Stories From The Past: Barbershop and Horse Carriage

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Near the University of New York in downtown Manhattan, at number 64 in MacDougal Street, there is a barbershop „Harry’s“. A small joint with just enough room for two of those classic barber chairs. There’s a large mirror on the wall in front of the chairs, and a shelf which displays various shaving products, on the opposite wall.

A simple space, done in a clean and minimal design, but nevertheless with that retro “vibe”, probably because of those two chairs which dominate the entire room. It wouldn’t have surprised me at all if I saw a framed warning sign on the wall somewhere saying “No politics in my shop” or if Meštar from Velo misto (comedy series about life in Split, Croatia, in the first half of the 20th century, and one of its main characters – translator’s comment) appeared at the back door.

As I was not surprised by a biker who was sitting in a chair with a tattooed arm from shoulder to the elbow, and a minute after me, a man walked in who, I could bet my boots, had just come from Wall Street. Add a seller here, and that was the entire team in the Harry’s Barber Shop, one Wednesday in October. Of course I did not come by chance to Harry’s. Those who know me know that I have not been doing my hair for the last 15 years, and that little shaving I need, thanks for asking, but I can do it myself.My son, who’d read about them on the Internet, asked me to drop by, “check out the vibe” and grab a couple of things since “I was already going to be in New York, I might as well swing by”. That’s how I first heard about “Harry’s”. And that’s where the story begins.

“Harry’s” sells only manual shaving products. The design and packaging of their products are simple, and they’re all sold under their brand. There are only two kinds and a couple of colors of manual shavers, “one size fits all” shaving blade refills, shaving foams and aftershave lotions. You can also buy one of two shaving sets that contain everything you need in one package. And that is all. All this can be bought online and for now only in the US and Canada.And this small New York-based barbershop is their only shop, the only physical space they have. As a matter of fact, the company was established less than two years ago. First things first!

Where is the logic here? Where is the „business case“, as people would say in our language? It sounds crazy to enter the market with manual razors, in the world in which 85% of the total production is controlled by two companies who have well-organized and fully developed mass distribution system.You’ll be even more confused once you’ve read that their products are meant for “those who know better than to overpay a good shave”! Isn’t the low price the result of low margins, combined with mass production and distribution? How is it possible then for “Harry’s” to offer a price twice lower for their basic product with limited distribution?

The answer is that “Harry’s” doesn’t actually sell products, it sells subscriptions! You go to their website, select your type – everyday, occasional or infrequent (referring to the frequency with which you shave – BB’s comment), and they ship you 8 blades and two shave gels every 2, 3 or 5 months, accordingly. Or you can customize your order and select your own combination of products and shipping frequency. Do it once, and it’s done for good. It says so on the website: “Worrying is over-rated, forget about forgetting!”

So, simple and affordable. OK – we understand why this is good. But why the barbershop and what is the connection with that model?! If you see a barbershop as a shop than it has nothing to do with it and it is not necessary. But if you see it as a place for advertising, and we know that each product needs to be advertised, then it makes sense! The barbershop „Harry’s“ at 64 in MacDougal Street is not a shop but a medium, a space for advertising. And all the products sold there serve, as a matter of fact, as free samples. And as far as the company’s cost is concerned, like those you get when you buy a magazine on the newsstand. The priority of the barbershop is to offer the buyer to experience products in appropriate ambiance, which is a relevant context for the content they had already read on the website. And the goal is the same – the buyer makes the decision to buy the product and thus makes the first step towards becoming a loyal customer. So, I did not go into the store this Wednesday in October in New York, but I acted in a commercial, at the same time as an actor and as a buyer. As a matter of fact, the tattooed guy and the yappy did the same. In the advertisement, in which I took part, I assured myself that I needed to buy a product that I myself advertise! And guess what, strange but true – I succeeded!!! And then I spread it to others too.

Apart from the fact that this example shows another of the modalities of functioning of a human being as a medium, it confirms the already widely accepted thesis of deleting the boundary between the virtual and the real world, but with one addition – the physical world is increasingly becoming virtual, and the virtual becomes more and more realistic, or more precisely – to live in a world that is both real and virtual at the same time. In this world, everything gets a new meaning and concepts that we thought we understood yesterday, started to mean something completely different. So, what we carry in our pocket or purse is still called the “phone”, although we rarely use for conversation, and according to the latest research, we look at it an average of 150 times a day. The device in the corner of the room is still called the TV, although it’s just one of the screens that surround us. After all, the Internet is still often defined as a “new medium”. This is not the first time that language is “slow” in applying particular expressions to particular occurrences. When the first car came along, over 100 years ago, there wasn’t a term to describe this new-fangled contraption, so it was called a “horseless carriage” at first because this type of definition helped people more or less visualize this novelty. It was only later that the “horseless carriage” became a “car”, and the fact that we still use “horsepower” to describe a car’s engine power today is merely a testament to that time.

Consequently, it is not surprising that people who work in the media, marketing, and market communications do not understand the consequences of this fact that things literally turned upside down. I do not say that they are not aware of it, we all see it and feel it – after all, more or less we live all live our lives in this way – but we do not understand it. Since we don’t understand, we can’t even make out what is happening. Therefore, we are primarily adapting to it with instinctive reactions, because we are not able to plan. When we act as individuals, we have a positive natural reaction, as we react according to the Darwin evolution theory using our ability to survive by adapting. But how do we react as professionals dealing with the media, marketing, and market communications? Mostly by trying to keep the current state of things with some adjustments to new changes, but so that the work system and relationships do not change fundamentally.

And this inertia is understandable, but the attitude is wrong. It does not lead to failure, which might be better, it leads to irrelevance. This second is much worse than failure because it takes longer to feel that somehow in the end everything will be fine. Like in that great verse – “falling looks like flying for a while”!

When I say that we do not understand the consequences of the changes that are happening around us, I do not think, in any case, that on one side are those who do not understand, and on the other side there are geniuses to whom everything is clear. Nobody understands it, we all have only assumptions. As this is one of those breaking times that has yet to be interpreted as such by someone else.  But we live and work today. What we should take as the starting point when we talk about market communications is the fact that everything around us has become an integrated content – the “content” that people gather about, talk about and create and share it themselves. And the traditional media-marketing industry is now stuck in the midst of the feeling that it needs to be radically changed, on the one hand, and hope that the situation will improve on the other, by adjusting the existing system of situations. That is why it fell into a kind of melancholy that directly leads to marginalization and irrelevance. It’s probably most obvious when we have a look at what’s happening to advertising agencies. In the world of integrated content, which is today’s communication platform, agencies still have their own “account” departments, “creative” departments, “media planning” and “strategic planning” departments, then “digital marketing” departments, etc. So, they have the same structure from the traditional advertising period when you could provide services with such a structure that was equally successful at selling shampoos and sanitary pads, cars, insurance, banks, sour water, yogurt…

Today you are defined by the TOPIC of your expertize. This topic is to be wide enough to be relevant and at the same time narrow enough to allow you make a unique view of it, as it will bring the active participation of the target audience. And you have to be an expert on this subject, because, this is the way you will get the trust. So you begin to build and nurture a community of active individuals who are both creators and consumers of such content which will gradually become a market for your products and services. It is true that this sounds a bit naive and looks more like a kind of “horseless carriage” and I do not know exactly where it all leads, but I know that this is now a horse carriage which will not take us far from here. Hardly even to a good barbershop.

Source: Media Marketing

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