Unfortunately, many STEM innovators underestimate the importance of marketing. I’m frequently contacted by research organisations or innovative businesses seeking to commercialise new knowledge or technology, who are suffering the consequences of an inadequate or non-existent marketing strategy. I always wish they’d asked for assistance earlier – before they made costly errors I could have helped them avoid. I can summarise the most common marketing mistakes as the following list of don’ts:

  • DON’T think ‘marketing’ means ‘advertising’; it’s far more than that. Good marketing is developing a product with the features and benefits customers need, at a price they’re willing to pay; promoting it efficiently and effectively; and making it available in a place (online or instore) where customers will buy it, rather than purchasing a competitor’s offering.
  • DON’T see marketing as an optional expense; it’s an essential investment for business growth.
  • DON’T make assumptions; research your market (competition and customers).
  • DON’T believe that everyone is a potential customer; even funeral directors have a target market.
  • DON’T attempt to develop your technology’s full potential all at once; focus on the primary need of the most accessible market segment.
  • DON’T test your tech with customers at the end of your R&D; get their input from the start.
  • DON’T use a student or intern to create your marketing strategy; hire an expert.

When innovators come to gemaker for help with marketing, I visit their website (if it exists) and read any other marketing materials they’ve developed. Non-experts often miss the mark with their copywriting, so here are our writer’s (Rebecca Colless) top tips for better marketing communications:

Make it personal

No one likes dealing with a faceless corporation; customers want to know the human backstory to your business. It makes them feel more personally connected, which builds brand loyalty. That’s why every good website has an ‘About’ page. But don’t write your history in the third person unless you want to sound as pompous and distant as Julius Caesar. Instead of:

‘To gain her Doctorate, Mary researched the musical preferences of rodents and subsequently invented a better mousetrap.’

write as if you were speaking directly to your reader and give them insight to your personal motivations:

‘My love of jazz and fascination with mice led to my invention of the Musical Mousetrap.’ 

N.B. Personal doesn’t mean unprofessional. Don’t criticise a former employer or rant about a competitor.

Ask ‘So what?’

When explaining their product/service, innovators tend to go long on autobiographical and technical detail, and short on customer benefits. Once they’ve run out of words, I use this simple question to start to understand their value proposition (more on this below). The conversation usually goes something like this:

Innovator: ‘I spent ten years and $100,000 developing an innovative mousetrap.’

Me: ‘So what?’

Innovator: ‘Sorry?’

Me: ‘I mean, why should anyone else care? How does it help anyone?’

Innovator: ‘It plays music to attract mice and cleans itself using soundwaves.’

Me: ‘So what?’

Innovator: ‘So… You don’t need bait and you never have to dispose of a dead mouse.’

Me: ‘Now we’re getting somewhere.’

Reason to believe

Why should your customers trust you? What experience or training makes you uniquely qualified to develop this innovation?

‘I have a PhD in rodent psychology and I play the clarinet. This led me to invent a cleaner, musical mousetrap.’

‘I’m a mother of two and step-mother of three, so I know that every kid needs X, but not every parent can afford it. I developed the Thingamajig, which does the same job but costs half as much.’

‘I was a sailor for twenty years and was lucky to survive a shipwreck caused by Y. I have reduced this hazard by creating the Wotsit.’

What evidence do you have that your product works?

‘The Musical Mousetrap is accredited by the regulator of the pest extermination industry.’

‘The Thingamajig has been trialled by 100 families who all recommend it.’

‘The Wotsit has passed wind tunnel tests at up to 200km per hour.’

Keep it simple

You may love all the technical details of your innovation but do your customers need/want to know everything you do? Probably not. To avoid boring or confusing anyone, ditch acronyms and jargon and provide only essential information relevant to your customers. If you’re too close to your material to tell if it’s too technical, ask a non-specialist to read it and provide feedback. Or use the Gunning Fog Index, which measures readability in terms of the number of years of formal education a person needs to understand your text on first reading. An index below 12 means that a secondary school graduate should understand it. If you want universal understanding, aim for an index below 8.

Empathise

To build trust in your audience, show them that you can see things from their perspective. Your value proposition should demonstrate your empathy and customer focus. In a single sentence, it promises distinctive, measurable benefits that customers will receive from your product or service, in relatable terms. E.g. ‘The Musical Mousetrap sets and cleans itself.’ You can Google other examples of good value propositions. To refine your value proposition, answer the following questions:

Who do you imagine you’re talking to, i.e. who is your ideal customer?

What is the main problem you’re solving for them?

Why should they buy your product/service rather than any competitor’s?

Tell a story

How do you get a child’s attention? Start with ‘Once upon a time…’ Adults love stories too, so tell them some: in print or video, case studies and testimonials are powerful marketing tools that make it easier for potential customers to appreciate the benefits of your product or service. If your product/service has been trialled successfully, ask your testers to tell the story of their experience with it and use leading questions to extract the most compelling details, e.g: ‘What did you like best about the Musical Mousetrap?’

I hope you find these tips helpful ­– let me know. If you’d like more assistance with your marketing, please get in touch.

Learn more about gemaker’s customised pr and marketing services here.

Further reading: