Marketing for Scientists: How to Shine in Tough Times

Marketing for Scientists: How to Shine in Tough Times

by Marc J. Kuchner


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781597269940
Publisher: Island Press
Publication date: 11/15/2011
Pages: 248
Product dimensions: 6.60(w) x 5.60(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Marc J. Kuchner is a staff scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center. He has contributed to more than one hundred research papers and published articles in journals including the Astrophysical Journal, Nature, and Astrobiology. He is also a successful country music songwriter.

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Marketing for Scientists

How to Shine in Tough Times

By Marc J. Kuchner


Copyright © 2012 Marc J. Kuchner
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-61091-173-3



I am an astrophysicist, an expert on the theory and observations of planetary systems around other stars. I earned my PhD from Caltech in 2000 and then went to the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics on a prize postdoctoral fellowship to study planet hunting and planet formation. I won a second fellowship in 2003, the Hubble postdoctoral fellowship, and went to Princeton to work on new methods for finding Earthlike extrasolar planets. Now I work at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center as a staff scientist. Like my fellow mid-career scientists, I write and referee papers, advise students and postdocs, serve on panels, organize conferences, write proposals, and give many, many PowerPoint talks.

As I was forging my scientific career, I was never quite sure if I was doing it right. I watched some of my colleagues succeed in science, some even launch huge programs, while I saw others fail, and I wondered why the chips fell as they did. Some of my scientific colleagues mentioned "marketing" every now and then, but there was no official recognition that this craft might have a role in how we developed our careers and spread our scientific ideas. Some colleagues would even roll their eyes or speak in a whisper when they said the word.

With help from some wonderful mentors, I am lucky to have landed a good permanent job in a field that many people pursue as a hobby. But it was through my hobby that I first began to learn systematically about marketing. On the weekends and in the shower, I write songs—country songs. I aim to write more or less the kind of contemporary country song you hear on today's country radio. And as confusing as I found the astrophysics business, I found the songwriting business even more mystifying.

When I started out writing songs, I focused only on my songwriting craft, trying to make my lyrics sound ever more honest and compelling, my melodies more catchy and original. I read many books and magazines and websites about country music. I learned about lyrics, song forms, and guitar technique. I started taking regular trips to Nashville to record the songs I was writing.

Eventually, the songs started sounding really good to me. Really, really good. I was sure one of them would be a hit. But the responses I got on my first trips to Nashville were disappointing. Everyone kept telling me: great songs, man, but the music business is a business! I nodded and smiled, though I didn't know quite what that meant.

Well, I found out what it meant when I began earnestly trying to sell the songs I was writing. I mailed out dozens of packages of CDs, but one after another came back unopened. I called people up to ask if they liked my songs, and they hung up on me.

This rejection hurt. It hurt for two reasons: it hurt because my songs remained unsold, and it hurt because of the way I was rejected. The cozy collegial climate of academia that I was used to doesn't exist in the music business, or in most businesses for that matter. In science, when your paper is rejected or your proposal is turned down, you get a polite letter explaining the decision and offering feedback. Maybe this feedback from our academic colleagues is often late or incomplete. But in business, if the customers don't want your merchandise they walk straight out of the store and they don't fill out the comment card. If they really don't like what you are selling, they sometimes even go online and leave a trail of nasty comments about your work that you and everyone else can read.

Fortunately, I kept on writing songs, trying to find someone who would listen, and asking experts for advice. Then a turning point came for me when I decided not just to study the craft of songwriting, but to try to understand the music business as a business. I filled my bookshelf with books about marketing and started trying to apply what I read to attracting the attention of artist managers and music publishers. I studied sales, and learned how to build working relationships with people I didn't know, starting from scratch. I sent out a newsletter with handy tips. I wrote articles in trade journals like Nashville's Music Row Magazine. I worked on developing a coherent brand.

At some point my efforts started paying off. I started getting calls from managers of country artists and bands who liked my songs. I was so giddy that at first I let them have the songs for free. Then that changed; I started earning royalties that paid for trips to Nashville and new music gear.

I haven't exactly become an A-list honky-tonk hero, nor do I expect to quit working as a full-time scientist, a job I love. But I have now had almost twenty songs published by music publishers in Nashville, Los Angeles, and in Europe, and I have garnered about the same number of "cuts": recordings of my songs by country artists. Four of these cuts have received radio airplay. Last year one of my songs was chosen as the best demo of the year by Music Connection Magazine. This year, part of another one of my songs appeared in the show Making the Band, produced by P. Diddy; it aired on MTV, MTV2, and BET.

Anyway, one day I had a conversation with a postdoc who seemed to be writing the same paper over and over again, complaining that nobody was citing his work, nobody seemed to be listening. The frustration was familiar. 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.

We write paper after paper, and cast these papers out into the ether, hoping they will land on fertile ground, and often receive back nothing more than a slow drip of dutiful citations from a few close collaborators. We spend months crafting long proposals and preparing for job applications, only to face rejection after rejection with little explanation. And worst of all, every scientist seems to have some kind of painful story to tell about doing groundbreaking work that mostly got ignored, then watching someone else put out a press release on the topic and hog all the credit for the idea.

One might be tempted to think that the many slights and rejections we scientists must suffer are somehow a necessary part of our education. But I don't think that way anymore. My experience with the music business has taught me to cherish every bit of feedback I can get, and not to think of the hundreds of unreturned phone calls or ignored pitches I must face as signs of personal failings. It was this change of perspective, and the pressure it removed from my life, that first made me want to try systematically applying what I learned in the music business to the world of science.

So I set out to put together the marketing toolkit that I wish I had had when I was starting my science career (and my music career). I began with the hodgepodge of wisdom I'd learned in the music business. Then I interviewed a series of scientists in various fields at different career stages to find out how they marketed themselves. I began interviewing other professionals; I talked to press officers, reporters, and staff at funding agencies, as well as experts in outreach, government, and science policy. As I gained confidence, I started giving workshops on marketing to help coach the students, postdocs, and junior scientists at my institution, and to gauge their needs and responses. Finally, I started a Facebook group called "Marketing for Scientists," invited my colleagues to join, and discussed my ideas with the members of the group. I collected many new concepts and anecdotes from this group, and also abandoned many dead-end ideas thanks to the feedback I received.

The result is this book. It's organized a bit like a science textbook, because—I can't help it—that structure appeals to me. First, I talk about the theory of marketing; then I talk about applications. I go through some of the fundamentals of sales, relationship building, and branding, and try to concoct a kind of science-marketing perspective. Then I go back and examine some familiar institutions of science such as papers, talks, and press releases through this perspective.

In the process of writing the book, I've come to understand that marketing already threads its way through the fabric of today's scientific and academic institutions. As Princeton ecology professor David Wilcove told me, "Even scientists who don't think they are marketing their work are marketing. The introduction to a technical paper is a piece of marketing. When you write a grant proposal, you're basically marketing." As Caltech astronomy professor—and former chair of my department—Shri Kulkarni puts it, "Being a good scientist is half science and half marketing." If you are a scientist, then, you may find yourself already acquainted with some of this material, though perhaps in a different form.

As an (astro)physicist, I like to start by writing down the fundamental theorems. So I'm going to start with the first thing I learned about marketing back when I was writing songs that nobody listened to—a kind of basic underlying principle. You can skip ahead if you like; there's stuff later on that's more fun.

In any case, whether you consider yourself a marketing skeptic or a marketing fanatic, there is a picture of marketing I want to paint for you, one that I think is still new to most scientists. It's a sensibility that has emerged in the Internet era: marketing based on genuine two-way conversations and community-building. I think scientists can all use this new approach without fear of being selfish or disingenuous—to improve society, conquer ignorance, and share our passion for discovery. Now, more than ever, marketing is for scientists.


The Fundamental Theorem of Marketing

There's a simple idea that I came to realize is the foundation of business and marketing, something like the Schrödinger equation of quantum mechanics. It looked innocuous and slightly alien to me when I first uncovered it. Here it is.

Everything you get from other people comes because you met someone else's needs or desires.

I like to think of this statement as a kind of fundamental theorem. It has no imaginary numbers or Greek letters. But the rest of marketing is largely ramifications of this one hypothesis: you don't get anything for free.

Now, the fundamental theorem applies to everybody. So every deal between two people has a certain kind of symmetry to it. Consider this: you write a song for use in a TV show. You give the TV producer permission to use the song. He gives you some money. The two of you have participated in the "markets" for songs and money. You met his needs, and also he met your needs, just like the fundamental theorem says. That's how the music business works—how any business works.

But how, you may ask, can the fundamental theorem of marketing apply to the transactions of a scientist? For example, say you applied to ten graduate schools. You were admitted to three of them. That's all. There's no money changing hands, and no apparent product for sale.

But you had a desire; you wanted to go to graduate school. According to the fundamental theorem, someone else apparentlywanted you to show up at graduate school, too. You met someone's desires and they met yours. That's the fundamental theorem in action.

You might say that the process of being admitted to graduate school is symmetric, just like the process of selling a song. You received something (the admission) and you also gave something (your application and your demonstation of confidence in and preference for the school). You might say that these things you exchanged had more or less equal value. Someone in the administrative structure of the universities you applied to gets to smile a big smile, or maybe sigh a sigh of relief when he sees the applications arrive in the mail. Or maybe it's not one person with a big smile—maybe it's twelve people in the department office, the grants office, and the dean's office with little smiles or little sighs of relief.

I doubt that most students think about both sides of the equation while they are writing their graduate school applications. But the thing is, no matter what taboos or diversions might be there to distract you from it, every step in your career somehow follows the fundamental theorem. Every one! Even in science, as some people say: you scratch my back, I'll scratch yours.

I struggled for a long time with this notion; it did not sit well with me at first or even seem useful for a scientist to think about. But then, once you begin thinking harder about the fundamental theorem, you start to see the world differently. You start to turn the theorem around. I want to get things from other people—how can I fulfill other people's needs and desires?

For that matter, you start to wonder what are other people's needs and desires? Sometimes it's easy to figure out what's expected of you; the graduate school application form says that you should write your name on the top of each page. But sometimes it's hard to figure out what other people want. For example, what exactly should you write in your application essay? Sometimes people go to great lengths to conceal what pleases them and what motivates them. It seems to me that the graduate school application process, for example, cleverly conceals the motivations of the people behind it.

Marketing: A Definition

This discussion brings us to the notion of marketing. Here is my preferred definition of the word:

Marketing is the craft of seeing things from other people's perspectives, understanding their wants and needs, and finding ways to meet them.

In other words, if you want to get into graduate school, you have to peer past the formality of the applications forms and see through the cordiality of the admissions office. You have to understand who wants you to apply and why. You have to figure out what they need and what you can offer them. Maybe you succeeded in this game; while you were writing those application essays you paused for a moment to consider the needs of the real humans who would eventually read them. That was marketing, right there.

As I read the literature, I found many definitions of the word marketing. Some of them talked about identifying products and deciding on their prices—concepts that are tricky to transfer to science (though we'll try to in a little bit). But as Harvard Business School professor of marketing Theodore C. Levitt said, marketing invariably views "the entire business process as consisting of a tightly integrated effort to discover, create, arouse, and satisfy customer needs." That seems to me to be the bottom line: thinking about the needs of other people.

Thinking about the needs of other people turns out to be pretty profound. As I learned more about marketing I was shocked over and over again by how much effort it takes to do it right. Some people may find it intuitive, but I was impressed over and over by how much of marketing I found bewilderingly nonintuitive—at least from my scientist's perspective.

What's Hard about Marketing

I took a mind-blowing marketing class from Kelly O'Brien, owner of TurningPointe, a consulting firm focused on new media and management strategies. She was tall and fashionably dressed, and she worked with name tags and flip charts. She threw little brightly colored plastic toys on the tables to set the mood. When I walked in on the first day, before the aforementioned mind blowing, I felt momentarily like I was in a scene from the evil business world, or maybe from the television sitcom The Office.

Kelly began the first class with a deceptively simple exercise that helped me understand the surprisingly subtle magic of seeing the world through other people's eyes. Let's say you owned a movie theater—a giant multiplex in a suburban area. What are your daily concerns and worries? "Take a moment and brainstorm with me," she said, and began jotting down ideas from the students on one of those loathsome flip charts.

Now Kelly said, "Let's pretend you'd like to see the latest James Bond movie. What are your needs and concerns?" A few moments of discomfort and a few squeaks of her magic marker later, she had written down these ideas.

"What I wanted to show," I remember her saying, "is that thinking like the movie-theater owner feels very different than thinking like a moviegoer. The moviegoer does not know the theater owner or the staff, or care who's working tonight. The moviegoer takes popcorn for granted. But when you stand in someone else's shoes, everything is different."

This might sound strange, but when I switch from thinking about the movie-theater owner to thinking about the moviegoer, I briefly feel a faint physical sensation. Maybe it is some subtle change in blood flow in my head or the release of some hormone. I get a similar sensation walking into a room full of new people, or walking onstage to perform in front of an audience. Switching perspectives like this requires you to draw on your knowledge of what it might be like to be someone else—knowledge we often don't have much of. You have no choice but to wing it. And I find it faintly physically uncomfortable.

But imagining that we are someone else is something we do all the time. It's even part of our science education. Consider this exercise in perspective changing.

Perhaps you had a conversation with your advisor in graduate school where you learned to take your readers into account when you write a paper—to carefully choose what figures to show, what references to cite, and what conclusions to highlight. I would like to point out that as you took this journey of trying to think like your customer, you were marketing.


Excerpted from Marketing for Scientists by Marc J. Kuchner. Copyright © 2012 Marc J. Kuchner. Excerpted by permission of ISLAND PRESS.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments ix

Introduction 1

Chapter 1 Business 5

Chapter 2 The Fundamental Theorem of Marketing 11

Chapter 3 How to Sell Something 19

Chapter 4 Building Relationships 41

Chapter 5 Branding 63

Chapter 6 Archetypes 85

Chapter 7 The Consumers of Science 95

Chapter 8 Our Products: How We Get Job Offers and Funding 109

Chapter 9 Writing Proposals and Making Figures 123

Chapter 10 Papers and Conferences 131

Chapter 11 Giving Talks 143

Chapter 12 Internet and E-mail Marketing 157

Chapter 13 The General Public and the Government 173

Chapter 14 How to Market Science Itself 189

Chapter 14 Starting a Movement 207

Take-Home Marketing Tips for Scientists 217

Notes 219

Further Reading 225

Index 231

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Marketing for Scientists: How to Shine in Tough Times 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
ProfMK on LibraryThing 16 days ago
An excellent treatment on how to let the world know about your ideas as a scientist (or any other academic) without pissing everyone off
astrox7 More than 1 year ago
This book is a refreshing addition to the science community seeking validation, funding and recognition. Marc Kuchner is an insider in this community since he is an active and competent scientist in his own right. This feature adds significant value and authority to many of the suggestions, techniques and views expressed throughout this book. Within its pages, there is something for everyone, including young students or newcomers and the seasoned practitioners in the field. This book has plenty of good and proven advice about everything that can provide an edge or a differential advantage in the way scientists compete for grants, awards, prizes or even jobs. Marketing among scientists is not a discipline that is understood, taught or is even in high esteem among the community, however, this inspiring and stimulating book will provide much-needed clarity and Marc¿s voice will intellectually enrich this on-going dialogue.
jc16p More than 1 year ago
This is an essential book for graduate students and postdocs. In fact, many scientists go through an entire career and pick up only a fraction of the helpful tidbits that Kuchner provides. I learned something useful in each and every chapter. This book also completely changed my perspective on public outreach.
njjturner More than 1 year ago
This book could have been called "Relationship building for scientists". Its basic premise is that all researchers depend on their relationships with colleagues, funding agencies and the public. We had better put some thought into setting up and maintaining those relationships! Among the ideas that were perception-altering for me are that a key part of our job is to invent and popularize new words, and that our main product is not publications, but proposals -- where we market new ideas.