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The Marketing Showrunners Blog

Insights on making original series to build passionate audience. Because marketing isn't about who arrives. It's about who stays.

By: Jay Acunzo on August 20th, 2019

How a Business Owner with Zero Video Experience Created an Original Series to Build Boston’s Best Barber Brand

I don’t know if you knew this, but I’m an adult. And one thing that adults are supposed to do, as I recently learned, is get adult haircuts.

Okay, some of the men reading this don’t know what I mean, so let me just explain quick. Guys: If you pick your barber the same way you pick, oh I dunno, your underwear for the gym? You’re gonna have a bad time. A few years ago, after ten years of me picking whichever barbershop happened to be nearby, I finally decided to select a professional barbershop, because I am an adult man … and also my wife made me.

The shop I selected was called Razors, based in Somerville, Massachusetts. It’s owned and operated by a guy named Anthony Berriola, and the first time he cut my hair, not only did he give me a great cut, but he threw in a free neck shave. Amazing!

Okay, some of the women reading this don’t know what I mean, so let me just explain quick. When God made Italian men, he looked down at his work and went, “Ah, shoot, they’re too confident, this is gonna be a problem.” Then some angel in the back shouted, “Make ’em hairy!” And so a free neck shave is … (chef’s kiss).

The point is, Razors had far exceeded my expectations the first time I went there. The second time I showed up, I again got a great cut. I again got a free neck shave. And it felt good … but not as good as the first time. This is the paradox of exceeding expectations. As soon as we do so even ONCE, we’ve changed their expectations. What was once refreshing or innovative, no longer is. In fact, it can grow stale really quickly. And so, the third time I went to Razors, I got a cut and a shave, and it felt good, but not as good as the first two times. That’s when Razors got creative.

“Hey, I’ve seen you here several times before,” Anthony said to me. “We’re having a concert here this Friday at the shop. Why don’t you come by?”

“What?” I asked, completely caught off guard.

He said, “A concert. Like with music?”

I said, “No, I know what a concert is. But I also thought I knew what a barbershop was and how do the two go together?”

It felt like a random stunt. It wasn’t a stunt. Here’s how Anthony Berriola and Razors Barbershop went from Great Cut and Free Neck Shave alllll the way to Concert at a Barbershop. And yes, it involves making an original video series.

The Origins of the Original Series

Let’s go back to a few years prior to me learning about Razors. The team was cutting hair just like any other shop, while I was going to a small French salon near my apartment called Supercuts. Anthony and his team were starting to feel stagnant in their work. They were doing the same thing every single day, and Anthony wanted to both inspire his team to enjoy their work more and find new ways to separate from his competition. (I counted 16 places one could get a haircut within walking distance of Razors, with 6-8 of those being barbers who also target men as customers.)

“I would sit there for hours at night going through social media,” Anthony told me. “One cool barbershop in Amsterdam led to another cool shop in Argentina, and I thought, ‘It’d be great to go there and maybe work there for a day to see how they do things in a whole other area, way outside my comfort zone.'”

So Anthony set out on a trip. He drove to Nashua, New Hampshire, to a small shop that tried to blend the traditional (as Razors does) with the modern shop. He took a train to Brooklyn, to Cotter, which is half espresso bar, half barbershop. Then he flew over to Italy, and hopped a train down to Sorrento, where he saw an entirely old-world approach to the barbershops that had inspired Anthony to launch his business in the first place. Then he was on to Amsterdam to yet another eye-opening place for a day of work and learning. The entire time, Anthony filmed his travels. He thought he could inspire his team and existing customers with what he learned from the trip, then use the videos to market Razors in a competitive area to show prospective customers just how innovative and different they are, too.

Anthony knew that for these videos to succeed, he had to convey the same immersive, hopeful, and emotional journey he experienced in video. How? He thought music could do the trick, but he didn’t have the rights to any original music, nor the budget to pay for it. He could do the editing himself, using simple tools like iMovie, but he couldn’t bear the idea of using free stock music. His videos felt like everyone else’s. That’s when Anthony got truly innovative.

The Obstacle and the Approach

Anthony realized that hundreds of musicians and bands tour through the Boston area every year. He thought, “So why not bring them into the barbershop? Because everybody needs a haircut when they’re on tour. Gotta look fresh for the show! Then I can record them singing songs that were done exclusively at my shop and use that recording as the music to score these videos.” Anthony checked the upcoming agendas of several local concert venues and began reaching out to various artists, explaining what he wanted to do. He bartered that great cut and those wonderful free neck shaves in exchange for musicians playing a song or two in his shop. He also promised them free marketing to his shop’s social media followers and email subscribers.

As always, this stuff proved to be about resourcefulness, not resources.

Slowly, over a few months, Anthony banked a bunch of recorded video of musicians in his shop, then he cut together clips of them playing with clips of his travels, using the audio of the songs the entire time. He then built a basic Squarespace site to host his videos, and of course, he gave the series a memorable name. He called it… (drum roll, please?)

Anthony Shaves the World.

Clearly, the music is superior to any stock track Anthony could find on his own, but more importantly, it immerses the viewer in the same emotions and sense of adventure and wonder that Anthony felt while traveling. He inspired his team. He better-served his customers. And he attracted new customers to Razors despite the competitive noise. Today, Razors is the top-rated barber on Yelp in their area, far outpacing the second-place competitor in ratings, 214 to 41. Razor’s owns the third-ranked page on Google results for “barber somervilla ma” and the top listing on their framed box containing a map and business listings (with ratings) that sits atop Google search results. They’ve won several local awards, including Best of Boston, Boston’s A-List awards, WGBH radio’s local listings, Scouts Honored, and American City Business Journal’s local Boston affiliate’s top barber award.

Most crucially of all, of course, Anthony inspired his team, served his customers, and attracted new customers who adored their service:

The Hard Truth of Original Series

At first glance, it seems that the hardest part of making a show is, well, making the show. In truth, the hard part is always continuing it. Anthony muscled through 6 episodes, before the show died. That’s just the way it goes sometimes. He saw results but very quickly realized that maintaining and growing the show would be too much to bear. Were I to advise Anthony — or any small business owner focused on a travel show like this — I would tell them the same thing I always tell even the biggest of brands: break apart your show into its three most fundamental pieces, then craft a sustainable strategy for each: the show concept, the episode structure, and the talent.

Anthony had a GREAT show concept.

His episode structure was really all gut feel. He would brute-force his way through crafting each episode, cutting and scoring based on what felt right. That can be fun, but it’s rarely sustainable or repeatable. Because he already has several great episodes, Anthony has all he needs to extract an underlying episode structure — called a “rundown” — that he can document and use to scale and sustain the show. He can ask: What are the blocks of this show, the larger parts, each to advance the episode in some way for the viewer? Write them out: COLD OPEN, A-BLOCK, B-BLOCK, C-BLOCK, CLOSE. What’s the purpose of each in advancing the viewer from the moment they hit play to the very end, so they never hit stop? The COLD OPEN is about intriguing the viewer so they keep watching, introducing a theme, a question, or a little hint of a great story to come. A-BLOCK might be the initial shots inside Razors with the musicians playing the song that will become background music as we head into B-BLOCK, which takes viewers on the road with Anthony to the barbershop being profiled. Once those purposes of each block are set, he can select a target runtime, as well as the various moments (called “beats”) that likely need to be captured to create an excellent block of content. (For instance, to establish that we’re traveling together in B-BLOCK, we need some establishing shots of the car, train, or plane as we leave, some signs or local identifiers so we know where we’re arriving, and the outside of the barbershop. This should be captured each and every time, even as we innovate and tweak things around those moments to shape B-BLOCK episode to episode.)

The third piece of a great original show is the talent. Anthony served as the host talent himself, but like many of us, he wears lots of hats. He’s a business owner, a barber, and basically their head of sales and HR and product research and development, both for third-party products they use at Razors and their own branded line of razors that they now sell. It’s too much to bear to host a travel show, sustain it over time, and consistently excel at all those other things. So for this third piece of a show, the talent, I’d advise Anthony create a system where his employees could visit various other shops. Armed with a well-documented rundown, they wouldn’t need to be overly familiar with the episodes — maybe a cursory viewing, plus a discussion of that rundown. Once they understand the parts and pieces of an episode, they can step into the role of host. That’s what documented show strategies do: They’re like the Iron Man suit. ANYONE who steps into them becomes superpowered.

Anthony could thus send his employees to various locations once or twice a year as part of an employee retention and education strategy. Part of the series goal was to inspire them. Imagine the inspiration they’d gain physically going where Anthony went? And thanks to that documentation, they’d know exactly what needs to be captured, when.

Additionally, Anthony could recruit barbers from all over the world to film their work on camera all by themselves, sharing the files with Anthony to create future episodes. He could again coach them to fill out that rundown in brief, capturing the right moments for Anthony to later edit together. Now he gets to create more episodes without ever leaving Somerville, to supplement moments when he can actually travel himself.

Anthony Shaves the World ended last year. Maybe there’s a season two in the works. Who knows? I think there’s room for it. But there is some great news in all of this, for all of us, relating to how creativity actually happens. It’s not about what’s in your wallet. It’s about what’s between your ears, or, more aptly, what’s in your chest. Anthony approached creativity as a habit, not a Hail Mary. Although the show ended, the results kept coming. Remember that concert series I mentioned? Yeah. Being habitually creative, Anthony knew to build on what was working into new and refreshing projects. He plucked out the underlying reason the show worked so well — an immersive experience, full of emotion, set to music — and he began applying it to new projects. He created “Fresh Cuts Concerts,” held right in his shop with local and touring musicians. He then extended his use of music to a Sunday brunch series, with local artists playing in the shop while local restaurants and bars brought their food and drink for patrons. That showed him the power of partnerships, which prompted Anthony to again expand upon what was working. He partnered with one local bar, Saloon, and the brand Johnnie Walker, for a night of cuts-and-cocktails. He again extended his use of partnerships to create a pop-up hat shop inside Razors, and last I checked, they were experimenting with live comedy shows.

The team at Razors knows to ask a simple question. Whereas most of us wonder “what works?” so we can put something on repeat, they ask, “Why does this work?” Then they take that underlying insight that powers one creative success, and they remix, refine, reuse, repurpose, and reinvent their way to creating brand affinity.

As a marketer, I can think of nothing more worthy of a chef’s kiss.


 

Special thanks to our presenting sponsor for all things video shows, Wistia. They make tools for video-loving marketers, including showrunners. They also produce their own original series, like Brandwagon, a late-night-style show about the changing ways we think about brand in our work. Watch it here.

 

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Founder of Marketing Showrunners, author of Break the Wheel, and host/producer of docuseries about creative work. I’m trying to create a world where people feel intrinsically motivated by their work. Previously in content marketing and digital strategy at Google and HubSpot and VP of brand and community at the VC firm NextView. I write, tinker, and speak on stages and into microphones for a living. It’s weird but wonderful.

Get in touch anytime: jay@mshowrunners.com // Speaking inquiries: speaking@unthinkablemedia.com

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