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

Nancy McDonald and Salvador Pliego

Editor’s note: This is the introductory installment of a new column about the crucial relationship between marketing and R&D, written by two industry professionals who have seen the best of what can happen when these departments really work together.

Introducing Sal and Nancy

In describing our relationship to colleagues, we often use the term “symbiotic,” resulting in puzzled looks. What we mean is that this “mutually beneficial relationship of two dissimilar biological organisms” pretty much sums us up: It is our dissimilarities that are initially the most apparent.

Sal, the male in our relationship, is a true research and development scientist whose credo, “Facts Rule,” guides his behavior and approach to the beauty and consumer goods business. Highly rational, analytical and intellectual, he is firmly rooted in reality, and is quite certain that God is in the details.

Nancy, the female in our relationship, is a type-A marketeer who favors the big picture, and whose right brain tendencies—intuitive, conceptual, creative—explain her love affair with the beauty category. A touch of analytical reasoning brings great relief to her male partner.

Surprisingly, we work and play well together. Let us introduce each other: Salvador: My partner, Nancy McDonald, is president of McDonald Marketing, and was born and bred in the beauty and fragrance business. Working with some of the best and brightest at Clinique, Elizabeth Arden/Unilever and Avon, she expanded her marketing skills through a wide array of consulting projects, partnering with Cosmedicine, L’Oréal, Bath & Body Works, Penhaligon, L’Artisan Parfumeur, Gerber, Mustela and Kiss My Face. Nancy prides herself on using her accumulated insights to consistently innovate the world of cosmetics.

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.

Wake-up Call

Nancy and Sal: These experiences woke us up to the respect, understanding, open communication and strong sense of partnership required in the relationship between marketing and R&D. This relationship must be established and nurtured at the beginning of the project and fortified throughout the development cycle to deliver perfect results. As you can see, our partnership is based upon mutual respect for our individual—and very different—personalities and areas of expertise. Like all “couples,” we often have similar points of view: Sometimes we agree to disagree, and at other times we can get quite vehement about our opposing perspectives. In all cases, however, we work hard to maintain the positive, synergistic and symbiotic relationship that is a necessity for the most magical of lotions and potions. We consider our relationship—the marriage of marketing to R&D—to also be uniquely magical.

So, What’s Happened to the Magic ?

Nancy: This dynamic industry is losing heart. It is time for the beauty industry to re-group, re-evaluate and re-energize. This applies not only to marketing and R&D teams, but beyond to each and every one of us who calls this business their own. We have simply got to muster the courage to take action and re-invigorate the entire beauty category.

Salvador: I’m not sure about the industry’s heart, but unique and exciting product innovation is certainly becoming rare. This is even more unfortunate as interesting technologies are continually opening themselves up to us. Fortunately, every so often a beauty visionary or even a major beauty company launches a truly imaginative product. But then everyone jumps on that particular horse … after it’s proclaimed a winner, of course. It doesn’t have to be like that, because science and technology are at their peak, and the low-hanging fruit is there for the taking.

Nancy: I totally agree. A perfect example of the magical combination of imagination and science is Bare Escentuals, brought to you by the lovely and talented Leslie Blodgett. She took a solid idea and gave it an astounding marketing spin, like turning straw into gold.

Salvador: Nancy, that’s key to “getting it.” Leslie’s idea was an awesome marketing coup. By ensuring that her brilliant concept fused with a great formula, fostered no doubt by her R&D team, she gave a facelift to cosmetic ingredients that have been successfully used in makeup foundations for years. She combined her vision with proven science.

Nancy: A pretty perfect combo. She turned this dynamic into spectacular success, using her imagination to capture the imagination of countless customers. This is exactly what we’re talking about. As Bare Escentuals’ Mineral Makeup sales have continued to explode, however, making notable headlines in the process, there have been more than 612 competitive mineral makeup introductions in the past 18 months, according to Datamonitor’s Productscan Online. 612! Where’s the vision and the magic in that?

Salvador: You may be reacting a little harshly, Nancy, but your assessment is correct. The hard fact is that beauty products do not represent a fundamental, physiological human need.

Nancy: More importantly, Sal, they do fulfill a real emotional need. The appeal of beauty and fragrance products resides in the realm of the imagination, in the human spirit. When that imagination, that spirit are combined with the power of technology and ingredients, you finally start pressing the right buttons out there.

Salvador: So, to the reader I say “What are you waiting for?” Each day, novel and exciting ingredients are emerging from the world’s laboratories, and older ingredients already in the market have ripened with time and have been re-invented with age. Take reliable retinol, for example. There are now submicron technologies that allow us to stabilize it, use it and get the most out of it. I am hereby challenging marketeers to partner with your R&D teams to leverage this wealth of technology. Together, we can recapture consumers’ imagination. Marketing and R&D are not competitive adversaries. We need to ensure that we work together as true partners in the product development process. Certainly, every product can’t achieve the amazing heights of Bare Escentuals, but it’s a sure bet that it will enhance any product’s success quotient. Regardless of who or what sparks it, the recipe remains flawless: A brilliant, imaginative marketing idea combined with a breakthrough, imaginative ingredient or technology courtesy of our partners in R&D. Wave the magic wand and presto! Now we’re pulling a rabbit out of the hat.

Nancy: I couldn’t have said it better myself. Well … perhaps differently.

Nancy McDonald is president of McDonald Marketing. Salvador Pliego is senior director of technical customer service and R&D for the Americas at Kemira.

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