L’Oréal on why communicating the science behind the beauty takes true collaboration

Close collaboration between marketing and science helps generate new ideas and bring innovative products to market, says Steven Shiel, scientific director at L’Oréal UK & Ireland.


Put simply, L’Oréal’s UK & Ireland scientific director, says marketing has the power to maximise the benefits of any product to make it as compelling as it should be, while meeting strict guidelines.

Steven Shiel is responsible for the science behind the beauty, and ensuring the scientific messaging and claims of any given product are accurately portrayed in marketing.

During his 24-year career, Shiel says his interaction with the marketing team has increased dramatically, meaning the development of any product and how it is communicated is now worked on collaboratively from the very beginning.

Here, he tells Marketing Week about how his relationship with and view of marketing has evolved.

Backing up any claim

Marketing is a core part of the business we work in. As scientific director at L’Oréal, my role touches on all communication – everything from the ingredients in our products to how we describe them on-pack.

I look at what we communicate in our advertising to make sure we can substantiate all the claims we make, and that all of the images we use within marketing are representative of what the products can truly deliver. My team and I ensure we deliver a message that is real and one we can back up.

This means working with marketing right from the inception of a new product or marketing campaign, all the way through to seeing it come to life in-market. We’re with them on the whole journey from start to finish.

Having that honest and open dialogue with marketing throughout the process is beneficial on both sides because I don’t want a new idea to be developed up to a point where there’s something we need to course-correct. I would rather ensure that we start off with a great idea that we know we can work with.

The way L’Oréal looks at marketing – and I know it’s a bit of a buzzword, but it’s certainly one we use quite often – is consumer-centricity. It is about really understanding where our consumers want to be communicated with and in what way.

If you look at a high-end luxury brand versus a more pharmaceutical skincare brand in our portfolio, consumers look for different types of information, in different places. They want to have different interactions with their brands.

My philosophy has always been that I’m not the person who says no, even though sometimes we have to make some changes.

From the scientific side we have historically tended to rely on scientific results, but it’s also about understanding the insight generated from our consumer knowledge teams, which is helping to join the dots in a way that helps us be successful.

My philosophy has always been that I’m not the person who says no, even though sometimes we have to make some changes. My job is to work with marketing, because by working together we can come up with something better than the original idea.

We can help marketing understand what the product can deliver and sometimes that gives them new thoughts in terms of how to articulate the product benefits, which can be turned into a very compelling communication.

Changing view of marketing

When I first started working, I was in a role that was based in traditional research and developing new products, which meant I had fewer day-to-day interactions with marketing.

I saw them as someone who came up with new ideas or types of products, but as I’ve worked closer with marketing I’ve understood a lot more about the complexity of the job. That job is becoming more complex as new communication and distribution channels emerge, as well as much faster paced.

I’ve been doing this job in various guises for 24 years and I would say that marketing is definitely evolving. It used to be a one-way communication, with brands talking at their target consumer. Things have evolved over the past five years to where you’re seeing a much greater two-way conversation between brands and consumers.

There has therefore been a shift towards digital because digital allows that dialogue to take place. There is also a shift towards people being inherently more sceptical to messages that come from companies, which is why I think it’s even more important that we make sure what we say can be backed up.

That’s also why we’re seeing the rise of endorsements by industry bodies and key opinion leaders, because to a certain extent consumers trust them more than they trust brands. If I have a product tailored to sensitive skin, for example, having an endorsement from Allergy UK or the British Skin Foundation provides additional reassurance that the product is going to deliver.

Marketing plays a pivotal role in connecting teams

In any diagram of how the ecosystem works within a marketing-led organisation, marketing is in the middle and plays that pivotal role which harnesses all the different elements from R&D and consumer insight to packaging and HR. They harness all of those things to really deliver on an idea and create the compelling, relevant and thought-provoking product the consumer sees.

Marketing is at its best when it’s truly thought through. The important thing is that it’s thought through in terms of what your target audience is, what your key message is and how you’re going to deliver that.

I have just finished an 18-month collaboration with marketing on a campaign for L’Oréal Paris. One of the things that we wanted to do was to design a longer-term clinical study that would allow us to debunk the myth that skin gets used to beauty products over time.

We worked very closely with marketing and our clinical testing experts in Paris to design an experiment that would allow us to test that hypothesis. That was a really close partnership between my scientific team, the clinical experts and marketing, working step-by-step over the past two years.

Marketing are the people who best understand how and what to communicate to their target audience, which is going to maximise whatever product it is that I’m involved in designing. I may be very good at designing a product, but I don’t necessarily have the skills to translate that into something that is compelling and relevant to real people. So I absolutely think marketing adds value.



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