By Danny Luber.
Welcome to BOLT Barbers in Downtown Los Angeles.
Just like any other retailer or service-provider today, BOLT is subject to the sometimes-harsh criticisms on Yelp. This is a serious challenge for any business operating today. I just checked—Yelp.com had over 19,000,000 visits in the past month. If your business can’t hang on Yelp, say goodbye to a lot of potential customers.
And with haircuts, the Yelp game is even more complex. That’s because both parties play significant roles in how the final product turns out. Think about the steps involved to make sure you get the haircut you want.
- You have to know what type of haircut you want.
- You have to know how to communicate that hairstyle in barber terms—I’ll a #4 on the sides, faded to a #6 up top.
- You have to ensure that the barber understands this and follows the directions accordingly. (I’ll often interrupt mid-haircut just to make sure we’re both on the same page.)
- You have to be happy with the final result.
There are many more degrees of separation between you and the final product than say walking into a restaurant, ordering from a set menu, and then deciding whether the cheeseburger was 3 or 4 stars. A haircut is much more organic, much more of a team effort—both parties play significant roles in how the final product turns out.
And this very well could be the reason, or justification, or just why Bolt Barbers is able to pull off this campaign.
A few weeks ago, I went to Bolt for the first time and was blown away by this marketing maneuver. While most businesses do everything they can to manage or hide their bad Yelp reviews, BOLT celebrates them. They have these posters and banners on the walls and windows, printed books with real excerpts from their Yelp page on the coffee/magazine table. All of it celebrating the discontent customers that took the time to log onto Yelp and bad-mouth Bolt after getting a subpar haircut.
The questionable ethics of this ploy is certainly up for discussion. Here’s a comment from a Yelp user, Jeff M.
Both sides, Jeff M. and BOLT, have valid arguments here. BOLT publicizes their discontent customers through an ironic, almost-making-fun-of-them stream of content. You actually took the time to go on the computer and talk smack? Get a life, bro.
Is this ethical? I think you have to understand Yelp in order to answer that question.
Yelp is the 21st century medium of free speech, the Internet’s way of bearing truth on commerce. Nobody’s fooled by a cool sign or fancy menu anymore. We all have iPhones with Yelp. They’ll tell us what’s good and what’s not.
This is a serious threat to businesses. (It’s also the opposite, but we’re going to focus on the threat right now.) Understand that retailers and service-providers of today have to be on their game at all times because 1 bad Yelp review can really mean not-so-pleasant things. Let’s run with that thought for a sec. What can bad Yelp reviews do?
There’s the very concrete and obvious answer that it turns potential customers away. John Smith is now at Jamba Juice because he just re-lived Patty M.’s horror story of your smoothie shop’s styrofoam cup breaking and spilling every drop of the 32 oz Blueberry Bliss all over her new BMW X5′s leather interior.
Then there’s the more intangible. A lesser overall Yelp rating means that customers go into whatever your business’ experience is with lower expectations. Sure, this presents an opportunity to blow them away but it also opens the door to the confirmation bias, a psychological tendency for people to gather information that reaffirms pre-existing biases. I suspect this smoothie’s going to be OK (because I’ve just read the Yelp reviews,) so I’m drinking it with the attitude that I want to tell myself that I was right, that this smoothie’s just OK, and that I accurately predicted the future.
So we get it. Bad Yelp reviews = serious threat to business. Now back to BOLT.
Everyone’s going to have a different ethical stance on the People Hate Us On Yelp marketing campaign. If you post reviews on Yelp, I’m sure you lean more toward Jeff M.’s side because it’s easier to imagine you as the one being mocked in BOLT’s literature. If you don’t post reviews on Yelp, I’m sure it’s the opposite—you view Bolt’s strategy as entirely legitimate, an effective way to turn a negative into a positive. And there’s so many more factors that form your position on ethical dilemmas.
Me personally, I think it’s genius marketing. I view Yelp as Big Brother for U.S. business. You can’t mess up or else people know. 19 million views a month ranks 42nd in Internet traffic in the U.S. It’s really no joke to get bad Yelp reviews.
And that’s why I think BOLT’s marketing move is genius. Because they turn it into a joke.
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