In today’s insta-fast beauty world where brands compete on speed to market, it sometimes feels that the efficacy of a product is an afterthought. The barrier to entry has never been lower when it comes to launching a beauty brand, with all the stock formulations and turnkey solutions. There’s a reason so many brands and products feel the same—because they are.
One common denominator of many brands that break through the beauty noise is product innovation. There are many successful brands whose businesses have been built by leveraging hard-working hero SKUs. Think Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare and the category-changing Alpha Beta Daily Peel, Crème de la Mer, or Summer Fridays, who launched their business with one product, their buzzy Jet Lag Mask. These are examples of products that were innovative, deliver on a promise, and were definitely not pulled from off the shelf.
Creating breakthrough beauty products requires a combination of right-brain analytical and methodical thinking and right-brain creative thinking. This is where product developers come in.
Tamar Kamen navigates the worlds of science and marketing and acts as a translator of sorts between chemists and markets. A walking encyclopedia of beauty product claims, benefits, textures, and trends, Kamen has worked behind the scenes creating products and launching brands for some of the industries most-established businesses as well as independent brands in development.
Learn about the career path that has allowed her to “satisfy both my nerdy love of science and girlie side,” and her secret sauce to developing breakthrough beauty products.
How did you find your way into beauty product development? Originally I thought I wanted to work in the fashion industry. However, I went to college in NYC and had internships at fashion magazines, brands, and retailers throughout and felt there was something missing. My advisor (who was the Curator of the Costume Institute at the Met) suggested beauty, made an introduction, and my career began as an executive assistant at Prescriptives. I then moved to Clarins as a promotional marketing coordinator. I had the misconception that the true creative part of beauty was marketing, but I found out through a lot of Excel spreadsheets that traditional marketing wasn’t for me. Unsure but open-minded, I made a list of ten companies that interested me and sent letters to the CEOs. I landed at Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare in the early days and got exposed to the full concept to launch the process. They took a chance on me, and it’s there where I fell in love with product development. It satisfies both my nerdy love of science and girlie side.
What is the biggest misconception about your job/role? People always ask if I am either a chemist or a marketer. I think that successful product developers speak both languages. We can communicate to the scientists what marketing is looking for, and we can express to marketing the performance and science of a formulation.
From your perspective, what are the hard and soft skills that make someone well suited for product development in the beauty industry? Having the ability to bridge marketing and R&D is crucial and requires effective communication, project management, troubleshooting, and negotiating skills. However, there’s also a creative side. Product developers need to be able to look at a formula and transform it into a hero product story.
You have been developing products for global giants in beauty to the hottest new launches for 20 years. What has been the biggest change you’ve experienced in the industry? Consumer knowledge has been the biggest influence I’ve seen recently. A romantic story is often no longer sufficient to sell a product. The market is demanding transparency in regards to the science, claims, and ingredients in their products.
What’s been the most profound change you’ve seen when it comes to product development? Today, what isn’t in the formula is as important as what is in the formula. This has made developing products much more challenging because, depending on the positioning of the brand, the ingredient options can be quite limited.
You have a track record of breakthrough products. What’s your secret sauce for developing an award-winning or best-selling new product? I do a lot of research on the market and get inspiration anywhere and everywhere. Knowing the competitive environment and having relationships that provide access to blue sky innovation from global suppliers makes me very efficient when developing product briefs. Understanding the brand and being able to articulate the objectives, exclusions, performance, delivery, key ingredients, and aesthetic qualities sets the product development process up for success.
What is the project or product launch you are most proud of? I am extremely proud of launching the Peter Thomas Roth Acne-Clear Invisible Dots over 5 years ago. While this format is common now, it hadn’t been commercialized in the US market. I found them at a trade show in Korea, but I had seen them in obscure Chinatown retailers. Given the clinical positioning of Peter Thomas Roth, this format was a perfect fit.
Two years has been the benchmark for launching a new beauty product, but there are indie beauty brands touting “proprietary technology” that allows them to go from product to concept in 45 days. How long does it really take to develop a product? The answer to that question depends on what you consider product development. I don’t like working on formulas that are just pickups off the shelf. Therefore, all the projects that I tend to work on require some new formulation. Depending on the resources available to the brand I’m working with, I can launch a product in between 4-9 months on a rushed timeline. A normal product development timeline from concept to launch is still 12-18 months.
Has this speed-to-market differentiation had an impact on how you develop products? I no longer wait for proprietary ingredients to be found or researched and presented exclusively to brands. I find that exclusive and proprietary combinations that the brand puts together in novel forms and in interesting packages can be as impactful as new technology.
What impact has social media had on the conception and development process of new product launches? The demand for transparency in product formulations has impacted my product development process the most. Social media makes information accessible to everyone and therefore, we must make product information more readily available. For my clients that are not in brick and mortar ,it’s important that products deliver a transformative or unique experience that can be communicated visually.
Many indie beauty founders do not come from the industry. What advice do you have for them when it comes to product development? Selfishly, I suggest they surround themselves with experts who can best advise them. You don’t get a second chance at a first impression. There are a lot of moving parts to product development and hiccups happen to everyone, but the ability to anticipate and troubleshoot comes from experience. Missteps can be incredibly expensive.
Where do you find inspiration for new product development? Inspiration finds me. I do sometimes search for inspiration but often, just reading, interacting with people, and keeping an eye out for problems that have yet to be solved spark new product ideas.
CBD has taken the beauty industry by storm. What is your opinion on the green rush? How profound an impact will CBD have long term? I have yet to see evidence that topical CBD has an effect on skin that other ingredients cannot offer. I am not convinced that CBD is here long term. I do however think that THC and other cannabinoids perhaps have potential in the future of beauty.
What trends do you think are over? This is difficult to answer because the market surprises me. I do see that at least in skincare, celebrity-endorsed and only influencer-driven brands have less credibility than they used to and there is a return to experts.
What trends do you think have become the new normal or standard business practices? Clean beauty, sustainable ingredients and packaging, and transparency.
What trends are you currently seeing bubbling up? Cradle-to-grave responsibility. Where do your ingredients come from and where will your packaging end up when your product is disposed of?
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