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Understanding the Role of Innovation in the Personal Care Industry


Photo Courtesy of L’Oréal Congress

In the world of fast-moving consumer goods, staying abreast of your competitors is the key to achieving significant market leadership; but, in the world of cosmetics, your main competitor will always be your own brand. No matter how good your core products are, or how concretely established your brand identity is to a sizable consumer base, what will drive your company and what will determine long-term success is dependent on how well you innovate your own products.

Traditionally, the role of innovation was seen as being distinct and separate from marketing. In the early years of most FMCG’s, product innovation was used loosely to describe whatever new and technologically-advanced products were churned out of the labs. These products would then be handed to the marketing team, whose job would have been to create and execute a campaign around these new products. While certainly efficient, this was hardly effective. The last few decades have seen uprooted corporate giants, and a new landscape: a deeply competitive environment ruled by smarter, more resourceful consumers who, faced with the multitude of brands vying for attention and purchase, grow increasingly more demanding and exacting of consumer goods.

Nowadays, the role of innovation truly stems from a deep-rooted understanding of consumer behavior and decision process. Innovation, in the larger sense of the word, is more than just providing better solutions to existing market needs. It’s planning for the future – anticipating consumer needs before they’re even fully-articulated, and being able to provide competitive products. The role of innovating, therefore, extends far beyond the lab; it now embeds itself around each and every function – understanding your consumer first, and then designing products targeting specific unmet market needs.

The beauty industry is an environment fueled by the need to constantly create the best products for consumers: smoother textures, longer lasting colors, hypoallergenic formats, etc. But it is also one of the toughest to crack, and none more so than cosmetics. The cosmetics market is a marriage of the impractical and the functional, of intuition and banality. While there are certainly core consumer needs that products should inherently address, the realm of cosmetics is also ruled by fickle trends and shifting wants that change almost every week. It is in the cosmetics market where the role of marketing and innovation are one and the same: understanding innovation is now as crucial to the power of marketing your products. How then, should innovation be defined? How then is the role of innovation translated in the beauty industry?

1. Innovation should be one that is perceived by consumers.
“Why does this concern me?” “What does it do for me?” These are the consumer questions a brand should always have in mind when creating or marketing products. Innovation should be relevant to the consumer. Just because a product is radical, or contains never-before-seen technology does not justify if it will be relevant enough to induce purchase. Traditionally, intent to purchase was a major, if not only, factor used to determine whether or not a product was to be launched in the market. But now, relying on one measure to encapsulate customer receptivity is much too simplistic in a world where consideration and evaluation prior to purchase is made both complicated and brutal by the various touch-points of social media. Technical innovation in the beauty industry, should now be viewed using the lens of relevance. Beauty products need to resonate with consumer insight, introducing benefits that cater to their need, whether it’s less/more shine, non-transferability, or even new ways of applying that adapt to their everyday lifestyle.

2. Innovation should be quick and timely.
Being the first to market is never as crucial as when you are bringing an innovative new product to the market. When the BB cream trend was beginning to gain momentum in Korea, L’Oreal saw an opportunity to not only ride on this trend, but to also create an international product they could then bring to other countries. After an accelerated product life cycle, L’Oreal was able to successfully launch the Maybelline BB Cream. While this was seen as no longer being as relevant in the Korean market (having been saturated with quicker local competitors who were able to market faster), the Maybelline BB cream worldwide was a huge success for countries that had yet to experience such an amazing and innovative franchise. The ability to spot burgeoning trends in one country and quickly deciding how to adapt this globally is a key strength for L’Oreal, which prides itself on having one of the shortest lead times to conceptualize and subsequently create a new product. “Think locally, act globally” is a phrase that perfectly encapsulates how L’Oreal is able to achieve successes outside of local markets.

3. Innovation should satisfy consumer expectations.
Lastly, product innovation in the beauty industry, at the very core, should live up to its promise. This is why stringent testing measure in the L’Oreal labs are set in place, to help control and validate claims, ensuring consistent product performance excellence. In a global setting, launching a product that fails to deliver is tantamount to suicide. It will not only lead to customers refusing to repurchase, but it will also weaken credibility and destroy consumer trust in the brand, leading to long-term damage for the brand equity.

In the end, accelerated growth will come about through breakthrough innovation that will help conquer new markets and re-anchor core products. The best innovations are products of consumer and market insight, competitor analysis, and trends, paired best with the company’s strength to produce quickly and market correctly.

About The Author

Maxine Maia Ang

Maxine Maia Ang is the Product Manager of Maybelline New York, L'Oreal in The Philippines. She graduated Magna Cum Laude from the Ateneo de Manila University, and was the Program Awardee of her course, Bachelor of Science in Management (Honors). She was also the editor-in-chief of the Ateneo Student Business Review as a well as a student business owner in the John Gokongwei Student Enterprise Center.

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