Does science have a marketing problem?

Professor Ian Chubb is Australia’s “Chief Scientist”. He’s a very accomplished and highly decorated science vet with an earned Oxford DPhil and 4 honorary doctorates in his collection. He was recently a panellist on ABC’s flagship current affairs program QandA, along with a number of other science gurus. I love science and this was a wonderfully stimulating program.

One of the questions put to the panel was “Does science have a marketing problem?” Ian’s exact words of response, “Yes, science does have a marketing problem.” There is evidence of science’s failure all around us. We have political leaders who still fail to recognise the possibility of anthropogenic climate change. We have some believers calling for Creationism to be taught in schools. (Actually, I’m OK about that, as long as it’s in an RE class, not in the science curriculum.) The numbers studying science at advanced levels in schools have been declining for some years, and enrolments in university science degrees are alarmingly, well, alarming. Science can give us answers about why the world is as it is. Science will deliver solutions to many of the world’s material problems, and more importantly science liberates peoples around the world from ignorance and fear.

Is word-of-mouth the ultimate free lunch?


WOM imagePositive WOM is often cited as the ultimate customer/business goal. Net Promoter Score® is used by many companies to measure the relative weight of positive and negative WOM uttered by customers, and a growing number are investing in word-of-mouth marketing campaigns, instead of media advertising. You’d be forgiven for thinking that WOM is seen as the ultimate free lunch. Satisfy your customers – or pay WOMM campaign participants to buzz your brand – and watch them influence others on your behalf. Some commentators call it ‘free advertising’ though strictly speaking it isn’t advertising at all, because it isn’t paid exposure in media. It’s interpersonal influence.

Let’s just pause for a moment and think about what happens. Simple mathematics tells me that if I tell 10 people about my amazing customer experience at Joe’s Gourmet Diner, and each of those 10 tells a further 5, my good news story has reached 50 people. And wow, if each of those 50 tells a further 3 people then my WOM influence has reached 150 people. If that sounds too good to be true, that’s because it is. Too good to be true. I mean. WOM doesn’t work that way. Why?