I recently attended InnoCos, an event focused on innovation in cosmetics and personal care, where a number of professionals from across the industry spoke about their product development and marketing innovation initiatives.  Speakers varied significantly in company size and product portfolio, which provided an interesting dimension to the discussions (i.e., prestige, mass market, cosmeceuticals).

We’ve all seen how trend-driven segments of cosmetics and personal care can lead to a marketing race for a product with the latest “hot” ingredient. It often seems as though within weeks, the shelves are lined with similar products all touting the claims of the now popular ingredient.  What if, as a product development professional, you knew the hot ingredient wasn’t the most scientifically effective ingredient?  The marketing power of the product and ingredient claims will be a strong launch success indicator – nobody will buy the product if they don’t understand the ingredients.  However, in the long-run, the product has to be effective to remain successful.  Which wins out in your product portfolio: efficacy or marketing power?  How often in product development is the ingredient with the most marketing power also the one with the most efficacy?

During the conference, I was lucky enough to hear a presentation by Dr. Marko Lens. He is an authority in the field of skin aging and skin cancer and founder of Zelens skin care. When you hear Dr. Lens speak, it is evident that his passion is in the scientific research behind the skincare products he develops. He creates products from experience, research and need rather than from trends.  However, having the luxury of developing products based purely on his scientific experience comes at a price. Many of the Zelens skincare products retail between $95-$240 USD.

During his presentation, Dr. Lens posed an interesting dilemma he often faces in developing skincare products. Finding the balance between leveraging ingredients he knows have a significant scientific benefit with no consumer recognition in contrast to using ingredients with high consumer demand and recognition yet slightly lower efficacy is a challenge.  Ultimately, the two opposing approaches can lead to considerably different product success results meaning the most effective product isn’t necessarily the most successful product.

As a scientist, you may know that harnessing a particular ingredient with scientific power could be meaningful to the efficacy of a product, but if consumers aren’t educated on the terminology of the ingredient they won’t understand the end result and, therefore, won’t buy it. Subsequently, the product will likely be a commercial failure. As a product development leader, do you scrap the scientific ingredient in favor of the ingredient with better marketing name recognition? Does this present an opportunity for marketing to work with scientists on the front-end of innovation to begin consumer education initiatives, perhaps following market research initiatives and prior to product launch? Retinol, one of today’s most scientifically proven and well-known anti-aging powerhouses was able to bridge the gap between efficacy and marketing to fulfill both claims. However, it took many years of reformulation and consumer education backed by dermatologist recommendations to get Retinol to its current state as a well-recognized mass-market ingredient.

On the flip side of this argument, the term stem cell is having a moment in the spotlight as a hot skincare ingredient.  An abundance of ingredients have hit the market claiming plant stem cells are an “exciting frontier in skincare” and claiming they can help “stimulate skin to regenerate and repair”. While “made with plant stem cells” sounds scientifically impressive as a claim, it turns out they are largely believed to be purely a marketing claim. Many scientists claim that harvested plant cells are no longer living, and wouldn’t translate any real, regenerative benefits to living human stem cells. However, a number of skincare products are thriving based on this stem cell claim because the majority of consumers aren’t scientifically savvy enough to understand the difference between living versus dead and plant versus animal stem cells.

This article presents nearly as many questions as statements and I would like to hear from you in the comments below! How does your organization address some of these questions? How do you find the balance between science and marketing in your innovation efforts?

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