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Going with the Flow

By: Jeff Falk
Posted: July 10, 2013, from the July 2013 issue of GCI Magazine.

On a recent Thursday, I boarded a train into Chicago along with all the late commuters and vacationers headed to the lakefront. Although I wasn’t going to be within a mile of the lake, I was dipping my toes in the water, as it were, of a brand owner—visiting the offices of H2O Plus. Led and facilitated by president and CEO Rick Ruffolo, who’s also a member of the GCI editorial advisory board, I had the opportunity to sit down with the team responsible for the strategic direction, product development and marketing of the brand’s growing line of products.

During the course of a conversation about the process of developing products and bringing them to market, Becky Fulmer, brand director, described the process as “fluid.” For me, a lightbulb went off. Although product development is a formal process, the conversations and give and take (based on and impacted by a laundry list of criteria) between different areas of focus and expertise within a company is what brings the product to life. The process is a key tool, but the fluidity between the professionals in marketing, packaging, R&D, creative, operations, etc. is the crucial aspect.

I’d venture to guess that, for any brand, it’s rarely a straight line leading to shelf. Embracing the concept of fluidity doesn’t necessarily make any process where one needs to get from point A to point B any easier, but it does allow one to think about that which, in another context, could be construed as barriers as that which is actually the essence of something truly creative and full of resonance. It’s the conversations and give and take—the explorations of possibilities—that imbue value.

Products that resonate with consumers, I’d argue, are those that are the fruits of fluidity, the ability of a team to be fluid, and not of the process itself. In “Beauty Packaging at the End of Permanence,” Sarah Hoit writes that “design, materials and manufacturing are a fluid balance, the mastery of which can create amazing new products with incredible value.”

And that’s key when considering the fluidity of today’s consumer. Hoit notes that as consumer behavior shifts, so does their perception of products. It’s not solely their interaction with products, it’s behavior that influences and leads to that interaction. The questions and answers to connecting with consumers lie beyond understanding basic personal care habits and the beauty trends influencing them. At a media presentation during in-cosmetics 2013, presenting DSM Personal Care’s new consumer-centric market position of “Revealing the Power of Beauty,” company president Ilona Haaijer asked “What is the truth about beauty? What drives [consumer] aspirations?”

Does beauty drive the aspirations or do the aspirations drive beauty? I don’t know the answer, but I know the path to answers, to the truth about beauty, won’t be straight line.