You can’t commercialise your tech unless you communicate it

Young woman holding an imaginary megaphone and shouting into it

As a marketing communicator working in tech transfer, I frequently encounter STEM researchers and innovators who initially express scepticism about the value of my services. I strive to win them over, because (a) it’s a living and (b) they need my help, even if they don’t know it yet.

To build rapport, I take the earliest opportunity to express my genuine admiration for their work. They may doubt my value, but I never doubt theirs, for where would we be without researchers and innovators? Up that brown creek without a paddle – because paddles wouldn’t exist – and up to our necks in the brown stuff because: no canoes, either.

Where would researchers and innovators be without marketers and communicators?

Living under a canoe they can’t sell – because no one’s heard that it floats – with no funding for their propulsion R&D because no one knows what a paddle is or why they might want one.

If researchers and innovators don’t clearly communicate the value of their discoveries or inventions, they won’t attract collaborators, investors, beta-testers, champions or customers. Unless these fellow travellers jump on board, no one’s leaving the beach. As a trained and experienced marketing communicator, I’m skilled at selling tickets to ride.

To gain the trust of sceptical STEM researchers and innovators, I (subtly) drop my science degree into the conversation, to reassure them that though I’ve built my career around my soft skills, I’m still capable of analytical thought. If that’s not enough to relax them, I (artfully) demonstrate that my general scientific knowledge and technical vocabulary are extensive, thanks to my experience with clients from diverse research fields and industry sectors.

‘OK,’ the researchers and innovators say, ‘so you’re a critical thinker who understands the vocab of the lab and gets tech, but…

‘I also have three post-graduate qualifications in communication, writing and journalism,’ I add (modestly).

‘That’s all good,’ say the researchers and innovators, ‘but…’

We don’t need your help because…

our tech is so good it will sell itself,’ is how they sometimes finish. Apparently, they believe either that their tech will create its own pitches, posts and printed materials, or that customers are psychic. I dread to ask which assumption underlies this marketing strategy, so I don’t.

More often and more logically, they conclude ‘… we think we can do our own marketing.’ In this case, I want to ask, ‘Do you also do your own plumbing, dentistry and legal representation?’ but I don’t.

Instead, I (gently) ask, ‘What problem have you solved?’ and ‘Do any alternative solutions exist and if so, how is yours better?’ I ask, ‘Who will be most grateful for your solution?’ and ‘How many of these potentially grateful people exist and where do they live, work, get news, socialise and shop?’ I ask, ‘At what price will these people demonstrate their appreciation of your solution by purchasing it?’ and ‘Can you cover your costs at that price?’ I ask, ‘Is there anything other than price that might prevent them from purchasing your solution?’ and ‘If so, how will you break down those barriers?’

If the researchers/innovators can’t articulate a clear value proposition and path to market based on solid evidence, then I (diplomatically) recommend the services of my learned colleagues who specialise in market research and commercialisation strategy.

I (tactfully) offer the researchers/innovators some constructive criticism of their website, social media content, and any other marketing materials they’ve developed. Non-specialists often miss the mark with these communications, so I’ve developed some top tips. I also ask (politely) to hear their elevator pitch, if they have one.

A good elevator pitch…

… is a powerful paragraph that plugs directly into the hearts and minds of listeners to enlist their support. It can be employed to great effect in diverse marketing contexts including investor presentations, grant applications, networking opportunities and conferences, industry expos, government lobbying, media liaison, community engagement and customer communications.

I deliver training for researchers in pitch writing. There’s a simple formula and a few guidelines ­– the science of pitch writing – that can be learnt quickly but applying these well – the art of pitch writing – requires the deep insight and skill that only come with plenty of practice.

Over the past 25 years, I’ve spent far more than 10,000 hours practising my powers of persuasion, honing the clarity of my communications and becoming adept at brevity. I (humbly) put it to researchers/innovators that if they haven’t done the same, then they can either (a) invest loads of their precious time in producing a pretty ordinary pitch, or (b) invest a moderate amount of money in engaging me to rapidly write the kind of potent pitch that only a master can craft.

And if the researchers/innovators like my pitch, I can cost-effectively and expertly build it and other key messages into a superior suite of marketing collateral specifically designed to engage, educate and influence their target audiences, greatly increasing their chances of commercialisation success.

That’s my value proposition.

About the Author

Rebecca Colless is an expert at translating ideas into powerful words to promote behaviour change. She enjoys research and adapts to any medium or audience with exceptional creativity.