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Digital Download: Coty Unveils Google Assistant Tool for Clairol

This isn't the beauty firm's first voice development. It launched an Amazon Echo Show program earlier this year.

There was once a point where Fred Gerantabee stood in a bathroom trying to use a suction cup to stick a cell phone to a mirror.

It was in the early days of voice technology, and he and his team gathered in that work bathroom to try to envision how voice technology could impact bathroom-based beauty routines — like home hair coloring.

These days, as vice president of global digital innovation at Coty Inc., Gerantabee remains bullish on voice technology — but things have progressed significantly since the suction cup.

On behalf of Coty, he’s partnering with Google to launch a program for Clairol that can walk people through the at-home hair-coloring process. Called the Clairol Color Expert, the Google Assistant action takes home-colorists through finding the right shade at the store, applying color, reapplying and caring for hair afterward. To get the program going, consumers start with saying, “Hey Google, talk to Clairol.”

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Then the coloring process begins.

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Clairol Color Expert aims to solve for friction across the shopper journey — at the shelf, at home and after hair processing. The program is available on all devices with Google Assistant, which includes more than 500 million Android phones, iPhones, smart TVs, Chromebooks and smart speakers, like Google Home and Smart Displays. Clairol Color Expert was developed by Beamly, Coty’s in-house digital agency, with Voxly Digital, a voice developer.

At the shelf, Clairol messaging will inform shoppers of the voice assistant options, then shoppers can talk to their phones to pick out the right hair color and product type. The program also has data on legacy hair colors, so if a shopper is looking for a color that has been discontinued or renamed, Google Assistant can point him or her in the right direction, Gerantabee said.

“We are talking about rolling out fixed devices for certain premium shelf set-ups,” he noted, adding that the idea of the program is to continue having shoppers buy Clairol products in stores. “Eventually, we’re going to expand this more aggressively in January where you’re going to hear a lot of our creators and influencers talking about it,” Gerantabee said.

“We still sell a tremendous amount of product and have really strong relationships with our retail customers, Walmart, Target, Ulta [Beauty], Walgreens, etc., so it was important to us that the solution was promoting sales and pickup at retail not just in e-commerce.”

Right now, consumers can’t purchase via voice through the program, and would need to interact with their device. But a future iteration of Clairol Color Expert will allow voice purchases, according to Gerantabee.

For Coty, the Clairol Expert aims to help solve a problem with technology.

“We look at things we see as unilateral category problems, things that consumers need, and I think one of the old tried-and-true and long-standing and probably not very well solved problems in the category is that home hair color is very overwhelming,” Gerantabee said.

Coty’s Google tool follows the debut of a shoppable Amazon Echo video skill that aims to help users pick makeup looks using products from brands across Coty’s Consumer Beauty division. “That was launched with five color cosmetics brands, so we are starting to look at voice across a wider spectrum,” Gerantabee said. “There are plans to roll it out it the U.S., we’re currently working on a plan to continue to build and scale it out for our brands in the U.K. and beyond, in Europe.”

Coty isn’t the only beauty player experimenting with video and voice technologies. In November, Sephora unveiled its own Google partnership, under which the retailer has installed Google’s Home Hub in 10 U.S. doors. That move aims to allow beauty enthusiasts a hands-free experience while they look for beauty tutorials on YouTube.

That type of hands-free experience is going to be a big deal, according to Gerantabee. “It’s going to be huge,” he said.

“Think about how you look for a YouTube video or how you type in a search…to a degree, we’re not searching for things always in the way we’d talk about them,” he said. “What voice is doing, and doing better every day as it’s getting better and it learns and there’s more lexicon thrown into the market — it reacts to people to the things they would normally say.”

“I don’t have to sit there and say, ‘Hey Alexa, weather 11561 zip code.’ That’s not how people talk. I can say, ‘Alexa, what’s the weather in my neighborhood?’ And it knows what I’m talking about,” he said.

That eliminates friction, he said. It also eliminates typing, which he called “a pain in the ass.”

“Nobody sits there and does their makeup by typing into their phone,” Gerantabee said. “Multitasking with your hands has a limit, and voice takes away some of those limits.”