The best examples of Internet of Things (IoT) devices don’t require a hard sell as to why they need a wireless connection, it’s just obvious. Smart thermostats, for example: change the temperature of your house remotely, while it learns your behaviour. Yes, sign me up for some of that. A belt that talks to my smartphone? Uh, if you say so, I guess – but isn’t the average belt already pretty good at telling me when I’ve eaten too much as it is? Why do I need one with yet another battery to charge?
You see my point: if you spend a great deal of your marketing literature trying to explain to people why connectedness is necessary, you have an uphill struggle ahead of you. This was my first reaction when I (figuratively, of course) dipped my toes into the world of connected cosmetics. Indeed, reading L’Oréal’s public comments about the potential of IoT for cosmetics, my gut feeling was that it would be good for the company, but hard to sell to the customers. “These products, for most consumers, are in their bags every day and are almost as personal as their mobile device,” L’Oreal’s Christophe Emery told Marketing last year. “You can imagine there’s a great opportunity to have them as connected devices as well, creating a territory for ongoing customer engagement.” Okay, I understand that Marketing isn’t consumer press, but why does the customer want a bluetooth blusher?
One company with a more convincing roadmap is Feeligreen, a French startup that comes at things from a slightly different angle. Rather than a cosmetics company trying to tack on technology, Feeligreen feels far more like a technology company trying to tackle cosmetics. That may sound like a slightly pedantic point, but it could potentially make all the difference when it comes to selling the benefits of skincare that links to your tech.
Founded by Christophe Bianchi in 2012, who holds a PhD in electronics, the company’s first products are the I-Feel Beauty and I-Feel Sport, which are a series of creams with an accompanying gadget for application of the cosmetics through bipolar micro-currents and LED light therapy. As Marketing explains, it’s controlled by an app that offers tailored recommendations for better skin in return for tracking of the cosmetics’ usage. That’s just the beginning, though, for a company that already has tentative fingers in a number of different pies.
Right now, you can only purchase the I-Feel Beauty – which retails at around £275 – online through an invitation only. This is partly to ensure “perfect support” for a product that may leave early adopters with plenty of questions, but also because Bianchi appreciates that connected cosmetics, perhaps even more than a smart fridge or a smart belt, need to be seen in person to appreciate the benefits. “We are developing our sales channels and want to favour bricks and mortar points of sale where the product and technology can be explained,” he says.
For a company that is steeped firmly in technology rather than traditional retail, that attachment to brick and mortar shops may appear jarring, but in other ways they’re far more Silicon Valley than traditional beauticians. The timescales, for example, are significantly faster. “Based on our technology platform – management of transdermic current for drug delivery – we had a very aggressive timing in mind when we started the project. We brought a product from idea to production in six months when, in the cosmetic industry, it typically takes two to three years,” Bianchi explains.
This, again, partly stems from the tech background, where rapid prototyping and product delivery is the norm. “Feeligreen adopted those methods, akin to software development by using agile development methods but still unorthodox in the formulation, chemistry and electronics industry,” Bianchi says.
Expensive cosmetics aside, there’s more to Feeligreen than better skin: serious healthcare. The technology pioneered in the cosmetics world has plenty of crossover with medicine, and last year revealed dermoPatch – a medical device designed to diffuse drugs through the skin for controlled pain relief, amongst other things. “We are applying our solutions to therapeutic applications, from chronic pain to dermatology – such as psoriasis and vitiligo – and are already at trials stage in partnership with major pharmaceutical laboratories,” Bianchi explains. Amongst these are pharmaceutical big names such as Galderma and Sanofi.
These are certainly extremely worthy applications for the technology, but isn’t there a worry that the company may be spreading itself too thin by targeting two very different markets at the same time? Not necessarily: if you view the company’s cosmetic products as “proof of concept” rather than the finished article, then it’s entirely possible that the company could licence their technology to several disparate markets at once, without having to waste resources on external marketing and directly taking on others. In cosmetics, this matters: brand loyalty is quite a big deal – partly, perhaps, why the L’Oreal team are open to the potential customer comms benefits of connected cosmetics in the first place. “Ultimately, it is the promise of more effective beauty treatment that drives the demand,” explains Bianchi. “All major cosmetic brands are seeking solutions to incorporate more technology in their offering and we are in discussions with several of these brands.”
It will be interesting to see whether connected cosmetics become commonplace over the next few years, or if people just prefer their beauty products old-school. The funny thing about innovation is that even the most left-field ideas seem obvious successes once they’ve reached mass acceptance with the benefit of hindsight, but it’s only tremendous foresight from innovators that bring them to the point where it always seemed inevitable. We’ll just have to see what fate awaits the cosmetics industry’s first careful steps into the tentatively growing Internet of Things market.