Sunday, 22 September 2013

Marketing and Scientists

Social Media Marketing Madness Cartoon by HubSpotHaving left academia just over a year ago and joined NextMove Software, I am reminded of a comment that a postdoc made to me about why she would not like the idea of working for a software vendor: "Marketing". I once had the same idea, but after several years postdocing I realise that a big part of a scientist's job, and perhaps especially a postdoc's, is all about marketing. We can call it self-promotion or networking, if that's more palatable, but it's essentially selling oneself and one's ideas.

Let's start with the obvious stuff. Papers: they promote your ideas, and also yourself. To get the paper in, you first need to market it to the editor with the submission letter. To encourage people to read it, you need a punchy abstract and title. For further encouragement, you need some marketing: a poster, a talk, a write-up on the webs.

And yes, blogs do help. Sure, marketing is not the only reason to have a blog, but it is a positive side-effect (it's a mystery to me why more cheminformaticians don't write them). Similarly, putting talks and posters up on the web ensures a wider reach. As I've said before, more people will read it online than will ever hear you give it in person.

And then there's the pure marketing: grant applications and job applications. If like me, you are somewhat reluctant to write a page of text on how awesome you are, you'll need to overcome this handicap pretty quickly in order to fill in the various bits of grant and job applications. As for the rest of the sections, it's a fine balance between promoting your ideas as solving all of the world's problems and being scientifically realistic.

"Marketing" may not be a scientist's favourite word, but if your scientific study is buried in the literature and forgotten, it neither advances the field nor your career. So if you feel you have something worth talking about, get out there and get marketing!

Image credit: Hubspot


Andrew Dalke said...

There are different styles of marketing. Adam Curtis, in his "Century of the Self", argues that Edward Bernays, who introduced brought ideas from psychoanalysis into marketing, changed marketing from a more informative "this does X" to an emotional "this will make you feel Y!"

Quoting now from Wikipedia: The business and political world uses psychological techniques to read, create and fulfill our desires, to make their products or speeches as pleasing as possible to us.

An academic, who is trained in logical reasoning, will likely find that sort of marketing particularly disdainful. As an obvious example, booth babes for your poster would be attention grabbing, but inappropriate. There's no logical connection between the content of your poster and the presence/absence of booth babes, so they must be there for some other reason. The most reasonable assumption is that they are there as an emotional influence.

While the marketing you mentioned - posters, talks, writeups, and so on - is the sort of informative marketing which predates the use of psychological models which directly attempt to influence the subconscious.

Noel O'Boyle said...

Nicely put.