A special note from Kevin Kauzlaric:
This marketing book review will gratify scientists who are entrepreneurs! This has to be one of the best marketing books for scientists, if not the only one. However, this review was not written by me, but by Elyse Bolterstein, my wife and a scientist at Tufts University. I purchased this book for her as a gift. After reading it through, she was so happy with what she learned from it that she was willing to write this review for other scientists who could benefit from the book’s message. So, without further ado, here it is…
- Good, clear advice on how to promote your research
- Tips on building relationships with others in the scientific community
- Suggestions for creating more riveting figures, posters and presentations
- Recommendations for putting your research on a funding agency’s radar
- Logical, textbook-style formatting to find sections of interest quickly
1 Reason Not to Buy this Book:
- Some of the branding advice may not be as relevant to early-career researchers
“It struck me that scientists and other academics are often in the same position I was as a beginning songwriter: writing papers nobody reads – like songs nobody hears.” ~ Marc Kuchner, Marketing for Scientists
I’ve heard multiple times that as a scientist, it doesn’t matter if your work is brilliant if you can’t communicate your ideas to others. However many scientists are uncomfortable with the idea of “marketing” themselves. A lot of us confuse marketing with self-promotion, which carries the same slimy undertone of how “networking” can be erroneously aligned with “schmoozing.” Marc Kuchner’s “Marketing for Scientists: How to Shine in Tough Times” turns these ideas around and discusses marketing as an important and necessary extension of having a successful career in science.
Dr. Kuchner, an astrophysicist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, definitely has earned the scientific equivalent of “street cred”: he is a Caltech alum, the winner of prestigious fellowships and has authored a multitude of papers.
He is also an accomplished country music songwriter. That’s right folks, scientists can be multi-dimensional and Dr. Kuchner uses this unique perspective to frame most of his book. As he found out first-hand, navigating the competitive world of Nashville takes guts, charisma, and a marketing know-how that he had never experienced before. So like any good scientist, Dr. Kuchner hit the books and researched theory of marketing and branding. Not only did this research help him to sell his songs to recording artists, but also presented to him the strong parallel between promoting his music and promoting his research. In this his book, he compiles tips and tricks used by himself and other scientists on how they promote their work.
What You’ll Gain As An Entrepreneur In Science
A main theme in this book is the promotion of your Single Research Idea (SRI): the idea, concept, or product that you would like to be known for. It’s like the DNA double helix for James Watson, the theory of relativity for Albert Einstein or evolution for Charles Darwin. The SRI becomes your brand that others use to identify you.
Once you have your SRI established, you an work on its branding. Here Dr. Kuchner calls upon Ries and Trout’s Laws of Marketing to illustrate branding of your SRI. One example stresses that if you can’t be the first to do/discover/describe a phenomenon, you can invent a new category that places you on top (Ries and Trout’s law #2). Here a scientist can emphasize that she was the first to use a specific technique, even if the concept being studied have previously been discovered (e.g. a better screening method for prenatal genetic screening). Acronyms and logos, if used thoughtfully, can contribute to a successful SRI branding campaign. You’ll even be able to track the spread of your SRI as your colleagues more often cite it in papers, talks, and even casual conversation.
The key to promoting your SRI is to build and maintain personal relationships, a undertaking that Dr. Kuchner acknowledges that stereotypical, introverted scientists struggle with. To build relationships you need to continually draw people through your “marketing funnel.” This concept differs from networking because rather than simply compiling a list of contacts, you are nurturing these relationships in hope of fostering long-term collaborations.
Dr. Kuchner maintains the theme of relationship building throughout the book. He offers concrete examples of how to talk to people of different backgrounds and positions, from students to faculty and from reviewers at funding agencies to the general public. All of these interactions can be framed around answering your audience’s unasked question, “what’s in it for me?” This consideration for what your audience desires from you will result in better communication and understanding from both parties.
Dr. Kuchner definitely used the rule of WIIFM when writing this book: he understands the concerns of scientists and addresses them in a clear, easy-to-read manner. Throughout his book, Dr. Kuchner convinces the reader that marketing and science not only go together, but each is an important contributor to the success of a scientific career. He accomplishes this through his parallel comparisons of marketing country music to scientific branding – an unexpected point of view that brings much truth and humor to an important subject.
One of the small, but life-changing adjustments I made after reading this marketing book involved altering my style (or lack there of) of communicating my work to non-scientists. As a scientist doing research in basic biology, I often have difficulties relaying my work to non-biologists…usually resulting in awkward mumbling on my part and glazed-over eyes from them. Dr. Kuchner suggests that rather than having an “elevator pitch,” you involve your audience by piggybacking your research on something they already know. I tried this out at a party last weekend with great success as depicted in the following transcript:
New and fascinating person: So Elyse, what is your research on?
Me (newly articulate biologist): Have you heard of how UV light can cause damage to your cells? That damage actually can cause breaks in your DNA. My lab uses fruit flies to study how your cells can repair that DNA damage so that it doesn’t lead to bigger problems like cell death and cancer.
New person (interested): Really?!? I’ve heard how UV light damages your DNA. Now, how do you use flies in cancer research?
This method helped to put my new friend on an equal playing field because I was talking about something he already knew something about and lead to a much more interesting conversation where both of us were equally involved.
A criticism I have about this book is based solely on the fact that as an early career postdoc, I have not yet established my SRI. Therefore, it’s quite difficult to visualize and implement a branding plan. Still, the advice regarding relationship building is relevant to me at this stage in my career and it’s good to keep branding in mind for when I am working on SRI promotion.
While this marketing book is geared toward scientists, I can also see it being hugely beneficial to marketers who work with scientists on the promotion of technical ideas. I personally learned a lot of small tips that I could incorporate into my interactions with others to build and strengthen my relationships. Also, judging by the buzz this book generated around my lab (many of my colleagues asked about the book when I was reading it at lunch), the book fills a much-needed niche in promoting the career of any scientist.
Click here to check out Marketing For Scientists on Amazon.com
If you enjoyed this post, sign up for my monthly newsletter in which I give away free copies of my most recent book reviews.