The Claim Game

Among the many beauty truths and realities in the industry, none is truer than the time-tested adage that if you want your product to go into a consumer’s shopping cart, someone else’s has to come out first. And these days, getting into a consumer’s shopping cart is more challenging than ever.

According to State of the Industry by Carrie Lennard in the June 2010 issue of GCI magazine, growth in the global skin care market was down 3% in 2009 (from 5% in 2008). Further, the North American skin care market saw 0% growth in 2009, and premium cosmetic sales fell 5%. In this light, the economic challenges of the past year are clearly not over. However, in spite of these statistics, it isn’t all doom and gloom. Sure, consumers may be increasingly overwhelmed with a vast sea of seemingly similar beauty products, but the truth is, the typical consumer loves her beauty products, and she’s not willing to give up her favorites easily.

For the beauty brand looking to enter or expand its presence in this tight environment, how can you color your product and capture your target consumer’s attention—and her wallet? In today’s increasingly competitive marketplace, there is still one area that speaks volumes to consumers: claims.

Now more than ever, the importance of a 360-degree competitive analysis of in-market claims is a critical component of all pre-launch marketing strategy. What is your competition claiming? What kind of claims are they making (emotional versus benefits)? Can your new product make claims equally as compelling? If you want to capture a consumer’s loyalty and keep her buying your product even in the face of slow growth, strategically analyzing, understanding and knowing your competitors’ claims is a must.

Claim, Claims Everywhere

These days, one needn’t look too hard to find skin care claims. Magazines, TV commercials, newspaper ads—claims are front and center, and often many of these claims are enormously similar. Consumers are savvy to this trend, and not only do they want to believe these claims, but more importantly, they expect claims to be more than just marketing speak. In fact, for the average consumer, discerning the difference between similar eye creams, antiaging serums or firming body lotions has become a bigger challenge than not—forcing her to either go with a familiar and trusted brand or take a plunge into the unknown. Impactful claims are one of the ways she decides where she’s going to spend her skin care dollars, and knowing these claims is now a prerequisite for all brand development.

To fully develop a set of product claims that speak to consumers and cause them to put your competitor’s product down and pick yours up, you’ll need to not only have a clear picture of what other brands are saying—be they emotional claims or numerical claims—but also how they are then using these claims in-market. Given the sheer number of claims out there, this is a tall order, to be sure. However, investing the time or money into a regular review of this data is a critical part of carving out a space for your product.

What’s the best way to tackle this? One way is to simply comb through every relevant magazine and read all the claims. Another is to pay an outside resource to conduct this exhaustive research for you. Either way, analysis into what claims currently exist in market should be a critical part of all your product development time lines. It won’t do your brand a bit of good to cull claims from a year ago for a brand you are seeking to launch in 2011.

Not All Claims Are Created Equal

With the sizeable number of claims in-market, deciding what to focus on might seem to be an impossible task. Generally speaking, however, claims fall into two categories: emotional (for example, Painful acne blemishes will disappear in two days) and numerical (such as, 97% of women saw smoother skin in two days). In addition, claims can be made through professional endorsements (dermatologist-tested and approved), and for purity and ingredient integrity (100% organic). And while all of these types of claims resonate with consumers on some level, when it comes to skin care, women tend to love numerical claims. Nothing inspires more belief that the product will work and is perfect for her than reading that an overwhelming majority of women just like her got the very same results she seeks simply by using the product.

However, not all of your target customers will be convinced by this type of claim. Some will need to be excited into purchasing your product emotionally; others will need a professional endorsement. Because it’s unlikely that you will attract all women with a single claim—and making a multitude of claims for your product could potentially be perceived as inauthentic—it is crucial to determine what claims are most successful with consumers in your category. Equally as important is understanding how easily consumers can form vastly different opinions on the same claim.

Take these examples into consideration.

Claim: 8 out of 10 women saw an instant reduction in fine lines and wrinkles.
What she may think in a positive regard: Wow, the majority of women got a great result. And even though a few didn’t feel the same, it makes sense—it’s unlikely all women would see the same outcome, and I’d be suspicious of any product that claims 100% effectiveness anyway. I’m also looking for instant results, so this product is for me. What she may think in a negative regard: Only 10 participants agreed on results? That isn’t nearly enough to get me to buy this product. Also, what does “instant” mean? Did they see results as soon as it touched their skin, hours later or at some point within the first day? This is too vague.

Claim: 79% of women agree that after only 10 days of using the extra strength serum, their skin felt softer.
What she may think in a positive regard: Not only does this product deliver the results I’m looking for, but that’s a pretty high percentage of women. Plus, they saw results in 10 days, which seems like a believable amount of time to me.

What she may think in a negative regard: I like the amount of time and the result, but what does that mean, 79% of women? I’m more interested in how many women were involved in the study rather than the percentage. For all I know, this could be a group of 7 women that work for this company. No, thank you.

Claim: Your skin will be noticeably firmer after just one week!
What she may think in a positive regard: Hey, I can see results in only a week? How exciting! It’s exactly what I’m looking for, and because I’ve already used this brand, this new product is right for me.

What she may think in a negative regard: That sounds good, but where’s the proof? Am I just supposed to go along with this claim? Where’s the research? I’m not comfortable with investing in a product that wants me to assume it will work because they say so.

Claim: Dermatologist-tested and approved.
What she my think in a positive regard: If a dermatologist approved this, then it must work and be safe and, more importantly, be effective.

What she may think in a negative regard: What does that mean, dermatologist-tested? Did the company pay dermatologists money to approve the product? Unless I know the credentials of these professionals, I’m not interested.

Get Out There and Mingle

In addition to combing through print publications for claims, another way to get a snapshot of what your competition is saying is to spend an afternoon wandering the beauty aisles at your favorite retailer or online beauty site, and simply look around. Which brand is claiming to erase wrinkles with gene-based technology? Who is using a superstar model to make claims? How does the claim look when visually represented on-shelf? Talk to the sales people and, if possible, customers about their opinions and impressions.

Purchase a few competitive products in your category and study them. Alternatively, if you are searching online, carefully study what products the site is featuring on its home page, and critically evaluate the claims these products are making. Further, don’t forget to check out the social media campaigns of your competition. More and more, companies are turning to these nontraditional but hugely popular forms of interaction to reach potential new clients, and claims are a big part of this strategy. You’ll also gain valuable real-time consumer feedback via these channels. Want to really know if a claim seems viable to your target consumer? Ask about it on Facebook or Twitter, and you likely will not be lacking in responses—and instantly usable intelligence.

The Claim Advantage

The entire industry wants to see flat sales predictions proven wrong and positive industry growth. By understanding, studying and ultimately making compelling and real product claims that appeal to consumers, you can create an environment for consumers that keeps the excitement level high—and wallets open.

Alisa Marie Beyer is the founder and creative director of The Benchmarking Company (TBC), a global beauty consulting firm offering business, strategy, consumer intelligence and branding. As publishers of the “must-read” Pink Report and WomenTrends, TBC keeps its fingers on the pulse of the industry and offers unparalleled consumer insights and intelligence. E-mail: [email protected];

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