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Secret of the Niche

By: Kevin F. Gallagher
Posted: June 7, 2011, from the June 2011 issue of GCI Magazine.

Have you ever wondered about the role that an ingredient supplier can play in the creation of successful, innovative beauty and personal care products? If you have, then you might find this article interesting. If you haven’t, then you might even be in for a little surprise. The aim of this article is to try to explain the role of an ingredient supplier, using Croda as an example, in helping brand owners exploit opportunities.

The best place to begin the description is not with the ingredient supplier, of course, but with the wants and needs of the consumers and how they are being satisfied in a different way in today’s marketplace. Beginning here also generates a discussion about innovation. We know that success doesn’t come from just improving on existing ideas, it comes from innovating new ones. Henry Ford famously said that if he asked his customers what they wanted, they would have told him a faster horse. This is more than just an entertaining phrase—it provides some insight into the limits of focus groups and market surveys.

Innovation is not just about creativity and invention, although these concepts are clearly linked through innovation. Innovation is about bringing new ideas to fruition in the marketplace and commercializing them. That’s one vital reason why we need to begin with consumer wants and needs. A great invention may represent some pinnacle of technical creativity, but if it doesn’t help satisfy a consumer want or need, it isn’t going to lead to innovation.

So, what is it that is known about the role of innovation in successful product development? Well, its known that the innovation of new and “cool” ideas can form the basis of customer loyalty (think Apple). How does this relate to “niche markets?” Well, one way to describe the “niche” in “niche marketing” is to define niche to mean “your specialty.” The niche is all about how you can provide your consumers with what they want. This can be beautifully illustrated if we think of ourselves, industry suppliers and brand owners, as consumers. When you have the reaction, “Wow, this product sounds like it was made just for me,” that’s when you open up your wallet.