As a scientist, you might believe that people will eventually discover your research, content, or product. After all, science is crucial, and your work should naturally communicate its value; it should “speak for itself,” right? Unfortunately, that’s not the case. Instead, you need to pitch, promote, captivate, and continually remind your audience about the relevance of your science – especially beyond academia. Once you leave academia, the market shifts your focus to a ‘promote or perish’ scenario.
Academia is a peculiar realm. Strangely, it equips you for the real world, furnishing you with the intellectual tools to defend your ideas and honing your soft skills almost implicitly. However, a notable void within the academic sphere lies in scientific copywriting, promotion, and marketing.
Can we blame our academic training for this gap? After all, why waste energy and time on scientific promotion when your peers are genuinely curious about your research? Scientific literacy rewards your research and incentivizes you to identify collaborators, research ideas, opportunities, and a dreadful scoop.
Consequently, scientific promotion gets downplayed – except for the obligatory social-media post after a publication, conference abstracts, and poster presentations. The more you minimize distractions, the more you can focus on your research.
Truth be told, I’d prefer the professional life outside academia to resemble this environment. We could focus on what interests us and let curiosity drive our success. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. We need to promote our work.
The academic trace
As a scientific writer with a background in marketing and education, I’ve seen my fair share of biotech startups letting their work “speak for itself.” Their websites depict their research and products but often in complex terms with unattractive visuals and language. The content assumes the readers know the jargon, understand the field, or, at the very least, will reach out to inquire about the research.
These startups are often so-called spin-offs, born and raised within academic walls. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, so, in the spirit of their former caretaker, they often neglect the audience’s needs in their written material, bury the lede, and disregard scientific promotion. (We’ll come back to these concepts in a moment).
(By the way, here are my top free resources for writing plain-language content.)
But spin-offs are not alone. Too many former academics have difficulty shaking off their academic trace, telling them their work “speaks for itself” – even writers.
The content-dense scientific jungle
Although maintaining unwavering accuracy and quality is paramount, the constant influx of new content being published and promoted requires that you advertise your scientific work. With the ever-expanding scientific information, the risk lies in your valuable content and ideas potentially fading into obscurity if you fail to capture your intended audience’s attention.
Marketing has become a stigma in the scientific realm, sometimes for good reasons. However, the type of marketing I’m advocating emphasizes attention-grabbing storytelling rather than sales. Of course, proper marketing will create leads and sales, but it also communicates your message and story to other businesses, researchers, and the general public. Explicit and intelligent communication can create new collaborations, scientific discussions, and a more transparent scientific community – yes, even in the private sector.
The first steps to improve your scientific content for promotion and marketing
Luckily, the basic steps to better outreach don’t require extensive marketing training hours. Depending on the current state of your current content, a few initial steps can quickly enhance your online presence, discoverability, and topical authority. Communication strategies can be broad, so let’s look at how scientists can improve their outreach through their content.
Keep Your Audience in Mind
Your projects are exciting, and I’m not taking that away from you. However, while this has been evident to you for years – and hence why you work with it – this is far from apparent to your audience. When you create content, you must keep your target audience in mind. Who are they, and what problems do they have?
I cannot overstate the importance of addressing your audience if you aim to connect and enhance your brand. However, disregarding the audience and excessively fixating on scientific details remains a common tendency among scientists.
Always consider your target audience’s level of familiarity with the subject matter. Tailor your content to that audience’s needs, interests, and understanding. Address their potential questions and concerns, making the content more relatable and relevant to them.
To avoid surprises mid-campaign, research the landscape carefully before creating content. You might have visualized a middle-aged European professor with impeccable English consuming your content. However, through research, you may find that your most valuable targets come from different professional or cultural backgrounds. They might not grasp convoluted sentences or respond to your anecdotes. Research and adapt.
Create a Hook, and Don’t Bury the Lede
As you transition out from the academic fortress, you’ll find capturing attention more challenging as peers seem to show less organic interest – and more time pressure. Copywriting can teach scientists how to do this, and a straightforward approach is to capture your audience’s attention right from the start with a hook.
If you come from academic science, you’re familiar with the structure of academic writing. Academic writing tends to follow a gradual, slower approach in the introduction. It provides context and background information before delving into the specific focus of the study. Maybe it explains the existing state of knowledge, discusses previous research, defines terms, and sets the stage for the research question or objective. The introduction in academic writing often builds up to the main topic by laying the groundwork and establishing a foundation of understanding.
By contrast, copywriting aims to grab the reader’s attention immediately and provide a clear and concise overview of the main point or message. The focus is on engaging the reader directly, often by presenting the answer to a problem or the benefits of a product or idea in the first paragraph. This approach is designed to quickly capture the reader’s interest and encourage them to continue reading.
In other words, academic writing may take longer to get to the main point because it prioritizes context and background information. This approach is influenced by the need to establish credibility, situate the study within a broader academic context, and show how the research contributes to existing knowledge.
To optimize your outreach, you should start crafting compelling introductions that intrigue readers and motivate them to continue reading. Avoid burying the main point, also known in journalism as burying the lede. Instead, present the most relevant information upfront to draw readers in and encourage further exploration.
Especially for those accustomed to traditional academic writing – which, fortunately, is evolving – it’s tempting to start writing the background first and concluding by the end. When marketing and promoting yourself or a company, we have limited time to grab our audience’s attention. The important information and conclusion appear first, and the trivial – albeit fascinating – details later in the text.
Balance copywriting and scientific writing
I’ll leave you with one more tip: start thinking more like a marketing specialist or copywriter when crafting scientific content. But only the good parts of marketing. As content creators, we don’t want to deceive or trick our readers and potential clients. Since I have experience in scientific writing and marketing, I can balance persuasive storytelling with scientific accuracy. That’s what I love about the work.
Since you know your products or services offer value, you can leverage those benefits and present them to people who need your problem-solving solutions.
But how do you think more like a marketer or copywriter?
Avoid putting the cart before the horse. Before creating content, create a communication strategy plan. Establish your target audiences, research your field, understand your product or service, and figure out your story. The more you plan and investigate, the easier and more consistent your content creation.
I have collaborated with companies that quickly recognized the value of scientific copywriting but aimed to develop website content without clearly understanding their potential clients or their own products and services. Although I could’ve started creating content for them, I emphasized the importance of a communication plan. Consequently, we created a detailed strategy that helped the company prepare for targeted and consistent communication. As a bonus, the project revealed several points these companies had neglected, such as their strengths, weaknesses, and goals.
Reality is not binary. Academic writing and marketing each have merits and drawbacks, and you should incorporate both strengths. To label one while discarding the other would mean overlooking valuable opportunities.