Science is competitive, more so than ever before. Within the present economic climate there is an intense competition for government funding and a shrinking academic job market. These conditions have created the need for scientists to increase their profile and impact not only within but beyond the scientific community
One option for tackling these challenges is through a more professional approach to communication of research activities and results: science marketing. The concept is introduced in the April 2012 issue of Nature Materials (There is an introductory editorial, an interview with March Kuchner, the author of Marketing for Scientists and a commentary on online tools).
What is Marketing?
The Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM) defines marketing as
The management process responsible for identifying, anticipating and satisfying customer requirements profitbaly. (CIM, 2012)
The American Marketing Association (AMA) defines mark as
…the activity, set of institutions and processes for creating communicating, delivering, and exchanging offerings that have value for customers, clients, partners, and society at large (AMA, 2007)
Without going into an explicit breakdown of the definitions and the meanings, it will suffice to say that the conceptualisation of marketing has changed over the years from a transactional concept embodied by pricing, promotion and distribution to the relationship concepts such as the importance of customer trust, risk and commitment.
What’s the point of ‘science marketing’?
Scientists have to acknowledge that it is no longer sufficient just to do good research. The scientific community must be
…acknowledging that scientists need to deliver and communicate their results to a variety of different stakeholders, such as their collegagues, funding agencies, politicians, the media and the public. (Nature Materials, 2012, p. 259)
Marketing places an emphasis on the need for scientists to learn how to communicate their research more effectively (Thankfully the majority of scientists haven’t learned to do this, otherwise I would be out of a PhD project).
Science marketing with on-line tools
In this commentary from the aforementioned April issue of Nature Materials, Martin Fenner, highlights the possibilities offered by online tools for the purposes of marketing and communication of science (often the easiest and potentially the only way). He breaks it down into the following categories (My comments are provided below the points):
- Communicating with Colleagues
Communication with colleagues occurs through a variety of means: email, conferences, publications, in person, over the telephone, etc. On-line tools provide another medium for this.
- Setting up a researcher profile
This is probably one of the easiest tasks to complete. However, after the initial completion it may probably succumb to what a lot of university profile pages suffer from, staying incomplete.
- Reaching out to the general public
One of the ways to tackle this new challenge is through utilisation of social media. As Mr. Fenner points out, “scientists have to learn to generalize their research findings and not get lost in the details that are often the focus of a discussion with peers” (pp. 262-263). I wouldn’t completely agree with this point. I think it is more of a case of being able to translate your research findings for the various audiences. In general, scientists are aware of the fact that various publics (include the lay publics) are not averse to complexity. They want to know more and are open to knowing the certainties and the uncertainties. Thus, it is a matter of scientists being able to communicate effectively.
- Marketing with Care
Coordinate your activities with your institution. More often than not that will require interaction with the communications office of the university. They act as the gatekeepers of the research from the outside world, in particular from the media. It is here where it becomes apparent that not all research is created equal. Therefore, not all research will be allotted the time by the communications office; stories that will ensure maximum exposure will usually get priority and thus your research may be deemed not worthy for transmission through the communications office. This is where social media tools such as Twitter and blogs become indispensable. They still allow you to get your research to a variety of publics. But again careful decisions must be made about what to communicate and what to leave out while maintaining agreement with your institution.