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There are some great product development stories in the world, including Post-it notes, Super Glue and the iconic Slinky toy, discovered when a spring fell off a desk and “walked” across the room. Many new products emerge from a mix of science and serendipity to become category leaders with long, profitable lives. For every new product, there’s a story about the creative process behind it.
Gail Boye tells her story of inspiration in the everyday. While working at Bobbi Brown some years ago, Boye found a baked powder technology from Italy that she wanted to manufacture in a stick format, like artist’s pastels. The product went to market and met with a few customer complaints of being messy and difficult to use. But the story that began in Italy was soon resolved there. “I was so impressed with this product and the payoff that I felt compelled to find another way to package it and offer a new experience,” says Boye. “I was in Italy having dinner with the supplier talking about our next steps when I noticed the Tuscan floor in the restaurant and realized how perfect it would be if we could translate that design in a compact.” For Boye, inspiration came from the floor beneath her feet.
When Inspiration Rings
Fast forward to 2008. Boye, who today is vice president of global product development for Avon’s Mark brand, finds it difficult to verbalize her creative process, saying it’s something that comes to her naturally. What works for her, says Boye, is staying open to ideas from any source, and following her gut.
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“I get my ideas from fashion, textiles, food and furniture, but today the most influential area, in my opinion, is the technology industry. I am increasingly impressed with how gadgets are getting smaller and more compact while the functionality keeps increasing,” says Boye. She asks herself how the same can be done for cosmetics. One answer was Flip for It, the Mark compact with a rotating platform that houses seven full-size products, inspired by flip phones—cell phones that snap shut to prevent accidental calls—and BlackBerry devices.
As for following her gut, Boye says it’s instinctive. It’s not unusual for her to wake up early in the morning with an “I’ve got it” moment, followed by some tough internal Q&A. “When I have an idea in my head, I always have a dialogue with myself to see if it’s actually viable—‘What will it cannibalize?’ ‘Can we afford it?’ ‘Would I buy it?’ If it passes my gut test,” she says, “I share it with the team.”
If the “gut test” doesn’t sound procedural enough for you, don’t be alarmed. What comes next—the process for product development at Mark—is extremely formal. When Boye takes an idea forward, she already knows which suppliers will be able to contribute to a successful product. She has a handle on supplier core competencies and knows who will be best suited for the project. She works with R&D for formulation projects and takes her packaging ideas to the engineers. She finds the same things that inspired the product idea can be helpful in its execution, which is what motivated her to share the origin of the Flip for It idea—taking flip phones and BlackBerry’s with her to inspire the engineers. She recalls an earlier project at Bobbi Brown to create a long-wear gel eyeliner. For inspiration, she sent the lab some shoe polish. Boye makes it sound easy, but she herself was inspired by some pretty amazing product development experts.
Boye knew, from the minute she arrived in New York City 20 years ago, that she wanted to work in the beauty industry, although she did not immediately focus on product development. “In school, you hear a lot about marketing, sales and finance, but not so much about product development,” says Boye, whose degree is in psychology. “I think it may be because it’s so technical or you need a specific skill set to succeed.” As luck would have it, she was soon introduced to Jennifer Balbier, who she says taught her everything about product development, right out of college.
Balbier currently is senior vice president, global product development at M.A.C Cosmetics. In a CEW Insider interview in August 2007, Balbier said, “When I started working in the beauty business, marketing and product development were all rolled up in one.” Her first jobs were at Coty and Max Factor, and she ran her own consulting firm, The Pink Jungle, helping entrepreneurs develop and launch beauty products. She told the CEW audience that inspiration was only part of the equation. “Inspiration can come from anywhere,” said Balbier. “You just have to know when you’ve found it.”
Through observing Balbier at work, Boye learned that she had to be creative but also had to have a business head. “Product development really is a left brain/right brain exercise,” she says. “Creativity, analytics, science—it all has to be top of mind each time when creating a product.”
She also counts among her mentors Jean Hoehn Zimmerman, a former executive vice president at Chanel, Inc., and makeup artists-turned-cosmetics entrepreneurs Bobbi Brown and Laura Geller. Zimmerman, says Boye, firmly understood the value and importance of product. Brown continues to inspire her: “She is a true creative visionary.”
Underscoring the notion that product development is a mix of creativity and business, Boye remembers watching Geller making business decisions while at the same time trying new shades of eye shadow.
Boye learned from some of the best in the business, and now she puts it all together for Mark.
Supporting Social Beauty
Mark launched in 2003 with the mission to “provide young women with an engaging product line, a direct selling opportunity and a unique brand experience that engages them in a world of community, participation and empowerment,” according to press materials. The company said: “The fully separate ‘Mark.’ product line is designed to have a hip, modern appeal and will number several hundred stock keeping units encompassing color, skin care, bath and body, fragrance, fashion, jewelry and accessories. Mark. beauty products will be priced somewhat higher than Avon’s core product line and on par with those of mass retail competitors.”
It was understood that young women related to each other through beauty rituals, a bonding experience the Mark team calls Social Beauty (SM). “Our mission at Mark is to support the notion of Social Beauty,” says Boye. “We offer an edited collection of beauty and fashion trends, many of which are customizable. The Mark customer can make her [own] mark by choosing what, when and how to engage with the brand.”
Social Beauty, says Boye, is the heart of the brand, and all disciplines work off of these guiding principles. “In the product development area, we have developed iconic franchises such as Snap To It and Hook Ups, which are customizable product forms. The act of customizing these products sparks a dialogue, which encourages and encompasses Social Beauty.”
The Packaging Challenge
So much of what makes the customization possible for Mark has to do with the packaging, which Boye oversees. In creating packaging, the brand’s mission is always top of mind. “Whenever we ideate across disciplines, we go back to the brand hallmark of Social Beauty.” The Mark sales channel also impacts decisions.
Because Mark is sold through a magalog (a cross between a catalog and a magazine) and the Internet, Boye says she has to think a lot like a merchandiser. “Selling on a flat surface with finite space forces you to use all descriptors and prioritize,” she says, “while the two dimensional (Internet) experience allows more interaction and animation. I need to ideate keeping both selling spaces in mind.
“From a product branding perspective, the overall challenge for me is to be sure the packaging doesn’t become too similar and over branded and not ‘pop,’ while at the same time work within the confines of the brand architecture.
“Overseeing package design challenges me to keep the line fresh and interesting, while always staying on brand,” she adds.
A major mission for Mark product development is to create a prestige product at a masstige prices. “Mark is in basically a white space, because of our more prestige branding and packaging but also our masstige pricing,” says Boye. “There is nothing else like it on the market that has these two elements.”
Much to the delight of Mark’s loyal fans, Boye’s creative field of vision is anything but white space. It is full of colorful objects all there to stimulate her next big idea.