Market Research Basics for Cosmetic Chemists

In any big company there will be a group known as Marketing Research which every cosmetic formulator will have to interact with eventually. In this post, we’ll go through the most basic information about what the group tries to accomplish, how it will effect you and how you can use them to become a better cosmetic chemist.

What is Market Research

If you spent all your time in science classes you may never have had the chance to learn about market research. Essentially, it is the process by which companies find out useful information about their consumers, potential customers, and the marketplace. It is done using standard questionnaires, home use tests, or moderated focus groups.

Focus group — During the early phases of a new project, the market research group will organize focus groups of expected customers. These are round table discussions where a moderator talks to the customers and finds out what they think. In the meantime, you, your marketing group, and anyone else from the company who might be interested sit behind a two-way mirror, observing and taking notes about what is being said. Ideally, you’ll get a good sense about what people like, don’t like, and want.

Often these groups are convened after the consumer has tried one of your prototypes so this discussion can help you see exactly what is working and not. Focus groups can be extremely useful for finding new product ideas and helpful for figuring out what is good and bad about your formula. However, they can also be misleading as they represent only a small fraction of your customer base. Don’t put too much stock in the impressions you get from focus groups.

Home use test — These are formal tests where you create prototypes, send them home with consumers, and get feedback after they have used them for a few weeks. Home use tests can give you an excellent idea about how your new formula stacks up against competition or previous prototypes. Of all the types of market research you might encounter, home use tests are the most useful to cosmetic chemists.

But be cautious when analyzing the data generated from home use tests. The more detailed the question, the less accurate the answers. People often do not know why they like a formula or not and they are easily swayed by the halo effect. The most significant question asked in a home use test is whether or not the consumer liked the product. All other detailed questions should be taken less serious. For example, if your home use test demonstrates that your product doesn’t foam enough, be sure to see whether they liked the fragrance. Often if people don’t like the fragrance, they find other things wrong. It’s also important to run a control when doing a home use test but unfortunately, this costs extra money that companies don’t always want to spend.

Why use market research?

There are a wide variety of reasons that a cosmetic chemist would want to use market research. Here are just a few examples.

1. To figure out what your customers want — When you are trying to come up with a new product idea, asking consumers what they want is often a good strategy. Of course, consumers don’t really know what they want so you have to ask the right questions to get good ideas. The best things to focus on are the problems that consumers are experiencing. Once you know the problem, then you can come up with a solution that people might want.

2. To figure out what customers like — Market research is a great way to learn what people like. When you are formulating, you’ll generally create products that you like using. This is fine but you should remember that you are not making products for yourself. You are making them for consumers. Once you get a product you like, ask consumers whether they like it too. If they don’t, change it.

3. To make yourself feel better about a launch — Research studies are often done so late in the process that the information they provide can’t be used to modify the formula. This is an unfortunate reality. On the plus side, if your formula does well on the home use test, you can feel confident that your boss, their boss, and your marketing group will feel happy. And if the product doesn’t happen to be successful in the marketplace, no one will blame the formula.

4. To find potential problems — One of the best things about giving consumers your product to try before it gets launched is that you’ll quickly find any potential problems that you didn’t notice. Perhaps, there is an off-odor in the fragrance you didn’t detect or the packaging is too difficult to open. Consumer studies are great for finding problems like these.

What are the limitations?

While it is known as ‘market research’ the quality of the research is not the same as scientific research. The biggest problem with this type of research is that it is incredibly subjective and there is a wide range of variability. In fact, I’ve personally done tests where we tested the exact same formula among two different groups of 100 consumers and got opposite results. If you can’t reproduce a result, the conclusions from the result can’t be relied upon.

However, your market research group (and the rest of your company) will not likely see it from a scientific minded view. They will look at data obtained from market research as equivalent to that obtained from laboratory instruments. It’s not, of course, but you will have a hard time changing their mind. Just glean what you can from the data, ignore things that don’t make sense, and never rely on specific market research data to make drastic changes to your formulas.

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