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Marketing and R&D Magic: Dissimilarities Pull the Best from R&D and Marketing

By: Nancy McDonald and Salvador Pliego
Posted: December 10, 2008, from the December 2008 issue of GCI Magazine.

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Nancy: My partner, Salvador Pliego, has worked for a few companies you may know including: Unilever, Clairol, Procter & Gamble and Bath & Body Works. Having worked throughout the U.S. and Latin America has given him a strong international perspective on the beauty business. Currently senior director of technical customer service and R&D for the Americas at Kemira, Sal now has the opportunity to combine his considerable consumer and beauty product expertise with supplier side support and savvy. Sal has now closed the cosmetics cycle.

If We Can Do It…

Nancy: We are both beauty-centric and passionate about this business. As you’ll soon see, this devotion generates both facts and strong opinions on just how this amazing industry should behave.

Salvador: Our own symbiosis will soon become clear: We are totally reliant on this partnership. Why? In the course of our respective careers, we have each learned a valuable lesson. The critical partnership between two seemingly disparate groups—R&D and marketing—has a clear-cut benefit: the breakthrough concept, the pioneering technology, and yes, the magic that very often leads to astounding success.

Nancy: I’ve always been in awe of science. It’s factual, consistently reinventing and updating thinking via empirical data in combination with a healthy level of speculation. As a professional, I had always relied upon R&D to ensure seamless technical development and achieve the appropriate aesthetics for each and every product. However, I really wised up during my tenure at Unilever. Their renowned global Innovation Centers were open to marketeers to roam freely, gain exposure to the latest, greatest thinking and discoveries, and participate in forums to build in-depth knowledge and expertise. These dynamics, this strong partnership, would consistently result in state-of-the-art concepts and products.

Salvador: Working for such expert, well-integrated companies as Unilever, Clairol, Procter & Gamble and Bath & Body Works cultivated my talents in interacting directly with diverse marketing groups. I respected and appreciated marketing’s intuitive perspective and business acumen. I understood the importance of marketing in injecting consistent newness and imagination into our industry. I knew it wasn’t easy to put together the creative concepts behind the products to make them successful in the competitive marketplace. However, to be extremely honest, I found that they are not always an easy group to deal with. Many times I wondered: What are they doing? Are they not capable of combining just a little bit of left-brain rationality with their right brain flakiness? They just don’t get it: it’s just not the big picture. To ensure a product’s successful launch, you can’t just take a formula from the shelf, throw in some fragrance and color and ship it. It has to go through the development/technical cycle, which includes formula screening, stability, fragrance compatibility, micro, etc. My own life-altering experience with marketing came when I worked at Unilever in Mexico. The marketing person I worked with formed a true partnership between us. She was willing and able to learn and respect the science behind the launches. The lines of communication were always open and we rolled up our sleeves, together, in the lab making batches. I guess Unilever was a good school for both Nancy and me.

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