Style Vs Substance: Which Wins?

Monday, 13 May 2013 07:05
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In new product development, technologies are typically assessed relative to one another on their technical merits, with no real consideration given to the "story" which may also differentiate them. Is this wise?

Curious to learn more? Read on, dear friends...

Style vs Substance: Which Wins?

When consumer product companies evaluate competing technologies, scientists focus primarily on relative performance, safety, manufacturability and cost. I strongly doubt that they attach any significance to a technology's "origins story" among the assessment criteria. Yet, in some instances, a compelling technology origins story may be highly consumer motivating, more so than similar (or even inferior) products lacking this. For this reason, I suggest that it be given more careful consideration.

A classic example of a captivating "origins" story is Estee Lauder's luxurious skin moisturizer Crème de la Mer (French for Cream of the Sea), which "only came about as result of a disastrous laboratory experiment in the 1960s. The accident left Max Huber, the Nasa scientist in question, with severe chemical burns that nothing he tried would heal. And so Huber set about concocting his own balm, using sea kelp - which he had noticed kept fishermen's hands soft - minerals and plant oils. Twelve years and 6,000 exacting experiments later Huber had finally perfected what he called his Miracle Broth. It worked wonders on his wounds, to say nothing of his personal finances", as he sold the formula to Estee Lauder in 1994. (Source:

While one might cynically dismiss La Mer's retail success as owing exclusively to talented cosmetics marketers rather than to any fundamental technical merit, I would argue that the product would not have been successful over time if it did not technically perform. (Do any of my readers know whether or not it does?) Its success raises a more fundamental and serious question of whether a technology's "origin "story" should figure at all into screening of competing technical submissions done by consumer product companies. If it doesn't currently, I would argue that it should...but only if the technical differences between candidates are modest and if the story is sufficiently compelling and motivating to significantly elevate consumer perception of the overall product proposition.

As a hypothetical example, think about two dietary supplement technologies being considered by a nutritional products company. Technically, they perform similarly, and all other supply considerations are comparable overall. However, one is a patented vitamin "cocktail" formulated by a large worldwide ingredients supplier, while the other is a novel, natural extract harvested from a rare microalgae found in the diets of residents of Greenland, long known for their longevity. Which technology should the company adopt?

My experience says that most companies would select the superior ingredient on technical merit, and hope that the marketers can make it persuasive and compelling during concept development. The example above suggests that, starting with a fundamentally strong technology, and all other things being equal (or at least close) a compelling technology story can influence consumer perception and could therefore represent an important discriminating variable. For this reason, I think it should be considered more carefully than it may be at present during technology screening and selection processes. What do you think?

Please contact me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or call 614 937-2408 to discuss your interest.

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