The Third Place and Subliminal Messaging

The salon of the future will not survive on hair services alone. It will have to be supplemented with other reasons the consumer will want to visit. We need to ensure that consumers view our businesses as “The Third Place.” Your home being the first place, your work is the second place and our businesses are the third place.  

One of the greatest challenges that salon owners currently face, is spending time and education on hairdressers, only for them to leave to set themselves up in booth rental situations.  

The question is not why some staff quit. One can understand their perception and point of view. The real question is how we ensure it has limited effect on the business when it happens.

The answer is to create future salons that offer consumers a number of additional ways that they can frequent our establishments other than for a hair service, performed in an environment that is designed to create a memorable experience for the consumer. This will also minimize turnover of service providers. An additional reason to eliminate legacy thinking is that, in ten years time, over 30 percent of all retail transactions will be bought online.

I have often argued that today’s initiatives are yesterday’s minimum standards with increasing rapidity. A new salon business model is required that can excite consumers, offer entertainment, motivate staff and create lasting memories, partly through subliminal messaging and advanced technology. We have to create a subjectively inappropriate impression of familiarity of a present experience within an undefined past.

The Third Place

Every day I go to Starbucks and spend $3-4 on an espresso. I linger, check my email, read the paper and chat to other patrons. Occasionally, I purchase a sandwich. Some evenings, I go to a restaurant/bar and consume a couple of glasses of wine. I feel very comfortable in these locations and it has become my third place and a ritual. Millions of other Americans do the same thing.

What if we created future salons that offered a coffee bar and a wine bar that customers could visit daily, three times a week or weekly to get a coffee, work on their laptop, watch the news and have a glass of wine. Allied to serious retailing designed to emulate the best practices of companies like Sephora.  The principal is, the longer you keep consumers in a store, the more products they are going to buy. Walt Disney once said, “Think of what your competitor is doing and do completely the opposite.”

When I suggest coffee, I understand that all salons offer coffee. This coffee bar concept would be set up like a mini Starbucks that sold high-end coffee in an appropriate environment that was separate to the salon. Additionally the space could be licensed out to a proven operator in those industries.

Naturally, this would work best if the location was not a destination, has adequate square footage and positioned in a high traffic area and a convenient space. Salons that are not positioned with high foot traffic will need to ensure additional reasons for consumers to feel it’s their club. This can be partly achieved with subliminal messaging.

Subliminal Messaging

Imagine if you can plant a positive memory into your customer’s mind that will remain with them in between visits to the salon. Further imagine that you can influence your customers with messages that get embedded into their subconscious mind.

One of the objectives of all businesses is to create a brand that will be sustainable and recognizable. Subliminal messages are linked to the concept of injecting thoughts into the mind of the consumer without their awareness. It is the perception that people can be made to do things they would not ordinarily do.

There are two basic ways in which subliminal messages can be sent to the unconscious mind, visually and auditory. In the 5th century B.C., the early Greeks created the science of rhetoric as a way of influencing people. By infusing pieces of mind-persuading data into sentences, in videos or graphics, people can be influenced by the language they use. If they see or hear certain bits of information (i.e. words, fragments, or sentences) placed strategically, a person can be persuaded one way or another without perhaps knowing.

Subliminal Messaging Examples

In a wine study, four French and four German wines, matched for price and dryness, were placed on the shelves of a supermarket in England. French and German music was played on alternate days from a tape deck on the top shelf of the display. On days when the French music played, 77 percent of the wine purchased was French. On the days of German music, 73 percent of the wine purchased was German. Clearly, the music was a crucial factor in which type of wine shoppers chose to buy, but when asked whether the music had influenced their choice, only one shopper in seven said it had.

We believe that when we choose a laptop or a laundry detergent, plan a vacation, pick a stock, take a job, make a friend, judge a stranger, and even fall in love, we understand the principal factors that influenced us. Very often nothing could be further from the truth. As a result, many of our most basic assumptions about ourselves, and society are false.

In 1957, a drive-in theater in Fort Lee, New Jersey, flashed the words ‘Drink Coca Cola’ and ‘Eat Popcorn’ for 1/3000th of a second every 5 seconds over Kim Novak’s sensuous face and throughout the movie during a 6-week run of the film “Picnic.” As a result, Coke sales in the lobby increased 58% and popcorn sales rose 18%.

Unconscious Emotions

What stops us from creating and implementing new vistas? Our conscious mind calculates the optimal excuse, while our autopilot unconsciously handles the proper use of gerunds, subjunctive verbs, and indefinite articles so that our plea is expressed in fine grammatical form. This interferes with our decision-making. If asked by a police officer to step out of the car, we will consciously obey, and then instinctively stand about four feet from the officer. When talking to friends, we automatically adjust that separation to about two and a half feet. Most of us follow these unspoken rules of interpersonal distance without ever thinking about them and can’t help feeling uncomfortable when they are violated.

We all, as social beings, form personal “theories” of our social world. These theories are part of the adventure of participating in human society. They cause us to interpret the behavior of others, to predict their actions, to make guesses about how to get what we want from them, and to decide ultimately on how we feel towards them. Do we trust them with our money, our health, our cars, our careers, our children, or our hearts?

If you want to understand yourself, your staff and your clients, and want to overcome many of the obstacles that prevent you from living your fullest, richest life, then you need to understand the influence of the subliminal world that is hidden within each of us.


What can we do to overcome the fear of changing from the business model we know and trust? The invisible force of internal drive activated, is the most important thing for a meaningful life or success in business. When we analyze the reasons that strategies don’t work, we come up with examples of lack of money, time, I didn’t have the right knowledge, lack of technology, etc.  What they all have in common is a missing resource. Although this may be accurate, that is not the defining factor why an initiative was not successful. The defining factor is never resources, its resourcefulness.

Emotion creates the action that we are going to do. It is the drive of life. There are 6000 emotions that we have words for in the English language, but if you write down all the emotions you experience in an average week, it totals less than twelve, and half of those do not make you feel good. Your model of the world is what shapes you long term. That's what filters us. That's what makes decisions. If we explore our own internal web, our needs, beliefs, and our emotions that are controlling us, then we can then fully appreciate what is driving other people.

What we perceive is usually not a reflection of the truth.

When I was in my early 20s, I used to phone home around eight every Thursday night. Then, one Thursday, I didn’t. Most parents would have concluded that I forgot, or maybe that I finally “got a life” and was out for the evening. But my Mother had a different interpretation. Starting around nine, she began to call my flat (apartment,) asking for me. My roommate apparently didn’t mind the first four or five calls, but after that, as I discovered the next morning, her reservoir of good will had dried up. Especially when my mother started accusing her of hiding the fact that I had been severely injured and hence was not calling because I was under sedation in the local hospital. By midnight, my mother’s imagination had goosed that scenario up a couple notches—she was now accusing my roommate of covering up my recent death. “Why lie about it?” my mother asked. “I am going to find out.” Most children would be embarrassed to learn that their mother, a person who has known them intimately their whole life, would think it more plausible that they had been killed than that they had been out on a date.

Study Expressions

We can tell if our customers are having a good experience by their facial expressions. Faces play a special role in human behavior. That’s why, despite men’s usual preoccupation, Helen of Troy was said to have “the face that launched a thousand ships.” And it’s why you pay attention to people’s faces and not their elbows or their words, to get a quick and accurate report. We look at faces to quickly judge whether someone is happy or sad, content or dissatisfied, friendly or dangerous. Our honest reactions to events are reflected in facial expressions controlled in large part by our unconscious minds. Expressions are a key way we communicate and they are difficult to suppress or fake, which is why great actors are hard to find. The importance of faces is reflected in the fact that, no matter how strongly men are drawn to the female form, or women to a man’s physique, I know of no part of the human brain dedicated to analyzing the nuances of other parts of the body.

If I were talking to you, your gaze would bounce around my face, mostly near my eyes. The six muscles controlling your eyeball move around 100,000 times each day, about as many times as your heart beats. If your eyes were a simple video camera, all that motion would make the video unwatchable. But your brain compensates by editing out the period during which your eye is in transit and filling in your perception in a way you didn't notice.


Time is a powerful force. It transforms our preferences, it reshapes our values and it alters our personalities. Only when we look backwards do we realize how much change happens in a decade. It's as if, for most of us, the present is a magic time. It's a watershed on the timeline. Human beings are works in progress that mistakenly think they're finished. The person you are right now is as transient, as fleeting and as temporary as all the people you've ever been. This is also true about consumers and business models.

Consumers are looking for more than just services. They are looking for experiences, entertainment and a venue that will support their need for enhanced self-esteem. They will reward salons that achieve these criteria with their loyalty. Our fundamental goal is to create a ritual for consumer’s offering multi-level reasons to visit our salon and keep coming back.

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