons. This oral exchange of family histories and information remains important to the preservation of African American culture and social interaction. African American women, including those 50 and older, regularly network, exchange information, and talk about local news and issues in beauty salons and beauticians are often opinion leaders within this community.
To leverage these key influencers, organizations from the NCI to Proctor and Gamble have created programs to arm beauticians with health information to pass along to their clientele. Closer to home, our account team working with Softcup began exploring beauty salons and stylists as an avenue toward reaching African American women. Softcup is a menstrual cup and holds less than 1% of the overall feminine hygiene market. Consumer research has shown that African American women are more receptive to the concept of a menstrual cup compared to Caucasian and Asian women. In the second half of 2011, we hope to add to a growing body of evidence linking stylist advice to consumer action. We will be implementing several event-based marketing programs that will introduce and connect stylists to the Softcup product.
Given the community-based nature of these beauty salons, it is no small undertaking to reach the stylists that run them. Despite these challenges, it seems that offline forums such as beauty salons might be just the place to seed conversation…not to mention get a hair cut.