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Highlighting Ingredients

By: Tricina Elliker
Posted: February 24, 2014, from the March 2014 issue of GCI Magazine.

It’s almost a foregone conclusion now—consumers are more educated than ever. Only a decade ago words like “collagen,” “peptide” and “free radicals” were not common terms uttered at every beauty counter around the world. But these days, beauty and cosmetics hunters scrutinize labels, hunt for particular ingredients and pick apart product advertising in an effort to better understand what it is they put on their faces and bodies. Wisely, beauty brands are responding in turn with more definitive, complex explanations of the way products work in a great convergence of widely available scientific information and sophisticated marketing.

A Greater Demand

The effects of this increasing sophistication and scientific literacy ripple out through every aspect of how beauty brands communicate their products. Parand Salmassinia, general manager at Induchem USA says, “As a result of the educated consumer, the products have become more sophisticated, which, in turn, means our ingredient technologies have become more innovative as well as specific. We have to target specific pathways, ensure efficacy, and deliver significant and visible results to stay competitive.”

To be sure, it means more is required of beauty brands. It’s no longer enough for a package to say that it smooths fine lines; consumers now want to know how the product achieves this. And brand owners and marketers, looking to now provide this information, face a few challenges: First, many consumers might not be aware the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has outlined important restrictions on how brands can talk about their products and, as a result, consumers might mistake adherence to the rules for a lack of efficacy; Second, the brand might be smoothing fine lines in a totally different way from their competitor, but unless they get into the cellular mode of action, the consumer will never know that it’s an advancement in technology.

Just the Facts?

So, how can brands and ingredient suppliers work together to give consumers the information they crave? Because today’s consumers spend more time looking at the ingredients and reading labels, they’re more likely to respond to and purchase a product based on perceived efficacy rather than design. Ads, billboards and product inserts are now filled with animated or illustrated modes of action and scientific information consumers can look up on their own.

However, simply trying to get all of these advancements across to the public with such a small amount of space available on, say, a product packaging is a challenge all its own. If your brand has a unique product with a complex mode of action, how do you tell the consumer about it to their satisfaction without sounding like a biology textbook or without printing the font in a size no one can read?

Often you can’t. There’s just no way you can say everything you need to (in a voice that’s engaging and educational at the same time, of course) on a piece of cardboard that fits in your palm. There just isn’t enough surface area. Plus consumers likely aren’t going to spend 20 minutes squinting at a box every time they want to buy a nice moisturizer. Besides, the consumers beauty brands are attempting to reach with that kind of in-depth knowledge are typically the ones who feel educated enough to judge a product based on the ingredients and mode of action alone, and they have already done their research before they ever step into a store. This is where an awareness of consumer advocacy and consumer driven sites is important.

These sophisticated consumers are often reading third-party blogs and sites to get an broader understanding of ingredients, brands and products. These sites are sometimes very helpful in educating consumers, but sometimes they misunderstand or misinterpret information and cause confusion. Brands often can’t do anything about the quality of information contained on third-party sites, but it’s all the more reason for brands to develop brand-created and -monitored in-depth sites that explore the science behind the products.

The Right Connection Point

Shaheen Majeed, marketing director for Sabinsa, insists that a good brand works outside the box—literally. “What I have seen is the use of retail shelf space or nearby shelf space to talk more on the product rather than putting all sorts of information on the individual item itself. This is becoming more and more popular as well.”

Because almost everyone now carries a smartphone, Majeed says, many brands are including QR codes on the packaging that lead consumers directly to informational sites for that particular product. This eliminates the issue of getting easy-to-remember website addresses to consumers.

At the very least, you have to find a way to tell consumers your information is out there, and then you have to create a site that’s interesting enough to make people want to learn about ceramides or glycolic acid. You can easily turn the consumer off if the tone isn’t right. Too technical and the once-alert eyes consumers were pointing your way will glaze over, but too simple or cheerful (e.g., ending every sentence with an exclamation point) will make it feel false and patronizing. Photos, illustrations and videos are all great additions, of course, giving consumers an engaging visual to connect the science with the product. Some brands are even finding success with interactive apps or surveys that can then customize recommendations for consumers, helping women with, say, thin hair and dry skin find the right products for their needs.

Obviously different markets have different interests. How brands decide to talk about the ingredients will depend on what the market is interested in knowing. For example, while natural and organic products are big in the U.S., they’re even bigger in Asia, so it makes sense to spend more time discussing the processing and sourcing of the ingredients that go into products in these markets.

Design in Mind

Using design as a way of communicating the product’s intended purpose can do a lot of work up front without the need for any text at all.