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Years ago, I was conducting research on the personal grooming habits of the American consumer. The research highlighted one segment of the target audience as a group of males who spent an extraordinary amount of time on hair care each day.

This group was referred to as the “peacocks.” Animal euphemisms aside, the research identified what has become known in current marketing-speak as the metrosexual.

The metrosexual is the prototypical 21st century male, with refined sensibilities and priorities. A recent article in the New York Times deemed them “straight, hip and moisturized men—every marketer's dream.” These are not wimps or girly-men. More accurately, members of this market segment are into taking care of themselves inside and outside.

According to a recent study sponsored by advertising giant Euro RSCG Worldwide and conducted by Market Probe International, masculinity has been in a state of transition in recent decades.

The male of the new century is more comfortable in describing his feelings, is more emotionally invested, and is honed in on daily grooming and prepping to make a good impression. A whopping 89% of men surveyed said good grooming was essential to success in the business world. Nearly half of the men admitted that there was nothing wrong with getting a manicure or facial.

I recall my grandfather as a figure larger than life in many ways: a bomber pilot in WWII and a hard-drinking man who loved to fish, golf and swear, in no particular order.

As a kid, I recall him joking that all he needed for a shampoo was his handkerchief as he pulled it out of his pocket and wiped it across his bald head. Metrosexual? I think not.

Admittedly, I have inherited some of his machismo traits, having eaten rattlesnake and survived a skydiving accident, and I'm a fan of single-malt scotch.

However, I also confess to a higher-than-average involvement in personal grooming and clothing. I'm not sure if I'm a metrosexual, but I suspect it is not an assessment easily made about oneself. Therefore, you may be a metrosexual and not even realize it.

To find out, answer the following question (or pose it to a man you know): How many hair-care products do you have in your bathtub or shower? Count them - shampoos, conditioners and so on.

Is it two? Three? Five? In one focus group, a consumer admitted to having 12 hair-care products. If you have more than three, chances are you are a metrosexual (or you know one well).

Tom Granese has some key insights to offer on this emerging segment. As founder of Regimens, he understands that an increasing number of men adhere to these new qualities and values. As a retailer of premium personal grooming products specifically designed from a masculine perspective, Regimens has placed the metrosexual at the bull's-eye of its target audience.

“We are tapping into the male segment of the beauty category with an estimated annual value of $4.5 billion,” reports Granese. “It's anticipated to increase to $5.5 billion by 2006.” This makes male-focused products the fastest growing segment of the beauty products industry.

Such brands as Mont Source, Nickel and Baxter of California are marketed to men who spend an average of 51 minutes per day on personal grooming and hygiene. Compare that with women, who spend an average of 55 minutes per day. The metrosexual has a decidedly higher level of involvement than the average Joe.

On the whole, most advertising in America has been targeted to women because they have historically controlled or influenced fully 85% of the purchasing decisions. As a result, women have had an important role in the purchase of men's toiletries. By tradition, men's grooming products have been relegated to a small section of the local grocery aisle with such legacy brands as Edge, Aqua Velva, Brylcreem and Top Brass.

“It's time to stop getting grooming tips from a grocery clerk,” says Granese. “The retail environment for men's products has generally not kept pace with this market.”

There have been some signs of recent change that reflect the increasing importance of men in the premium grooming category:

  • Department stores have increased their focus on the male category by boutiquing their premium lines.
  • Such specialty beauty retailers as Sephora and Ulta have dedicated sections of their stores to male-targeted products.
  • Leading mass-market beauty care manufacturers Neutrogena and Nivea have launched skincare lines with men in mind.

The emergence of this new class of male consumer raises a question in consumer marketing: How do you now market to the new American male in a characteristically different, yet appropriate, manner? Here are some basic guidelines:

  • Avoid the male cliché. Hot-rod magazines and a prize catfish mounted on the wall do not a retail experience make. Consider an open, well-lit environment that invites the male consumer to enter and explore. In retail, men generally do not like to feel closed in. Depending on your retail model, consider an open seating area where they can relax and enjoy spending time in your retail space.
  • Use visual breadcrumbs. Male consumers need clear visual clues to lead them into your store. Place items near the front to capture attention while broadly representing your product offerings. A bit further back in your store, place larger, more engaging displays to draw them further into the space.
  • Call off the hounds. Like any shopper, men may or may not want to have sales assistance while in your store. Learn to read customers as you greet them when they enter. Consider a retail philosophy that allows them the freedom to explore on their own, with plenty of printed product information around, yet makes sales assistance available when they have questions.
  • Sample, sample, sample. Men like to try before they buy (as do women). But men generally want to try it on their own. Have open products readily available for testing. Most men won't admit it, but they also love free samples. Have trial-size products available with or without purchase.
  • Dollars and scents. The nose wins every time over sound and vision in the retail game. The sense of smell is the most primitive of the five senses and in many respects the most powerful. Ensure that you have a well-thought-out fragrance philosophy and plan for your store.
  • Show what you know. Men in this market segment want to know why your products are better than others. They are open to knowledge and research on a better solution to personal grooming. The more information you can provide at the point of purchase, the more you will engender their trust and confidence.

Men in the premium category decidedly have their own perspectives and preferences on how they choose products for skin care, hair care, shaving and toiletries. They are beginning to understand that it is a good thing to take a more active role in treating themselves to a heightened level of personal grooming.

Savvy retailers who understand the mindset of the peacock will reap the benefits of customer loyalty by becoming an important part of their daily rituals.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Mitch McCasland (mmccasland@moroch.com) is director of insight and brand strategy at Moroch Partners (www.moroch.com) and a leading advocate of using customer insights and competitive intelligence as a basis for brand strategy, advertising, and new product design.