Why Climate Change Scientists suck at sales.
How can so many in our society bury their collective heads in the sand and ignore the facts of science? How can science be so successful at unraveling the secrets of the universe and fail so miserably in motivating humanity into saving itself? Many others don’t have a problem. What can explain the remarkable success of individuals on our airwaves who manage to make people believe the most absurd ideas imaginable? In the last few years I believe I have developed a fairly good guess at why science fails at salesmanship.
After having been laid off a few years back from a job as a technical instructor I have been trying to start my own training business. My product is relevant to this story so I want to mention it first. I have developed a maintenance troubleshooting class that uses the scientific method as a structure for systematic analysis on the shop floor. Although I am certainly not a scientist I am familiar with the fundamentals.
During my business start up activities I read up on marketing. I was struck by the common themes that run through the teaching domain and the marketing world. I didn’t realize it but a teacher is selling a product. The product is knowledge. If I use emotion I can be a better teacher. I was surprised that emotion should be part of my class.
Science deals with facts. At every opportunity science tries eliminates human emotion. This is the fundamental reason for its failure to market effectively. Marketing is all about engaging customers’ emotions. “Sex sells.” "Greed sells" "Fear sells" The more basic the emotion that the pitch engages the easier the sales job.
Fear is a good sales tactic. The NRA uses it well. “Guns keep you safe.” “The government is trying to take your gun” (your safety). Greed is also very effective, “Taxes are evil” “The government is going to take your money. Facts don’t sell. Watch the adds on your TV tonight. You will see many beautiful people and tons of bright shiny products but not so many facts. A lot of assertions, “Best” "Biggest” “Prettiest” but facts? Facts don’t sell. Emotion sells. Sex sells. Greed sells.
The outcomes of science and effective marketing are almost diametrically opposed. Facts and precision as opposed to emotion and generalities. One of the most valuable scientific tools is objective quantifiable measurement. In science even uncertainty is a measured objective value. Marketing relies on that most subjective experience of all, emotion.
Successful marketing is not unscientific however. Marketers do experiments and measure the data. It’s just that the outcome is ‘soft and squishy' not the methodology that produces it. The vast majority of scientists of the world want steps taken to deal with threats of global climate change. How can they sell that idea? Here are some basic marketing principles I got from a book by Chip and Dan Heath, “Made to stick, why some ideas survive and others fade away”. It’s a great book. If all the scientists read it we would be on our way to solving many problems.
They need to use emotion. Fear is a great salesman. Show the devastation wrought by todays storms and say, “You haven’t seen nothing yet.” I recently saw an add in which a cute little girl, who could be anyone’s grand child, take a deep breath and blow out a disgusting cloud of soot.
It’s got to be simple. Leave the oceans of data and blizzards of facts in the lab. Simple like “What did that soot do to that little girls lungs?” That add bothered me. You need to capture the attention with the unexpected. The little girl didn’t breath in the soot she blew it out. Show today's level devastation and then say, “Remember the good old days?” Show a person in the add.
Don’t say maybe, the message needs to be concrete. Recently the government launched the Sun Shot initiative which promotes government involvement in solar technology. They tried to use another very successful government program launch idea. “This nation should send a man to the moon and return him safely before the end of the decade.” I didn’t have to look that up. That idea stuck with me and a nation and caused an amazing event in history. One sentence changed history. That sentence still strikes an emotional response. The sentence had it all. Compare it to the Sun Shot Initiative. You probably don’t know what that is do you? I don’t know how successful the Sun Sot Initiative program will be but the marketing campaign didn’t work.
Is the idea credible? Is it believable? Now here you can use a few simple facts. Like having a spokes person say, ”My daughter died of lung cancer” I told my story to help establish some credibility.Make people feel something. Facts don’t do that. Emotion.
Tell a story. Stories work. When someone tells us a story our defenses drop. We respond to the person as a person. In my class I tell a story about how I almost lost my hand because I didn’t follow the principles that my class teaches. If I tell the story well I notice students frequently put their hands together to protect them. I try to make them feel the pain that I felt. When they respond that way, I know I got them. The meaning of the story is that if you pay attention in the class you get to keep your hands. We can use facts embedded in stories to put them into an emotional context. So instead of selling the general idea of safety in my class I use fear on a personal level to sell it.
The italicized words are:
Success. Pretty simple huh?