As major brands strive to maintain consumer relevance, innovative brands will turn to technology for a deeper understanding of their customers.

What would your skin say if it could talk?

In the world of personal care, cosmetics, and consumer healthcare (yes, they’re all related), forward-thinking companies are looking towards technology to help them understand how their products are used in the real-world. These insights can be used to optimize marketing, to better inform new product launches, and to fill the product pipeline with new products consumers didn’t even know they needed.

Traditional approach

When brands look for new and innovative products and services, they usually (should) start with a deep consumer understanding. The same is true when innovative brands want to truly understand how their products are used in the real-world, and if they’re performing well outside the lab. The current gold standard of market or consumer research includes some form of ethnographic research, and because the researchers can’t literally be with the consumer every day, living with them and in the bathroom with them, researchers often must rely on consumers self-reported behavior, self-taken photographs, and memory of an event often well after its occurred. Moreover, the breadth of the “data” collected is often minimal and focused on the product usage experience, and lacks any contextual information such as the users emotional state, environmental conditions, and actual product usage details and product performance.

Recently, companies have started to explore this unmet need and created platforms that allows users to capture information as part of a study and quickly send it to the study sponsor. For example, has a platform that allows product brands to administer surveys and collect photos of user’s surroundings and environment quickly and easily. While this approach might be ideal for certain product areas such as consumer products or pet products, it falls short of being fully relevant to more personal items found in the personal care and beauty aid category where privacy and discretion is more important. In the retail space, companies such as RetailNext are developing in-store detection schemes to watch how consumers buy and choose products, however, there is no technology yet available for consumer brands to collect a more complete or holistic view of the consumer in their natural environments.

Furthermore, determining if a product is working as intended is not part of any currently available solution outside the lab environment.

Experiential sensing

Experiential Sensing is a new technology approach conceived by Cambridge Consultants to more precisely understand consumer / product interaction giving top brands powerful consumer usage information in the real-world where products are used outside a clinical setting or focus group.

While most brands have extensive market research teams, consumer insights, business analytics, trends forecasters, and R&D, they often lack a detailed knowledge about their product once sold and in the hands of the consumer. Furthermore, they may not know how the consumer perceives the product to be working, know where the consumer is using it, and what other products the consumer might be using at the same time. Experiential Sensing can help validate research hypotheses and observations, as well as bring an entirely new set of data to provide a level of consumer understanding never before possible.

Experiential Sensing is to consumer research as the Mayo Clinic is to healthcare. Patients of the Mayo clinic are assigned a team of specialists who work collaboratively to look at the person as a whole. Someone with unique needs, circumstances, lifestyle, priorities, and healthcare needs is viewed in their entirety. Experiential Sensing allows brands to look at their consumers more holistically as well – to understand not only how they’re using products and services, but why, when, how they’re feeling while doing so, and if the product is meeting their function and emotional needs, and in real-time. Critically, an Experiential Sensing approach must be deployed in such a way as to not interfere with the events being measured. The user should not have to stop and record their feelings or location, the system will track that information for them.

In the past two years, devices and technology are just starting to make their way into the traditional landscape. L’Oreal, Clarisonic, Estee Lauder, Modiface, and P&G are not strangers to devices and technologies. At the most recent Cosmoprof 2018, Edd Brunner’s assessment is that despite all the technology on display, the industry is still in its infancy with plenty of opportunity space left, especially in the field of AR and home-based detection.

How experiential sensing works. Imagine if…

As a brand owner, imagine if you could follow every customer and see what they see, feel what they feel, and understand if your product is performing as intended. Testing in a lab, using focus groups, or relying upon self-reported diaries introduces too much noise into the consumer research process and can lead to product launches that miss the mark, or technology developments that don’t address the “right” consumer need. We’ve all seen products tried and failed- and in hindsight, the path to failure seemed obvious. Experiential Sensing can help truly innovative brand owners see the future product usage before it’s too late, and help predict where future opportunities lie.

The Experiential Sensing concept uses state of the art technology to capture real-time user data to paint a more complete picture of the consumer, consumer experience, context, and product function and performance. A variety of data is collected in such a way that the data collection process has no influence on the “truth of the experience.”

This new approach integrates 3 primary axes of use and product:

  1. Product usage and efficacy
  2. Usage Context
  3. Consumer experience and behavior

By way of example, imagine a brand selling a moisturizing lotion, and it was possible to record:

  • when the product is used
  • how it’s used
  • in what location was it used (home, car, office, club, etc.)
  • where on the body was it used
  • how much was used
  • if the product worked as intended
  • how the consumer felt while using it: happy, sad, stressed, calm, relaxed, fearful
  • the environment- was it hot, cold, humid, dry, sunny, or overcast

Imagine if brands could see this data on an individual basis, or in aggregate to see trends, problems, and opportunities for product improvements or category disruption.

In the 1990s the term and process of Neuro-Marketing was born in an effort to use quantitative measures of the human body to analyze the reaction to advertising stimulus. By looking at the brain with an MRI, practitioners believed they could ascertain when an advertisement stimulated the participant in the most effective way. This approach fell out of favor when the basic science and performance was debunked.

Experiential Sensing is just the opposite of this approach and only collects data in the consumers natural setting and provides no stimulus other than use of the product itself.

Using newer sensing technologies, including simple biosensors, environmental sensors, tracking, positional and geographic data, and using artificial intelligence to combine, analyze and correlate data, we can begin to paint a more complete view of the user’s true product experience unaffected by additional stimuli or distractions. Companies will detect a more holistic view of the consumer, and using artificial intelligence methods, understand human and product behavior more deeply. Building an Experiential Sensing and digital ecosystem platform can revolutionise how major brands can learn, target, and grow by understanding and addressing every consumer as an individual.

Building such a system poses some interesting technical challenges;

  • Performance Detection: for some products used on the skin, such as moisturizer, wrinkle cream, foundation, or other products, determining product performance is non-trivial. While there are current lab-based methods, developing a robust approach using remote means is difficult. Multi-spectral imaging – a technology normally deployed in the lab environment, is quickly making its way into consumer products and new sensors destined for smartphones are soon on the horizon. Fraunhofer for example has developed a method of skin detection using light emitted from the smartphone display and uses the camera as the detector.
  • Emotional and physiological state: Using simple sensors integrated onto a wearable device for example can provide basic physiological data. The challenge, however, lies in how to decipher meaningful consumer emotional states based on readily discernable data such as heartrate and skin temperature. It is hypothesised and under development that by using artificial intelligence techniques, this simple data, in combination with other contextual data, can be used to predict stress and other indirectly measurable human states and provide a peek into the consumer’s emotional state before, during, and after product usage.
  • Contextual Data: The environment of use can impact the consumer experience, reasons for usage, and reasons for abandonment of a product. As such, the Experiential Sensing system will use data about the user’s environmental conditions both in the general vicinity (weather, UV index, etc.) and internal ambient conditions such as temperature and humidity.
  • Decision-making: With a tremendous amount of data possible, the system to deconstruct events, and then recombine with other datasets to create an accurate “truth of the experience” requires advanced system intelligence and its ability to learn and constantly improve itself. Machine learning allows computer systems to continuously improve how it analyzes the data and which outcomes best reflect the real-world most consistently.

We believe there are two fundamental technology challenges for such a content-rich, yet minimally invasive Experiential Sensing system:

  1. Correlating detected motion with specific activities
  2. Drawing accurate conclusions based on the aggregated data

In both case, a fundamental knowledge of core sensor technology, machine learning, data analysis, and data visualization are key.

Empowering market research

Building a more complete consumer profile and collecting contextual data makes it possible for brands to not only better understand behaviors, but to help explain idiosyncrasies that might be observed. Take for example a consumer company developing a new UV blocker (sunblock), it noticed in its global consumer testing the product worked best on one side of the face in one country, but better on the other side of the face in another country. While there’s no physiological reason for this strange result to occur, there was no supporting data to determine the root cause of the product discrepancy. Was it the time of application, angle of sun, the way in which the product was applied, amount of product used, cultural differences, the side of the body people sleep on, or right-hand drive vs left-hand drive auto? Without contextual data, this entire study and its findings are suspect. With an Experiential Sensing platform, all the data needed to make detailed and highly supported inferences and analysis is there. No guesswork.

Brands and relevance

The personal care market is crowded and big brands should have a continuous process to remain relevant to its consumers. The most accurate way of doing so is for major brands to know what your consumer are “actually” doing with its product outside of a controlled environment – in their homes, places of work, on vacation, in the locker room, or wherever they may be instead.

The Experiential Sensing concept is an important approach to help major brands:

  • understand their relevance
  • understand the true consumer experience
  • to provide themselves with the factual data they need to more accurately market and provide new products and services to existing and future consumers

We're actively working with major brands to develop custom applications of Experiential Sensing. If you’re interested in creating a solution for your brand, please contact us.

Eric Cohen
SVP, Consumer Business

A recognized leader in consumer and health technology, Eric has more than 30 years’ experience of developing products that create new consumer experiences using new technologies and healthcare behavior models. His track record in new product innovation and development combined with his first-hand knowledge of patient care and industry-leading patient engagement methods plays a critical role in developing new products and services in the consumer and wellness markets.