There is very little rest to be had if you want to keep up in the beauty business. New products come out with a frequency so high it is only audible to dogs. Consumers might well wonder why cosmetic companies are so frenetic in their launch schedules. Well the answer is pretty simple. The beauty world is fiercely competitive. You just can’t afford to rest on your laurels. The media and the blogosphere are most interested in what is new so you had better have something new to give them.
There is an interesting twist on this though which was rather well explained by Steve Jobs. He pointed out that it is common for sales and marketing people to end up running companies. This is very true. When you are in a meeting, the person who can say he can bring in business tomorrow and put a figure on it is always going to sound more convincing than the person who has an idea for a small incremental improvement to the customer experience.
The trouble is that it is the small regular improvements to products that make all the difference in the long run. Thinking back to the first product I ever developed, back in the 1980s, there are so many things I would change if I were to have the same brief today. But it was a perfectly respectable offering at the time and did rather well. The details of what is available and how best to use it are important to formulators, but hardly ever get discussed by the real decision makers in most cosmetic companies.
I think this is a bigger problem than most companies realise. Looking around I can think of companies that are quite good at spinning a good yarn, but which really haven’t changed anything other than their packaging for years. Their sales probably look okay. But if other companies are coming up with products that the consumers prefer, over time the sales will drift in the direction of the innovators. Focusing on tomorrow’s sales feels like the right thing to do, but it means you might be losing out on next year’s. If you don’t look carefully at what the real needs of your end users are then you are unlikely to have the best solution for them.
This is rarely an obvious process – though I do remember one time I was in a meeting when unusually there was a review of the companies successful and unsuccessful product launches over the previous five years. I was one of two formulators in the meeting, and we could see the pattern that explained the difference straight away. In fact it was so obvious to us it took us a while to realise that nobody else had noticed it. As I say, it is more normal for the things that drive consumers to choose one product over another to be a bit more subtle than that and to require rather more thought and study to pick out.
But the biggest problem of all is when the idea emerges that there are ideas people who come up with the concept, and technicians who just implement them. This is a popular notion with the idea people themselves. Entrepreneurs in particular are often very convinced that their own ideas are really rather special and the only problem is getting the dull folk in the labs to get on and do some work to make these great ideas a reality. This is a terrible use of intelligent people at the very least. But it also doesn’t really reflect the way the world actually works either. Most innovation is not the result of a sudden inspiration. It is much more the outcome of prolonged exposure to and deep thought about a problem. It takes a lot more reflection than just coming up with an idea and writing a page long brief.
Consumers use personal care products a lot, often daily. They are going to become very familiar with their properties. They might not be able to put their experience into words, but they will notice every detail of the product’s performance. If it isn’t giving them exactly what they want they will try something new. Changing your favoured brand of toothpaste or shampoo is not a momentous decision and can be prompted by the most trivial of reasons. Brands have to continually be ready with new offerings which are better than what they are selling now. The bathroom is a tough environment if you are a personal care brand. If you aren’t continually focusing all your efforts on being better than the competition you aren’t going to survive long.