Steve Job’s lesson for the cosmetics industry

Regular readers will have noticed that I haven’t been blogging that much lately. But I haven’t been inactive. I have for some time thought that what I do would lend itself well to being done in a podcast format rather than just text. Very good. Unfortunately, it turned out that I didn’t have any of the skills or knowledge to actually do any kind of a podcast, let alone a good one. I have, to some extent, rectified this now. I have now at least worked out how to get a podcast recorded and online. It has turned out to be a good deal more difficult than I at first imagined. But here is my first offering. I can’t promise that I will get another one up any time soon, but when I do I hope it will be the start of a steadily improving product.

Colin’s Beauty Pages Podcast Episode 1 Click to listen now. Right click and save to listen later. (Control and click on a Mac)

If you prefer to read it – here is the script

Steve Jobs – Lessons for the Cosmetic Industry?

About the same time that there was all the fuss about the launch of the iPad, over on the bit of LinkedIn where the cosmetic chemists hang out a debate was going on about whether or not cosmetic science was evil. What do cosmetic scientists have to do with the claims made by marketers? I won’t go into the ins and outs of what was discussed, interesting as it was. What interested me was nobody questioned the idea that you had scientists developing the product as one part of the process and marketers, a different set of people, selling the stuff. This was unquestioned.

And this is how things work. A typical product would initially be conceived by the section of the marketing department responsible for new product development. This would go to the research and development team in the form of a brief. The lab guys and the packaging people come up with their bits which then goes to the sales team. In large companies the people who have to sell it aren’t the same as the ones who came up with the original idea.

How else could you do it, given all the specialist knowledge that you need to get a product on the market?

Well looking at Apple, they definitely work in a very different way. Steve Jobs had a pretty big hand in every stage of the iPad project. He obviously knew and understood all the issues around what it could do and what it couldn’t do, how it fitted in with the company range, what the competition was like and what the paying customer gets out of it. And who was up on stage presenting the launch? Steve Jobs himself, not some silver tongued professional spokesman. Whatever you think of the iPad – you might find some people’s opinions on the internet somewhere if you look hard enough – there is no doubt that it is Steve Job’s baby. Is Steve Jobs a technical guy, a scientist or a marketer? I don’t suppose he has ever even thought about it. He is Steve Jobs and he just does what he needs to do to get done what he wants to do.

I tried to think of a comparable figure in the cosmetics industry. The closest I could come up with was Anita Roddick of the Body Shop. I don’t think that even she would have been able to go into a lab and come up with a formulation herself. By contrast I imagine you could leave Steve Jobs in a room with a soldering iron and a set of components and he would probably come up with something new. But Anita Roddick is now long gone and the company she created from nothing is now just one of the huge stable of brands owned by the colossus that is L’Orèal. Does anyone know who the head of L’Orèal is? Does anybody imagine for a minute that he could tell you what a single one of the ingredients in his products was there for? (I actually don’t know who he is and if it turns out that he is a cosmetic scientist by background my apologies – but I am pretty sure that he would turn out to be a he and that even in the unlikely event of him being a scientist he won’t have worn a lab coat for some time.)

I think the lack of charismatic figures who really believe in what they are doing is a big long term problem for the industry. It thinks of brands as pieces of intellectual property. They are defined in terms of their image. Things like the appropriate typeface and colour scheme are pored over. Their core values are written down in documents. But at the end of the day a brand should have some genuine character to it, that originates in a human being.

When every major brand is basically created by marketers who regard marketing as an end in itself, they will all look the same and the consumers will lose interest. But even worse, they will lose trust. Some of us scientists are slightly baffled as to why large numbers of consumers are so ready to believe that cosmetics contain harmful chemicals. Of course we don’t put anything harmful in our products and we all have dossiers to prove it. But the fact is that humans predominantly trust other humans, rather than facts. And cosmetic products are not presented as coming from humans but from faceless corporations. Everyone knows the difference between a real person like Anita Roddick or Steve Jobs, and a soul-less marketing campaign fronted by an air brushed model assuring you that in some unspecified way you are for some unknown reason, worth it.

2 thoughts on “Steve Job’s lesson for the cosmetics industry

  1. Pingback: Liz Earle – She’s not the Messiah she’s just a bit of a naughty marketer | Colin's Beauty Pages

  2. steve jobs

    My wife and I just finished watching a sweet show about apple’s mr jobs and his part in pixar. The movie gave me up to a new idea into this brilliant guy and why he gets hit after hit. next time you get a sec, netflix it…named the Pixar story.

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