A Marketing Plan for Scientists: Building Effective Products and Connecting with Stakeholders in Meaningful Ways




In Brief

More than ever before, scientists are under tremendous pressure to demonstrate the usefulness of their work. While millions of dollars are spent yearly to fund the production of various scientific tools and resources, these end products often do not end up in the hands of those they were created to help – either because stakeholders didn’t know they existed or didn’t think they would be of much help. Marketing, a field commonly ascribed to business, can provide scientists and scientific institutions with methods they can utilize to strategically build products for higher rates of buy-in, usage, and exposure.

This article presents the core components of marketing, explains how to integrate marketing into scientific research and provides scientists with the 4Ps+1 marketing plan, a template they can use to more effectively get their research products and findings into the hands of their desired audiences. In particular, this paper presents a case study detailing how scientists at the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) used the marketing plan template during development of their Rapid Benefit Indicators (RBI) research product, a resource created to help stakeholders assess the societal benefits of ecological restoration using non-monetary indicators.

 
Key Concepts

  • A disconnect often occurs between the creation of scientific research outputs and their use by intended stakeholders. Even with the diligent efforts of scientists to create products of value, many scientific outputs are underutilized by intended stakeholders.
  • Marketing methods can help scientists and scientific institutions more strategically build products to garner higher rates of buy-in, usage, and exposure amongst intended stakeholders.
  • Effective marketing incorporates methods that are utilized before, during and after product development to keep intended stakeholders in mind throughout the process and present them with a product or resource they will want.
  • The 4Ps +1 marketing plan template can be used by scientists to more effectively create and distribute their products. Framed within the context of the 4Ps (product, promotion, price, place), a fundamental marketing principle, scientists can use this template to delve deeper into the field and apply its tenets to their own work.
  • The level of application of the 4Ps +1 marketing plan is up to the scientist, and can become more complex or more simplified with each project iteration. No previous marketing experience is necessary to use it.
  • A team of U.S. EPA scientists applied the 4Ps+1 marketing plan template during the development of their Rapid Benefit Indicators (RBI) research product and found it to be a useful approach towards scientific product development and dissemination.

Many scientists work diligently to produce tools and resources that can be used to address real world problems. However, a disconnect often occurs between the creation of these scientific outputs and their use by intended stakeholders. Some reasons for this disconnect include limited involvement of users throughout the development of new products or a lack of marketing effort.  Commonly thought of as a topic solely for the purpose of conducting business, or selling people things they don’t need, marketing is, in actuality, a beneficial multidimensional process applicable across diverse fields, including the sciences. Marketing is defined by the American Marketing Association 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”1. Aspects of marketing can be identified in virtually every discipline, including the sciences, where product testing and science communications are among its most common usages. Beyond the degree to which marketing strategies are generally employed, scientific institutions and scientists can gain more from applying deliberate and effective marketing strategies towards research creation and dissemination.

 
Marketing for Science

Marketing scientific tools and resources often requires a different approach than traditional marketing conventions. Many scientific products, especially those from the non-profit, academic, and government sectors, do not generally involve financial transactions. However, marketing presents a helpful framework for defining the non-financial value of scientific outputs, and scientists can use marketing principles to help them to understand user needs and pathways for effective communication. A popular conceptual description of marketing dating back to the 1960s is the marketing mix, or the 4Ps: Product, Promotion, Price, and Place. 2,3 Partnerships, also referred to as relationship marketing, is a more recently added member of the Ps that is explained along with the original 4Ps and their application to science in Table 1.4

“P” Explanation in Marketing Application to Science
Product What the seller puts into the exchange
The goods and services the seller provides for potential buyers.
Examples: food, clothing, dry cleaning service, books
What the scientist puts into the exchange
The tools and resources the scientist provides for intended users.
Examples: scientific tools, scientific findings, research articles, scientific methods
Promotion How the seller advertises the benefits of the product
The methods the seller uses to display the product and communicate how it meets the needs of potential buyers.
Examples: television commercials, infomercials, magazine ads
How the scientist advertises the benefits of the product
The methods the scientist uses to display the product and communicate how it meets the needs of potential users.
Examples: product demonstrations, websites, public presentations
Price What the buyer puts into the exchange
All monetary and non-monetary costs to the buyer to acquire and use the product.
Examples: money, credit, taxes, time
What the user puts into the exchange
All monetary and non-monetary costs to the user to acquire and use the product.
Examples: time, effort, skills, equipment, necessary education
Place Where the seller delivers the product
The locations the seller selects to get the product to the buyer.
Examples: online stores, brick and mortar stores, pop-up shops
Where the scientist delivers the product
The locations the scientist selects to get the product to the users.
Examples: journals, workshops, websites, public presentations
Partnerships Collaboration with other groups
The strategic opportunities the seller uses to collaborate with other groups to build, promote and distribute the product.
Examples: product development collaborations, sales and trade agreements, business mergers
Collaboration with other groups
The strategic opportunities the scientist uses to collaborate with other groups to build, promote and distribute the product.           Examples: public-private partnerships, community groups, cooperative agreements

Table 1: The traditional marketing 4Ps +1 definitions and their application to science. Note: ‘scientist’ refers to individual scientists or research organizations.

Table 1 identifies marketing as a process that is relevant to many aspects of science, and applicable from inception to completion of any tool or resource that scientists develop. Effective marketing requires that both traditional business people and scientists alike utilize each of the Ps- product, promotion, price, place, and partnerships- before, during and after developing their product. This keeps intended buyers or potential users in mind throughout the process to produce a product they will want and use.

 
Case Study: Application of the 4Ps+1 to the Rapid Benefit Indicators Approach

Located in Rhode Island, USA, a team of U.S. Environmental Protection Agency research scientists convened to develop the Rapid Benefit Indicators (RBI) approach.5 The approach was designed to assist restoration managers, watershed groups, and communities with evaluating the social benefits of wetland restoration using non-monetary indicators. Rhode Island state managers and restoration advocates identified the RBI as a resource they could use to more effectively carry out their work, and the research team worked to meet that need.

The team consisted of social scientists, ecologists, and environmental economists who were able to draw upon their collective multidisciplinary expertise to develop the product. The RBI was packaged to include a guidebook, which walked users through the site assessment process, PDF, Excel- and ArcGIS-based checklist tools to record and calculate metrics, and an example application of the RBI to the Woonasquatucket River watershed in Rhode Island.

For traditional businesses, marketing plans are used to meet a company’s need to effectively interact with customers and make sales.6 The research team built upon this approach by using a marketing plan to systematically build the desires of their stakeholders into the RBI.

The team modified the 4Ps+1 marketing plan from standard marketing plans used for businesses to be suitable for scientific application.7,8 The plan was designed to link the desires of the intended product users with the efforts of the scientists throughout product development. Table 2 is an outline of the resulting plan, followed by a description of how the research team applied each section towards the development of the RBI.

4Ps+1 Marketing Plan Template for Scientists
Product: What you (the scientist) put into the exchange
a. What is your product?
b. Who are the target users of your product?
c. What similar products are available?
d. Who are the users of these products?
e. Why are people using these similar products?
f. What are your product’s strengths?
g. What are your product’s weaknesses?
h. Who will provide help using your product?
i. Who will maintain your product if it’s broken?
j. Any future related products?
Promotion: How you (the scientist) advertise the benefits of the product
a. How is your product different from similar products?
b. Which of your or your organization’s branding elements will be built into your product?
c. When are target users most likely to obtain  and/or use your product?
d. What methods will you use to advertise your product?
Price: What the tool/resource user puts into the exchange
a. What does the user give in exchange for using your tool?
b. What do you get in return from users of your product?
Place: Where you (the scientist) deliver the product
a. What direct distribution methods will you use to deliver your product?
b. What indirect distribution methods will you use to deliver your product?
c. Which conferences/workshops/seminars/webinars, etc. would be ideal places to present your product for target users?
d. Which publications would be ideal places to present your product for target users?
Partnerships: Collaboration with other groups
a. Who are the development/distribution partners within and outside of your organization?
Bonus: Assessment of Marketing Effectiveness
a. Were you able to increase the visibility/publicity of your product? How?
b. Were you able to get your product placed or referenced on different websites? How many?
c. How many downloads did you receive for your product?
d. How many people showed up to workshops demonstrating your product?
e. How many projects did other people in your organization or network tie your product into?
f. If you created any publications related to your product, how many citations did you receive on them?

Table 2: 4Ps +1 Marketing Plan Template for Scientists

 
Product

The product section took the research team straight into marketing by directing them to describe the primary elements of their new product and list the target users. Target users, also referred to as the target market in traditional business literature, are the specific groups of people for whom a product is being developed.9 The development of this section is crucial to the successful marketing of any new product, as people tend to respond most greatly to what they see themselves in.10

Creating a target user group consists of compiling an exhaustive list of the stakeholders and others who inspired and/or collaborated in the development of the product, and then further sorting this group by selecting appropriate segmentation strategies. Segmentation strategies in marketing are methods used to define customer groups by particular preferences or identifiers, so as to better tailor and deliver products to the ideal user.11 Scientists can apply one or more of the segmentation strategies listed below in Figure 1, or even create their own to gain deeper insights about their target users.


Figure 1: Standard marketing target user segmentation strategies applicable to science. Demographic and behavioral images by Fiona OM and Gilbert Bages from Noun Project.

The EPA team built their target user list by first adding the names of the stakeholders who voiced a need for the resource, and then continuously updating it with additional contacts whom colleagues thought may also be interested in the approach. The team applied geographic and industrial segmentation strategies to organize this list, and decided that, because of its organized structure, their list of target users would also be useful as their tool distribution list. The team’s resulting user list included the names and contact information of close to 200 individuals representing the federal, state and local government sectors, as well as environmental NGOs and businesses. Close to 60% of the target users were based in Rhode Island: an intentional representation by the team, since the RBI was primarily intended for use by local stakeholders given its example references to local waterbodies.

Following the development of their target users, the research team continued with the product section by compiling a list of tools and resources similar to their own that were currently available for use. To do this the team looked at readily available data, pulling insights from a study recently completed by the team’s social scientists that captured the opinions of restoration managers in Rhode Island.12 Many of the managers interviewed for this study expressed the need for something like the RBI, and gave insights as to which similar products they were using, why they were using them, and what they needed from these types of tools to do their jobs more effectively. This information helped the team to fine-tune their product idea and place necessary boundaries on what their resource would and would not do in order to make it an achievable undertaking.

After compiling similar products’ strengths and limitations, the research team was able to more accurately gauge their product’s perceived strengths and weaknesses, and ultimately test the viability of their product idea. The research team found from completing this section that their resource would be a unique offering as compared to those currently available, and that it would add considerable value for their target users.

The team concluded this section by noting the anticipated help and maintenance tasks associated with their product. They did this by assessing potential component issues and designating team members who would be the points of contact to address user inquiries. Finally, the team entered their brief ideas for future related products.

 
Promotion

For the promotion component of the marketing plan, the research team considered how they would promote the unique aspects of their product to target users. The questions in this section led the research team to prepare the key points they would use to persuade their target users into obtaining the RBI. The team developed the following promotional paragraph to summarize the product:

The RBI is an easy-to-use process for assessing restoration sites using non-monetary benefit indicators. The RBI uses readily-available data to estimate and quantify benefits to people around an ecological restoration site. Whether you are a federal, state, or local manager, or a member of an interest group or funding organization, this simple yet powerful site analysis will make restoration decisions clearer for you and for stakeholders.

This text highlighted the strengths, benefits, and target users of the RBI. The team emphasized them and provided examples of how the RBI can be used in all of the product’s guidance documents and when describing it to others. The team found that considering the strongest points of their product and how they would be promoted prior to the product’s completion helped them to build the product around their audience’s needs.

The promotion section introduced the research team to the concept of branding– a major component of marketing.  A brand is a “name, term, design, symbol, or any other feature that identifies one seller’s good or service as distinct from those of other sellers.”1 Branding “defines and focuses a company’s image; it emphasizes the need to build an emotional connection between products and users.”7

The branding elements that the research team incorporated into their marketing plan included:  quality, reliability, response time, and service. These branding elements were selected by the team as elements they could incorporate into the RBI by evaluating the general perceptions of similar EPA product offerings and evaluating aspects they would like to maintain or improve.

A simple but important question, “when are the users most likely to obtain your product?” prepared the research team to have the RBI available when target users were most likely to want it.  Though this question can be answered in terms of season, occasion, or situation, the team interpreted it by considering which times in a restoration decision process their target users could utilize the resource. They found, based on their interview results and professional experience, that target users could apply the RBI: 1) at any point during the year, 2) when restoration funding becomes available, 3) when triggering events like extreme weather conditions occur, or 4) to prioritize and justify any pressing decisions. The points developed from this section helped them enhance the design of the product and consider the best advertising methods to raise awareness about the RBI. The team agreed their advertising methods would include live product demonstrations at seminars, webinars, conferences, and posts on frequently-visited websites.

 
Price

The price section expanded the standard discussion of value by prompting the team to evaluate the cost of the RBI in terms of what the user would give in exchange for using the product. This customer-focused view of pricing allowed the team to consider all of the variables that target users would need to acquire their product outside of just monetary cost.

The team recognized that target users would need certain equipment and specialized knowledge in order to apply the RBI. They also noted time and energy as user inputs of the resource, which are often overlooked variables that users take into great consideration upon using a new product.13 With this enhanced awareness of the price of their product, the research team was able to lower the overall cost of the RBI to minimize potential deterrents to users. The team implemented strategies to simplify the tool, such as reducing complexity and equipment needs, and minimizing the number of steps in the process to reduce time and effort needed to apply it.

Considering what they would get in return from users of the product, the team recognized they would receive feedback, and information on the types of products and resources that are needed. These are all valuable returns that can assist scientists with organizing their interests around stakeholders and developing more meaningful, long-term relationships.

 
Place

The place section built upon the team’s previous marketing plan entries for product, promotion and price to develop their distribution strategy. For direct and indirect distribution, the team decided to implement some of the common product distribution methods employed by EPA, such as email and journal publications. They decided to focus more on opportunities to distribute the RBI at seminars, webinars and workshops to more effectively display its capabilities.

The team reviewed their target user list, which had been adapted for use as their distribution list, and decided to apply the same distribution strategy to all of their target users. This resulted in all target users being first notified via email about the RBI’s release, and then calling specific individuals for whom the product was thought to be of greater interest. Distribution strategies can differ within a target list, as some audiences may be more receptive to different methods of receiving products.

 
Partnerships

Many scientific institutions develop partnerships for technical support, product testing, funding, or other critical need. This marketing plan takes the implementation of partnerships further by asking scientists to identify persons and groups who would agree to help distribute the product within their respective networks. Scientists can increase the scale of the distribution and promotion of their products if they have partners who agree to strategically assist with advocating for the product in their networks.

For this section, the research team generated a list of colleagues, communications specialists, and external stakeholders that provided input during the development of the RBI who would help pass the resource along in their networks wherever there was an opportunity to do so. The research team made sure to include these names in their distribution list, and made a note to send an additional reminder to these partners about their agreement to assist with distribution once the RBI was released. Scientists can create more formalized distribution partnership agreements if appropriate.

 
Assessment of Marketing Effectiveness

Since most of the marketing plan templates reviewed by the research team did not contain information on how to track and measure the effectiveness of marketing efforts, the team added this section as an additional step. The team members brainstormed and contributed what they considered to be indicators of the successful marketing of the RBI. Visibility, number of downloads, number of citations and references, as well as good workshop turnouts were some agreed upon metrics that the group decided to use to assess marketing effectiveness. Metrics of marketing success may vary depending on a scientist’s institutional constraints, resources, and personal ideals. As a result, scientists should build this section as they see fit.

One month after the RBI’s release, the team met to rank the effectiveness of their marketing efforts. As an early assessment of the visibility/publicity metric, the team noted that they had presented concepts of the RBI at conferences and agency seminars across the United States before the product was officially released. The team gave more than 10 presentations in which the RBI was referenced. From these presentations, the team recognized they were on the right track towards making the RBI more visible and expected this visibility to increase as they presented it more comprehensively at upcoming events.

The team secured public facing web-spaces for the RBI, including an updated and easy to navigate webpage on the EPA website5. An early assessment of how successful they were at getting people to download the resource and to show up to workshops revealed an increase in visitors to the RBI webpages after their first webinar. The team recognized that, with additional planning, they could ensure that the RBI would be placed on highly visited scientific websites to promote wider distribution and attendance at future workshops.

Other scientists at the EPA had already begun to tie the RBI into new projects by building off its background research. These new projects would serve to extend the life and relevance of the resource. It was still too early to track the publications metric, but based on the new projects in development, the team was hopeful that they would do well with this metric. The team decided that in a few months, they would revisit this section for a more complete assessment of their marketing efforts, but were content with the progress they had made so far.

 
Conclusion

The benefits of applying a marketing plan to the production of scientific tools and resources are manifold. Just as effective planning sets the trajectory for any worthwhile initiative, using a marketing plan is a great way to increase the likelihood that a new product will be well received by target audiences. The marketing plan template provided in this paper can be filled out individually or with a team, and setting apart some time to go through each section of the plan is the bulk of the effort needed to apply it. Whether certain preplanned elements are followed through or not, the marketing plan provides scientists with a framework to incorporate the needs of target users into their work, track their efforts, and share learned insights with their institutions and colleagues. The level of application of this marketing plan is up to the scientist, and can become more complex or more simplified with each project iteration.

The EPA research team found that after using the marketing plan they had a greater sense of fulfillment and accomplishment once they completed their product. This was largely because most of their early product intentions as outlined by the marketing plan were captured in the end result. The team’s completion of the marketing plan highlighted areas where the agency infrastructure could better support the efforts of staff to increase work productivity and efficiency.  Because this was their first time applying a marketing plan, more structure could have been allocated towards the monitoring and updating of the plan while the product was being developed, however most of the necessary information was captured in the plan, and updated as big changes occurred. As scientists use this plan in their work, it is recommended that at least one team member is dedicated to updating and revising the plan, capturing changes as they occur, and reminding the team of their initial plans. No prior marketing experience is needed to do this. By implementing marketing methods into their work, scientists are off to a great start towards building more effective products and connecting with stakeholders in more meaningful ways.

 
Acknowledgements

Part of this research was funded by the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education. The authors would like to thank Justin Bousquin, Peter Celone, Sara Ernst, Marilyn ten Brink, Tim Gleason, Wayne Munns and the many other EPA staff members involved in the production of this work. The views expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views or policies of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Any mention of trade names, products, or services does not imply an endorsement by the U.S. Government or the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The EPA does not endorse any commercial products, services, or enterprises. This article is ORD tracking number ORD-021047.

 
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