Over the years, we’ve worked with a number of research groups covering a host of different subjects. It’s one of the most interesting things about running a design agency – the variety of projects and the passion involved has been a privilege to observe.
However, we’ve observed a common hurdle amongst our academics when it comes to communicating their research to non-academic audiences. With such complex ideas and methods, or large volumes of data, it can be hard to know how to present in a compelling and accessible way. When every aspect of a research project feels as important as the next, the temptation to give the audience ‘everything all at once’ can be overwhelming. And yet to do so is generally a mistake. One possible solution is to think of your research group and project as a brand – because it allows you to think about the audience’s journey from initial interest to enthusiastic follower, resisting the urge to communicate everything within the first five minutes.
What do you want your audience to know immediately? What would you like them to have remembered about your research in five years’ time?
Think about brand
We live in such an interesting, fast-paced world, and change happens every minute. It is wise to plan how best to interrupt your audience’s day and grab their attention enough to want to come back for more.
I would encourage every academic to form an appreciation of brand. At its heart, branding is about two things: working out what you want to say, and who you want and need to say it to.
Where to start?
Effective communication, whether it is written, verbal or visual, is communication that is designed for who you are speaking to. Therefore, it is crucial to have an understanding of who that is.
Find your audience. You may have multiple audiences, including REF, your colleagues within your institution, the wider academic community, or an end user for a commercialised research output. Knowing your audience well will allow you to make better decisions about how to speak to them. Once you know your main audience groups, you can also test whether the way you communicate actually works.
Establish the goals for communicating your research. Alongside your goals for the research itself, establishing how you are going to communicate it is imperative for building your brand. Often, communicating your research takes longer than you would expect – and therefore having a plan around when and how to start talking about it is always wise.
Professor Elizabeth Stokoe
Has how you’ve communicated your research changed over the years?
The way I communicate my research has been quite transformed over the years, especially because I communicate to such diverse audiences. So, alongside publishing academic papers and presenting at scholarly conferences, I also write popular science articles and speak at public science events. And I also work directly with professionals of all kinds – from medics and police officers to salespeople and crisis negotiators – training them to use the things my research has identified about what counts as effective communication. So I’ve learned how important it is, if what you say and write is to have any impact, to think a lot about the audience and design my message accordingly.
I developed a communication training approach called the ‘Conversation Analytic Role-play Method’, or ‘CARM’, which didn’t start off as a ‘brand’, of course. As an academic, even one who is pretty used to talking to non-academic audiences, I needed help with its public face as it began to grow. I started working with a dozen eggs to help me with my approach to communication – in terms if core things like creating a logo, design, and consistency in my evolving grand, but also in teaching me how to distil what I do to its essence.
What are the most important things you’ve learnt about your brand?
First, that I do have a ‘brand’! It can feel odd for an academic to ‘have a brand’, though we’re no strangers to being known for the work we do. CARM has evolved quite dramatically since its tentative first steps in 2011, and at first I was a bit worried about what I was doing, including what my colleagues would think! a dozen eggs were fundamental to my understanding that CARM could be brand that would simply help me accelerate and promote communicating the science that I care so passionately about.
What advice would you give to others around communicating your research?
Start working early with a dozen eggs! I’ve developed a relationship with them over six years. As CARM and my profile generally has evolved, they have been crucial in keeping things fresh, focused, and clear, with the integrity that is important to me as a scientist. The advantage of a longer-term relationship is that a dozen eggs has an intimate understanding now of what I do, and so can be incisive and rapid in whatever projects – updated website, animations, illustrations – we need to accomplish. The Eggs team really understand what research is, and what researchers care about – and add such value in helping us reach and engage the widest audiences.
I am confident that a better understanding of brand can add clarity to any research. Branding doesn’t have to be a logo, and it doesn’t need to be complex.
If you are struggling with how you communicate your research to others, we’d love to hear from you. Give the office a ring on 01509 226956 or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.