Monday, September 17, 2007

Nano world discovers marketing

Nanotechnology Now ran a column today by David Rejeski, Director of the Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies, about word-of-mouth campaigns to promote nanotech. The column is interesting for two reasons.

First, Rejeski's column endorses techniques directly borrowed from marketing for science communication. This is an important turning point for science communicators, many of whom continue to reject the use of strategic communication tools as unethical (see nanopublic post from february 18, 2007).

The column also revisits concepts that corporations and social marketers have used for decades: opinion leadership, and buzz or viral marketing, and that corporations like Victoria Secret have perfected in recent campaigns. See, for example, the following excerpt from a February 6, 2007, nanopublic post:

"The concept [of opinion leadership] emerged from Paul Lazarsfeld's research in the 40s, much of which was funded by media organizations in order to understand how to better target audiences. Today, a battery of opinion leadership measures is included in most syndicated marketing surveys, such as Needham or Scarborough, and the idea has been rehashed in books like the Tipping Point and The Influentials. Most prominently, Victoria Secret uses opinion leaders or "campus ambassadors" to promote their Pink line among college students.

Second, the column ends with a pessimistic note about how the public views scientists and corporations:
"In a climate of declining public trust in both government and industry, new approaches to increase the public's technology I.Q. are needed—approaches that can bridge the credibility gap and scale-up rapidly to reach large segments of the population."

(Click here for the full column.)

The interesting thing is that the most recent iteration of public opinion surveys we conducted as part of the Center for Nanotechnology in Society at Arizona State University shows that who the public trusts opens up promising venues for science communication.

In particular, our data showed that university scientists and scientists working for nano businesses are among the sources the public trusts most for information about nanotechnology. In other words, the nano field may have a very unique opportunity to connect with the general public about science more broadly and to engage different sub-publics on issues related to nanotech that they truly care about. A lack of trust in scientists, however, doesn't seem to be among these issues, according to our data.

I have outlined some of these ideas in greater detail in a forthcoming column for Nano Today:

Scheufele, D. A. (2007). Nano does not have a marketing problem … yet. Nano Today, 2(5), 48.