Article by: Perry Romanowski

Learning the chemistry of cosmetics and how to formulate products is not actually the first step required in making a cosmetic product. The first thing you have to do is to create a concept. Once you’ve tested the concept and found something that appeals to your target consumer, then you can start making your formulas.  Let’s look at this process of creating a cosmetic product concept.

The concept process

The basic steps involved in creating a winning concept are as follows:

  • Step 1 – Generate ideas
  • Step 2 – Filter ideas and turn them into concepts
  • Step 3 – Test concepts with consumers and refine
  • Step 4 – Write a product information sheet

We’ll go through each of these steps to give you a sense of exactly how it is done. If you work for a company this will be the way that you eventually get projects to work on. If you are an entrepreneur and want to start your own product line this is the process you should follow to get your idea in a form that can be easily turned into a cosmetic product.

Generating Ideas

There are a number of ways of coming up with product ideas but you can give yourself a good chance of coming up with something novel by first, creating a lot of different ideas. Use brainstorming, mind-mapping or any of the other innovation techniques to come up with lots of different ideas. And while you do that, keep an eye on ways of making your products stand out. These include

  • Solving big problems in hair or skin
  • Creating novel forms of traditional products
  • Using novel packaging
  • Make products for Niche markets

Creating a concept

If you’re reading this you probably have at some point had an idea for a new cosmetic product line. You may love the idea and are eager to turn that idea into a real product. Before you can turn that idea into a product, you’ll have to see what your consumers think about it. To do this, you’ll need to take that raw idea and write a description that can be tested with consumers. You’ll need to create a concept.

During the idea phase you will come up with a number of different ideas and you need some way to flesh them out and filter them down to the best ones with the highest chance of success.

The standard method by which an idea is tested in the cosmetic industry is to do a concept test. A concept will differ from company to company but it is essentially a document that describes the idea in a simple manner that can be understood by a consumer. The exact format varies but it will typically include things like

  1. Product claims – explaining what the product does
  2. Product description – explains the features of the product
  3. Illustration – to help give the person an idea of what the product looks like
  4. Tag line – A phrase that is identified with the product or brand
  5. Price – How much the product will cost.

The key to creating a great concept is that it has to be simple to understand, has to solve a real consumer problem and it has to be somehow differentiated from other products that are already on the market. If you can get good at writing concepts, you can turn even a mediocre idea into an excellent one.

Here is an example of cosmetic product concept. It is a single page of text which is either read to a test consumer of given to them to read themselves.

“Introducing a Revolutionary New Hand Soap that Keeps Your Family Safe For the first time, Soapster presents Vanilla Brown Sugar liquid hand soap. It wraps you in the soothing, comforting fragrance of Vanilla and Brown Sugar every time you wash your hand. It eliminates the dirt and kills bacteria your family encounters, leaving your hands clean and fresh. Soapster Vanilla Brown Sugar Liquid Soap available for $3.29 ”

Testing the concept

After the concepts are written, they are tested with consumers to get a sense of what product ideas they like or hate, which ones they might buy or what details and wording they like or don’t like about a concept. Consumer testing is referred to as focus groups and cosmetic formulators are often invited to sit in and listen to what consumers have to say about various concepts. Focus groups can take place with a number of different group sizes. There can be one-on-one focus groups or there can be groups of 3 to 10 people who review the concepts and give their opinions.

There is also the possibility of doing online focus groups and some cosmetic product companies have had a lot of success going this route. The type of information and style of the moderator will determine what type of consumer group works best.

The primary thing you learn from a focus group and concept with whether people will like your product, how likely they are to buy it, what price they might pay, and ultimately whether you should launch the product.

Typically, the first round of testing will involve looking at about a dozen different product concepts. After that, the top scoring concepts are refined and retested to get quantitative scores. Often you will take the wording from one concept that may not have scored as well and combine it with the wording of another concept. In this way the dozen concepts get narrowed down to the top scoring half dozen concepts. These get scored and tested further narrowing it down to the two or three best scoring. There is generally only one product line launched in a year so while you might start with 2 or 3 high scoring concepts, you ultimately may only launch one new product that year. Note however, when I say one new product that could mean you launch a product line too. Sometime the concepts are for a line of products rather than just a single product.

Turning it into a product

Once the product concepts are rated by consumers or the product development team, they are moved to the next phase of the process…Prototype Development. During this phase the winning concepts are handed off to R&D who is tasked to create working prototypes.  At the end of this process a working prototype that meets all the testing requirements will be ready.

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About the Author

Perry Romanowski

Perry has been formulating cosmetic products and inventing solutions to solve consumer problems since the early 1990’s. Additionally, he has written and edited numerous articles and books, taught continuing education classes for industry scientists, and developed successful websites. His latest book is Beginning Cosmetic Chemistry 3rd Edition published by Allured.

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