How researchers get heard
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Swimming in the Blue Ocean

List member David Chapin (CEO of Forma Life Science Marketing) responded to yesterday’s post about the difference between asking great research questions and asking great thought leadership questions with this graphic:

Quoting David’s email to me (with his permission):

We’re making much the same argument:

Science advances by “Proving” the answers to questions. To get provable answers, the questions must be really small. Because they’re small, they’re typically only of interest to specialists in the field.

“Thought leadership, on the other hand, wants to address a wider audience. To be interesting to a wider audience, the issues must be presented in a larger context. Thought leaders don’t want/need to PROVE, they want to CHALLENGE, and REVEAL otherwise unseen relationships.

What makes someone good at one DOESN’T make one good at the other.

Different purposes, different audiences, different methodologies.

In science, methodology is much more “precise.” In thought leadership, methodology is more fluid/flexible.

Maybe that’s why so many scientists are not good at thought leadership?

Love David’s matrix, especially the distinction between research needing to “prove” and thought leadership needing to “challenge/reveal.” And his capstone question is one worth debating over a bourbon session.

However: In my 20+ years of working with scientists and researchers, “not good” doesn’t equal “never can be good.” Many can be trained to become much better at content and communication for non-specialists. It’s akin to learning a second language — perhaps one where the grammar isn’t as strict and intonation informs meaning to a high degree.

(If your organization is interested in an audit of where its researchers stand — and what their potential is to generate more effective public scholarship/thought leadership content — hit reply and let’s talk.)

Also from David: this superb white paper advocating life sciences firms invest more in content marketing, which has wide applicability across all research.

Towards the end of it, he deploys a series of graphics to pinpoint one the most effective content marketing opportunities for these firms. The first is a four-quadrant content matrix that sorts types of content along two axes: from detailed to overview, and from data/methodology-heavy to analysis and interpretation:

Next, David overlays typical questions audiences are asking about the services and products of life science firms, locating these questions where they fit in the content matrix (remember, it’s about owning your audience’s questions):

Finally, David then maps the specific kinds of content a firm could produce across the matrix and the questions. Note here the color key at the top left and how the content these firms most rarely produce clusters to the right of the matrix — toward analysis/interpretation, especially overview analysis and interpretation:

Most content produced by life sciences firms (the “highest content density”), David argues, is in Quadrant 1: peer reviewed papers, for instance. The rarest form of content is Quadrant 4 content: insight content.

Research-driven organizations won’t stop creating Quadrant 1 content; it’s their fuel. But here’s David from the white paper on why they should want to create more Quadrant 4 content:

I believe that content in Quadrant Four is both more rare and more valuable than content in other quadrants. As we’ve seen from our brief discussion of content density, there is simply less competing content in Quadrant Four. And because content in this quadrant tends to be concerned with meaning, it is more valuable to your life science audience. After all, information is ubiquitous, but insight is hard to find.

As you ponder the task of creating content in Quadrant Four, remember that the scientific mindset is more comfortable in quadrants one and three (data and methodology) than with quadrants two and four (analysis and interpretation). Yet it is exactly this analysis and interpretation that your audiences crave, and the content creators who supply this meaning-full content to them will be perceived as thought leaders more readily than those who simply provide data and methodology….

Content from Quadrant Four is more difficult to create, in some ways. This creates an automatic barrier to entry, allowing firms that are able to create this content the chance to swim in a “blue ocean.”

The “blue ocean” is another term for white space: rare (therefore differentiated) and valuable. Swim for it.