Produce content that creates value with no ask… it HAS to be a gift with no strings attached. We are constantly reminded of this by carefully watching what performs and what gets buried. It’s blatantly apparent that if we start to sound even remotely “salesy”, people turn off.
I had the pleasure to interview Andrew Carruthers, Education Director for Sam Villa. There’s something noble in having a singular focus of devotion, but Andrew Carruthers believes diversity in focus and experience is the path to true happiness. Fueled by over 17 years of full-time work in a salon, his experience also includes salon ownership, photographic work, as well as personal and professional coaching. As an educator, Andrew has worked for many national cosmetology brands and is currently the Education Director for Sam Villa®, a brand specializing in a wide variety of online and live education. Those that experience his unique teaching style and insightful writing can attest to his authenticity and devotion to helping the everyday stylist behind the chair become better at what they do. Andrew has a great passion for motorcycles, travel, music, nature, and photography because they all connect him to Mother Earth…a connection that creates balance while fostering creativity, empathy, resourcefulness, and stability. Stylists can sense his calmness and knowledge for the craft, making him a very relatable and relevant educator.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Ialways wanted to be a rockstar growing up, but after touring with my band and working in a recording studio for a while, I realized that the life of the traveling musician was not for me. My sister had started hairdressing a few years earlier and it seemed like such a cool job. She had the ability to be artistic, she had flexibility in her schedule, and she seemed to form these really cool relationships with her customers. I found a rad salon filled with cool hairdressers to apprentice me and I was hooked. The owner of that salon quickly put me into an education role for a company called TIGI which was the first taste of what became my true passion in our industry… education.
Can you share a story about the funniest marketing mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Well, there was that one time we dressed Sam up like a leprechaun… I don’t know that it was a “mistake” because the audience loved it, but poor Sammy has had to take a lot of razzing over it ever since. I do think the lesson there was, just because it works at the moment, it doesn’t make it a great idea for the brand in the long term. We realized later that even though it was funny, and it got some attention, it wasn’t authentic to our brand.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Without a doubt, it’s our authenticity and our personal connection. We not only produce more free, high-quality, digital education for our industry than any of our peers, but we are also backing it up in the field every week. After over 35 years in the industry, Sam is still on the road most weeks out of the month connecting with people face to face and I’m on the road typically twice per month doing the same. We still go to most of the large Beauty Shows because we know it’s where we can form relationships with the hairdressers that have supported us… even though the big hair shows aren’t necessarily financially beneficial to the company, we know the value of creating real connections. When we meet people for the first time, they treat us as if we’ve been best friends for years because they’ve spent the last 5 years immersing themselves in our weekly YouTube content which we keep very personal and down to earth. We speak to the everyday hairdresser instead of trying to show off how fancy we can be.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
We just had a great meeting on how to best utilize our digital content. We had a monthly subscription platform that we primarily posted long-form in-depth content, but we realized that the content wasn’t reaching as many hairdressers as our free content on YouTube. Again, we made a decision not based on financial gain, but what we know is best for our community, so we are going to be taking that long-form content (which is expensive for us to produce) and placing it into our YouTube platform where we know it will reach thousands of more hairdressers that really need that education. With that, we are revamping our presence on that channel and taking advantage of the new opportunities like YouTube Live where we can speak more directly to our audience. So, not necessarily a new project, but a VERY exciting revamp of one of our most successful channels! Sometimes it’s not about reinventing the wheel but leveraging where you already have the most momentum!
Ok let’s now jump to the core part of our interview. In a nutshell, how would you define the difference between brand marketing (branding) and product marketing (advertising)? Can you explain?
Particularly younger consumers have very little tolerance for being “sold” on something… it’s very obvious in our social statistics. If we post something that even remotely smells of a “sales pitch”, it is completely ignored and buried in the bottom of the social feed. So, we’ve discovered that building the relationship to our brand through delivering something to the hairdresser that actually makes their life better (education with no strings attached) creates the long-lasting connection we need to be a sustainable business. There is a loyalty and a perceived value because we show that we are there for them, so when it’s time for that hairdresser to purchase a new blow dryer, flat iron, or pair of shears; we are at the top of their list when they start shopping.
Here’s a great example: 10 years ago, if an awesome new blow dryer came out that was super innovative and had features that nobody had seen before, every hairdresser was talking about it and wanted to be the first to own it. Now, people aren’t wowed by technical specs (advertising)! They are captured by WHO is using the dryer (intelligent marketing). Even Dyson figured this out. When their dryer first came out, it definitely had a buzz just because it was new technology, but they immediately started putting it into the hands of young hip influencers. I guarantee if you asked 90% of the hairdressers out there using that dryer why they bought it, it’s because they saw it in the hands of someone they look up to and they wouldn’t be able to site any real technical specs on the dryer itself.
Can you explain to our readers why it is important to invest resources and energy into building a brand, in addition to the general marketing and advertising efforts?
We would go as far as to suggest that MOST of your investment should be in brand building. The scary thing is to trust that the money will find its way back to you. Sam always says, “If we help people get what they want, we will get what we want.” This is brand building at its finest because the consumer’s B.S. meter is finely tuned. If you are producing content with the intent to sell your product as the primary motivator, it will be seen as sales and advertising which will quickly guide your content into the black hole of social media where it will never be seen. If you produce content with the intent to serve and build a relationship with your audience, that will be intuitively sensed by those individuals and their attention to your message will be rewarded greatly by the algorithms on social, YouTube, and Google.
Can you share 5 strategies that a small company should be doing to build a trusted and believable brand? Please tell us a story or example for each.
#1. Show the real names and faces of your brand in everything you do. Another great Sammy quote is “People buy people first, then they buy things”. Don’t hire an actor for your videos because you are scared to get in front of a camera. People want REAL and real means showing up as who you really are. And guess what… people route for the underdog and want the unusual right now. Perfection and polish get lost in today’s world.
#2. Produce content that creates value with no ask… it HAS to be a gift with no strings attached. We are constantly reminded of this by carefully watching what performs and what gets buried. It’s blatantly apparent that if we start to sound even remotely “salesy”, people turn off.
#3. Get out from behind the computer and create face to face connection. Our most loyal and raving fans are people that we’ve built both an online and in-person connection with. We, in turn, share those experiences through social and others can see that we are living our message. Look at Gary Vaynerchuck’s content. He isn’t just posting himself talking, he’s posting himself in a one on one conversation with real people. That’s not an accident.
#4. Dedicate time to see what’s coming next. Everything is changing at such a rapid pace that it only takes a few months to find yourself behind the times. We found ourselves a little behind the curve with our subscription platform. We could see that paid education platforms were shifting direction and that consumers were becoming less willing to pay for content that could easily be found for free. We thought we still had a year till we needed to be concerned with our direction and within a few months, we saw that platform stall. Luckily, it pushed us to make a quick decision that will actually improve our relationship with our audience which is to take that same high-quality content and give it away for free to those that need it most!
#5. Constantly monitor your intentions and motivation. Every company will have financial ups and downs… the moment that your decisions are made from a mindset of lack and deficiency, you are beginning the downward spiral that is difficult to return from. There are tons of examples within our industry and only a few have been able to turn it around. By necessity, every penny becomes questioned and judged by if there is an immediate return to that dollar spent. Sharing incredible education is expensive and has no immediate return, so that is often what is cut. Along with that cut goes the consumer’s trust and attention. Without that, a small company has no path to recovery.
What role does social media play in your branding efforts?
It’s truly the center of our branding efforts. We are constantly posting and interacting daily on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Linked In, Pinterest, and YouTube.
What advice would you give to other marketers or business leaders to thrive and avoid burnout?
Stop thinking you have to do it all by yourself. Build a team of co-creative people that share your vision. Not only does it make the massive task of building a brand more manageable, but it also brings the brilliance of others to the table.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Many years ago, we started really pushing for a kinder approach in social media within our industry. In recent years, research has really shown the toll that thoughtless demeaning comments have on the psyche of people. It might seem somewhat small, but if we could really get people to interact on social platforms in a thoughtful, heart-driven, and compassionate way… can you imagine the effect that would have on our face to face relationships?
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
My most favorite quote recently is actually from Lord of the Rings. It’s a conversation between Gandalf and Frodo. Frodo says, “I wish it need not have happened in my time.” and Gandalf replies, “And so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.” It’s easy to have our attention stolen by the things we don’t like about our current situation, but when we shift our focus to the opportunity we have in front of us to create positive change on some level within the community we touch, our daily “tasks” become meaningful and fulfilling.
We are blessed that very prominent leaders in business and entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world with whom you would like to have a lunch or breakfast with? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
You know, at the risk of sounding a little corny, I’d just love to have more opportunities to sit down to a meal with the people that are important in my life. We all work remotely from different ends of the country and our lives move at hyper-speed, so true “face time” doesn’t happen very often.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
We are very easy to find on every platform by searching Sam Villa Hair