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Prestige Testing: Raising the Bar on the Claim Game

Published April 28, 2024
Published April 28, 2024
Prestige Testing

The beauty landscape is undergoing a transformative evolution, where the confluence of citizen scientists and the rise of biotechnology have raised the bar on efficacy and substantiation. This has given rise to science-backed brands throwing out the playbook and rethinking product formulas using novel ingredients and transformative textures backed by AI-powered NPD. These brands rely on scientific research and evidence to deliver effective and transparent products, meeting the needs of these new, highly discerning beauty consumers.

This paradigm shift to reach an empowered skincare-literate consumer making informed purchasing decisions has led to a claims arms race in beauty marketing, raising the stakes for brands looking to break through the noise of an already crowded market. Brands not doubling down on clinical and consumer testing at this moment run the risk of consumer backlash against unsubstantiated claims.

BeautyMatter sat down with Sharon Johnson, Chief Operating Officer at Prestige Testing, a beauty industry veteran with 35 years of experience in clinical skincare brand and product development, to dive into the methodology and marketing of claims. She shared the secret sauce of how Prestige Testing puts beauty to the test.

What was the impetus for launching Prestige Testing?

The impetus behind launching Prestige Testing was to address the critical need for diversity, rigorous and development-centric (formula-focused) product testing in the beauty and wellness industry. Our objective is to elevate brands by fostering product development, providing comprehensive testing services, and helping them drive innovation in today's competitive cosmetic landscape. As beauty and wellness product development experts, we understand raw materials and ingredients that result in actionable consumer acquisition and conversion. We know consumers are increasingly discerning about the products they use, and Prestige Testing bridges the gap between key ingredient testing and scientific validation, allowing brands to communicate their commitment to quality, efficacy, and building trust with consumers. Our collective knowledge ensures speed to market, robust testing protocols, and actionable results.

Successful product developers have the unique ability to merge art and science to create innovative beauty formulas. How does this skill inform your approach in the realm of testing?

The fusion of art and science is a powerful force in the world of product development, especially when it comes to cosmetic and OTC Drug formulations. At Prestige Testing, we recognize that these types of products are not just about chemical compositions and efficacy. They are also about emotions, aesthetics, and sensory experiences. Our team appreciates the artistry behind creating a delightful fragrance, a unique texture, or eye-catching packaging. This understanding informs our testing process, ensuring that we evaluate not only the scientific aspects but also the artistic elements that contribute to a product’s allure.

Art inspires innovation. Our team draws from artistic inspiration to develop novel testing approaches. Whether it’s creating innovative panelist experiences or designing engaging studies, we infuse creativity into our scientific processes. This ensures that our testing remains fresh, relevant, and aligned with industry trends. While rigorous scientific protocols guide our testing, we also trust our instincts. Sometimes, the unexpected insights come from a gut feeling during a sensory evaluation or an observation that sparks a new research direction. Our approach at Prestige Testing harmonizes the artistry of beauty with the rigor of science.

Testing companies have traditionally lived deep in the supply chain. With Prestige Testing, you have pushed the function through a marketing lens, developing a more holistic approach that has disrupted testing services. Can you share what differentiates you from your competitors?

As an innovator in beauty and wellness testing, our unique approach and expertise is our competitive edge. Our team is comprised of industry leaders in product development, with decades of accumulated experience and a deep understanding of beauty and healthcare customer needs, behaviors, and preferences. This consumer-centric approach ensures that our testing services align with real-world expectations. We excel in recruiting, testing, and reporting. This agility allows us to produce results faster than our competitors and ensures accurate results and efficient processes for our clients.

Our in-studio and at-home testing capabilities have a proven track record of success. With a national network of panelists, we can identify the right audience and deliver personalized studies.

The days of marketing claims and promises of miraculous transformations have been replaced by science, transparency, and efficacy. How has the demand for evidence-based products by consumers impacted the business of testing?

The shift toward evidence-based products has significantly impacted the business of testing, especially in the beauty and wellness industry. Consumers are no longer swayed solely by flashy marketing claims. They seek scientific validation for product efficacy. The availability of information online empowers consumers to research ingredients, read reviews, and make informed choices. Consumers demand transparency about product ingredients and look for phrases such as “clinically proven,” “dermatologist tested” or “backed by consumer research.” Evidence-based products require rigorous testing. Brands must conduct clinical studies to validate claims. The demand for evidence-based products has transformed testing services. Brands that prioritize science, transparency, and efficacy thrive in this informed consumer era.

So much of the product on the market feels the same, with everyone chasing the same claims. Is there a way to find a white space or find differentiation when it comes to claims?

In a crowded market, differentiation becomes crucial to stand out and capture your audience’s attention. Know your customers and research what they truly want. Understand their pain points, desires, and unmet needs. Product testing plays a pivotal role in a product breaking through the noise. When a brand validates differentiation through product testing it ensures that differentiation isn’t just superficial; it must also be functional and resonate with the target audience. By putting your brand through rigorous trials, you gain insights into how the general public perceives it. Does it meet their expectations? Does it stand out? Do they care?

Effective product testing ensures that your differentiation isn’t just a claim—it’s a tangible advantage that sets your brand apart in the marketplace.

"The fusion of art and science is a powerful force in the world of product development, especially when it comes to beauty formulas."
By Sharon Johnson, Chief Operating Officer, Prestige Testing

Leveraging ingredient stories is also an ongoing trend that is underpinned by claims. How does this ingredient focus factor into the work you do for brands?

At Prestige Testing, we are consumer research specialists with an unwavering focus on beauty and healthcare consumers. We recognize that ingredients matter to discerning consumers, and their desire for transparency and efficacy drives our testing methodologies. Our team dives deep into ingredient stories with our clients. We explore how each component affects the product’s performance, safety, and sensory experience. Ingredient innovation drives differentiation.

We stay abreast of emerging ingredients—whether it’s a rare plant extract or a cutting-edge peptide. Our consumer usage testing adapts to novel formulations, ensuring we capture the essence of each product. Our work revolves around understanding, evaluating, and substantiating ingredient claims through in-use product testing. By doing so, we contribute to creating evidence-based, effective, and pleasing beauty and wellness products.

Consumer perception studies are usually only as good as the panelists and the structure of the study, with demographics having the ability to skew results. Can you share a bit about your process for cultivating panels and building study strategies?

Our panel cultivation process combines expertise, diversity, and targeted recruitment. By understanding consumer behavior, we create evidence-based insights that drive product excellence. Our process focuses on selecting diverse panelists who represent various demographics, ensuring a well-rounded sample. Our national network allows us to create personalized studies tailored to specific demographics. Prior to starting a full product study, we prescreen among a select group of panelists to guide any alterations, ensuring a successful study launch.

You have established a unique testing segment leveraging professional testing in spas and salons. Why have you invested in carving out this niche and what has the response been?

By targeting professional channels, clinical environments, and med-spas, we tap into a segment where consumers actively seek beauty and wellness solutions. We collaborate with aestheticians, hair stylists, and skincare experts to evaluate products comprehensively. These venues serve as ideal testing grounds. The flexibility of our in-studio testing capabilities allows us to observe real-time reactions from the professional as well as the consumer. This context-rich environment captures nuances that lab-based testing might miss. Our investment in testing within the professional segment aligns with our mission to deliver evidence-based, effective, and delightful beauty products. The positive response of our tailored approach in the professional segments validates our strategic choice.

Marketing has become a numbers game as brands leverage clinical testing and consumer perception studies to break through the noise with efficacy claims. Can you compete in beauty without claim substantiation today?

In today’s competitive beauty landscape, claim substantiation is a critical factor. Efficacy claims play a pivotal role in consumer decision-making. Shoppers seek evidence that a product delivers on its promises. Brands that can prove their claims gain credibility, trust, and a competitive edge. While it’s possible to compete without immediate claim substantiation, it’s risky. Early-stage brands might lack extensive data initially. However, they must prioritize gathering evidence over time. Creativity and innovation matter. Brands can still intrigue consumers with unique narratives and experiences; however, eventual substantiation is crucial for long-term success.

How would you advise brands to consider clinical and consumer data from an NPD timeline perspective and financial budgeting?

Brands should allocate a budget for clinical and consumer insights, prioritizing high-potential products, to create impactful products that will resonate with their audience. Timing of smaller trials should align with the early product development stages, and a larger-scale study should be planned to validate the product claims.

What advice can you share with brands on maximizing the use of claims in brand positioning and marketing to stand out?

Having effective claims will resonate with your target audience, instill confidence, and differentiate a brand. If a skincare product reduces wrinkles, show the percentage reduction based on clinical studies, provide visuals such as before-and-after photos or videos, and conduct consumer perception studies to gather feedback from real consumers to support and demonstrate the product claims. Instead of merely listing product features and key ingredient stories, focus on the benefits for the user through testing and weave your product claims into a narrative. Explain why your product matters.

You have a unique perspective from a trend perspective. Where do you see the industry going in the next 12-18 months?

Diversity and Inclusivity: The industry continues to embrace diversity in product offerings and marketing. Brands need to show the consumer their brands have been tried and tested by a diverse panel of participants.

Clean Beauty and Transparency: Consumers demand transparency in ingredients and sourcing, as well as product testing, not just ingredient claims.

Influence of Younger Generations: Younger consumers are redefining beauty with their perceptions of sustainability, influencers, self-care, and beauty standards.