“Consumers may like a conditioner that gives their hair ‘body’, but what exactly is ‘body’? Therefore, we use in silico modelling to try and understand consumer needs, and to obtain technical measures to support claims that are meaningful to the consumers,” said Dr Randall Wickett, Professor Emeritus of Pharmaceutics and Cosmetic Science at James L. Winkle College of Pharmacy.
He was speaking at the Society of Cosmetic Scientists (SCSS) Symposium 2022 in Singapore.
Similarly, a product that is considered groundbreaking by researchers may not be perceived the same way by consumers due to their presumptions of what a ‘good product’ entails.
“Sometimes a product ends up selling well not because of its claims, but because it went viral on social media. But as researchers, we need to focus on developing products that truly work because consumers will notice the difference. When the product gives people the result that they want, they will repurchase it,” said Dr Thomas Dawson, Senior Principal Investigator at A*STAR – Agency for Science, Technology and Research, who was also part of the panel.
This sentiment was shared by Prof Wickett, who added: “Now that I’ve done this for over 40 years, I always felt the challenge of R&D is making a product so good that branding has no bearing on it. Changing consumer attitude through education is possible but it will take time. Importantly, we can’t have one company trying to convince consumers of a new claim while another company goes in an opposite direction. Also, we must make sure that each claim is true to the best of our knowledge and is backed by data.”
How to educate consumers
While consumers are increasingly informed, there remains a group that does not pay as much attention to data. How then should these varied consumer behaviours be addressed?
“Customer segmentation and marketing communication are crucial. This is perhaps where we can appropriately deploy social media. Social media does not necessarily provide knowledge, but it provides information that people can process and turn into useful knowledge,” said Dr Dawson.
However, he cautioned that there is plenty of ‘marginally useful’ information online, which influence consumers to draw their own conclusions about the products.
On the same note, Dr Tan Meihua, Deputy Chief Technology Officer at biotech company DeNova Sciences, pointed out that marketers and influencers should be armed with timely information and ensure that only facts are presented to their audiences.
To gratify consumers who are more discerning, companies are encouraged to factor in a bigger budget for research to provide more evidence that prove the efficacy of their products.
At the same time, Dr Dawson highlighted the importance of educating consumers on widely marketed terms and trending claims.
“The problem with terms that have been around for a long time, such as biodegradable, is that they may have lost their meaning other than being priced higher.”
“Consumers today are looking for sustainable and cruelty-free products, on top of benefits. Although there are many companies making significant efforts to achieve that, there is an equal number of companies that aren’t — so, if we could develop consumer education programmes or introduce regulatory requirements, people will then be able to better differentiate between these companies,” said Dr Dawson.