Listen to learn: educating Philips on black haircare

By combining social intelligence and the power of the Illume Guides, Philips North America gained a better understanding of Black African American haircare, enabling them to inspire and support a leading US retail partner.

Young guy with curly hair holding a cup of coffee
Young guy with curly hair holding a cup of coffee


How it started

As the Black Lives Matter movement gained momentum in 2020, it triggered conversations on a more inclusive and representative future. The same was true at Philips’ reseller, a leading tech and services retailer. The brand questioned how well they catered for Black African Americans, particularly when it came to haircare.

Philips decided to support their retail partner by bringing thought leadership and insights to the table that could help establish a more inclusive approach. This resulted in a broad as well as bold brief: “Educate me on the experience of caring for Black African American hair”.


How we inspired change

Our team approached this project via a unique combination of two powerful assets from the Human8 toolkit:

  • Social Intelligence: we ‘listened’ to over 1,000 conversations digitally, by accessing leading social platforms and exploring relevant online forums (e.g., Lipstick Alley, the internet’s largest African American forum). Through the many reviews, recommendations, search terms and memes we collected, this approach allowed us to observe not only the actual language used, but also the subtle forms of communication through imagery or cultural references. This gave us real insights into the experiences, tensions, routines, and unmet needs in haircare from directly within the Black African American community.
  • Leading-edge input: we involved the ‘Illume Guides’, our network of leading-edge consumers. From models and influencers to drag performers, the unique individuals we selected had a heightened experience of what it means to care for and experience hair as a transformational medium. As we wanted them to show and tell us what they believed we needed to hear, we used several digital ethnographic approaches. The Illumes were asked to vlog about their haircare routines and create digital mood boards representing their ‘hair universe’. Finally, once we had immersed ourselves in the online conversations, videos and visuals, we engaged with our Illume Guides for final conversations, to ensure that they felt the themes, stories and experiences that we had uncovered were representative of the Black African American community.


Philips_Illume guides


How it lives on

There were three overarching themes that helped Philips not only to better understand the experience of Black African American haircare, but also to support their retail partner in understanding what this might mean for them:

  • ‘Cultural Identity’: through hair, consumers are carrying a deep-rooted history, bonding as a community and embracing self-discovery. Brands and businesses must keep listening and learning and provide support by educating the mainstream.
  • ‘Natural Authenticity’: there is an increasing focus on embracing and catering to natural Black African American hair types. Consumers are looking for more understanding of the diversity and types within Black hair. Brands must ensure that language and visuals used in communications truly reflect the nuances within this space, while focusing on celebration and empowerment.
  • ‘Unique tensions’: for Black African American consumers, there is a unique set of tensions in maintaining their hair. There is a need for new solutions and innovation in this market, and the opportunity for leading retailers to better support consumers on the journey to finding those solutions.

The rich findings in each of the key themes helped the retailer to better meet the needs of consumers within the Black African American community. For example, the input from this study fuelled communication on the retailer’s Black history month web page, creating a better shopping experience for all types of hair and styles.


Philips_homepage retailer

“This project truly delivered on the brief and beyond. The goal was to educate, and our partner was highly impressed with the final outcome of the research that was presented. At a tactical level, this helped provide guidance on our partner’s Black history month web page which has created a better shopping experience for all types of hair and styles… We believe that type of research and the unique design employed will go a long way.”

Dale Gatling
Senior Manager of Shopper Insights, Philips

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