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Science Brand Equity

What It Is, How to Get It, and How to Communicate It

Science Brand Equity

What It Is, How to Get It and How to Communicate It

Lauren Ward, EarthSky Communications

Steve Thommes, Google
Noah Zandan, EarthSky Communications
Ryan Britton, EarthSky Communications

June 2010
Companies and organizations invest heavily in the science behind their products. That
science represents value – a lot of value – in the eyes of the public. Yet companies
sometimes fail to communicate the nature and extent of their scientific efforts. The
public may never hear about the important work behind sustainability programs, for
instance, or the years of research required for new technologies and innovations.

EarthSky has coined a term to represent the value of science as a component of

organizational brand value: science brand equity. Scientific work should be
considered a tangible piece of equity rather than simply a component or cost. After all,
if you don't communicate your science, it might as well not exist for your target

This paper explores the definition of science brand equity, why it is important, how it
relates to the communication of sustainability practices, and how companies can
assess as well as communicate their own science brand equity. We end by suggesting
that companies and their marketing firms should explore this topic more fully with the
goal of building public trust and benefiting both themselves and society.

Defini ng Sci ence B rand Equity

Science is the systematic knowledge or exploration of the physical, material world
gained through observation and experimentation.

Brand equity refers to the marketing effects or outcomes a product gains when
associated with its brand name, in contrast to the marketing effects or outcomes for the
same product but without the brand name.1 The link between brand and marketing
effects is consumer knowledge. In other words, consumers' knowledge about a brand
makes manufacturers and advertisers respond differently and use carefully adapted
methods for marketing the brand.2

Brand equity as an entity has been described and defined over the years and is now
understood to be a significant, tangible component of an organization’s worth.

Science brand equity, therefore, represents the value of science and technology
related to a product or company. It is that component of the brand equity specifically
related to science, sustainability, research, technology, and innovation. What do
consumers know about the science of your organization? What can they learn that will
make them change a purchase decision or have more loyalty to your brand? What
portion of your brand’s total equity is related to its scientific, engineering, and
technological efforts – and how can you capitalize on that portion?

Aaker, David A. (1991), Managing Brand Equity. New York: The Free Press
Keller, Kevin Lane (1993). “Conceptualizing, Measuring, and Managing Customer-Based Brand Equity,” Journal of Marketing
(January) 1-22

Scientific Brand Equity • June 2010 Page 2 of 10

Why is Sci ence Brand Equity i mportant?
Companies that invest in clearly communicating their science brand equity message will
reap benefits for both themselves and society. Public trust is the key reason why, but
other factors also come into play.

• The public trusts and believes in science and scientists. In a recent study by
Virginia Commonwealth University, 85% of people surveyed believe “scientific
research is essential for improving the quality of human lives."3 And, 80% of people
surveyed perceive scientists and researchers to have the best understanding of
issues such as global warming, stem cell research, and genetically modified foods.4

• Furthermore, science serves as a core source for competitive and cultural

differentiation, especially with research- and technology-based companies. For
example, early in its history Google chose to sponsor PBS public television. In fact,
part of the Google ethos internally, and mystique externally, is the belief and the
perception that “smarts” and academic achievement are core to Google’s success.

• Companies, executives, and organizations clearly care about sustainability and

science issues. According to a survey by McKinsey & Company, science and
sustainability are "very" or "extremely" important for companies in a wide range of
areas, including new-product development, reputation-building, consumer education
and corporate strategy.5

• On a much broader scale, that of civilization itself, the pace of innovation in

technology, healthcare, finance, and engineering is a step-function where research
and science are the driving accelerants. Science is not just a corporate and
competitive differentiator. Science is an activity that drives human civilization

When it comes to science and sustainability, building reputation and educating

consumers are higher priorities than more immediate fiscal reasons such as alignment
with the company’s business goals or improving operational efficiency.6 Indeed, 72
percent of respondents to a McKinsey survey said that sustainability is “extremely” or
“very important” for managing corporate reputation and brands. In addition, 55 percent
agreed that investment in sustainability helps their companies build reputation, and 36
percent saw building reputation as a top reason for addressing sustainability issues. Yet
only around 30% of executives say their companies actively seek opportunities to invest
in science and sustainability, or embed it in their business practices.

Companies need to take a proactive approach to managing and communicating their

science. Without a fundamental understanding of the science behind a brand or an
initiative, it is very difficult for consumers to tell the difference between what is true and
what is false.

Chris Mooney, author of the 2009 book Unscientific America, believes it is the job of
scientists to lead the conversation. He wrote: “If scientists don't take a central

Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) Center for Public Policy Survey, 2001, 2006
University of Chicago, National Opinion Research Center, General Social Survey, 2006
Bonini, Sheila, Stephen Gorner and Alissa Jones. (2010), McKinsey Global Survey: How Companies Manage Sustainability.

Scientific Brand Equity • June 2010 Page 3 of 10

communications role, nobody else with the same expertise and credibility will do it for
them. The precise ways in which scientists should change their communication
strategies vary from issue to issue, but there are some common themes. Reticence is
never a good thing."7

Many scientists don't have the research, training, or mindset to communicate about
science. Most have not spent time developing their communication and persuasive
abilities. In the future, changes to scientific education and within science institutions
might give scientists a better background in communication. But right now, organizations
with vested science brand equity can take charge, step into the gap, and use their
resources to fill the communications void.

Sustai nability as a Component of Science Brand E qui ty

What links communication about sustainability with science brand equity? Sustainability
is the management of environmental, social, and governance issues with an eye toward
the future. It is quickly becoming a priority for corporate leaders in America.
Sustainability efforts are nearly always science-based. When a company communicates
about sustainability, it automatically and naturally builds science brand equity.

Whether you consider ExxonMobil working on new energy production techniques, or

Disney Imagineering contemplating the existence of a lifeless Earth, or GE developing
remote medical diagnostic equipment, science and technology are integral to the
sustainability conversation. In fact, the best way for a company to highlight its
sustainability efforts is to underscore the scientific research inherent in their
development. A campaign that makes this connection clear informs and educates the
public about the scientific, material, and real investment needed for projects aimed at
creating a better tomorrow.

Furthermore, specific and pertinent communication will move the conversation away
from greenwashing (faked sustainability) to real solutions-based sustainability. According
to a recent report by OgilvyEarth, greenwashing has “the power to destroy brand
reputation, undermine a movement, alienate customers and estrange a loyal workforce.
As far as sustainability marketing has come in the last decade, the Greenwash Monster
is still lurking, and it’s time we got rid of it once and for all."8 One report found 98% of all
green claims made in 2009 guilty of one or more of the “Seven Sins of Greenwashing”
and reported that 64% of Americans no longer trust sustainability-related marketing. 9

A focus on the science behind sustainability efforts can enable companies to avoid both
greenwashing and the appearance of greenwashing. Consumers will learn about
research-based solutions put in place by forward-thinking companies in a way that
highlights innovations in products, packaging, and efficiency, as well as organization and

Unscientific America, Chris Mooney, 2009
From Greenwash to Great, OgilvyEarth, 2010, http://ogilvyearth.com/greenwash
TerraChoice. “The Seven Sins of Greenwashing,” 2009. Web.

Scientific Brand Equity • June 2010 Page 4 of 10

The Value of Science Brand Equity
Brand equity in itself is a huge component of an organization’s worth. Interbrand
conducts a yearly assessment of brand equity across many organizations and sectors. 10
Their methodology (found on page 10 of this paper) assigns a specific dollar value to a
corporation’s brand equity. It is considered one of the most trusted benchmarks in the
business world because of its financial grounding. Of the top 10 brand values (ranging
from $28B-$68B), we would argue there is a huge portion of that value attributable to
science brand equity.

Notice that the companies on this list all have a strong relationship to scientific research,
even though not all are traditional technology companies. IBM, with over 100 years of
technology and business computing behind it and more patents than any other company
in the world, clearly has large science brand equity. Many consumer-facing brands also
have large science brand equity, although they may fail to take full advantage of its
value. One example is Coca-Cola, which spends millions of dollars on R&D and
sustainability efforts. When Coca-Cola creates a better water purification system, or
develops more efficient packaging, it is increasing its science brand equity.

We assert that, although all the companies on Interbrand’s 2009 Best Global Brands top
ten list have high science brand equity, none of them are taking full advantage of it.
Several are taking steps in this direction, including IBM with its Smarter Planet
Campaign, GE with Eco-magination and Intel’s “Scientists as Rock Stars.” However, we
need more conversation about science, more conversation about technology, and more
conversation about the science and technology behind sustainability.

Interbrand Bet Global Brands Report (2009), http://www.interbrand.com/best_global_brands.aspx

Scientific Brand Equity • June 2010 Page 5 of 10

Science in U.S. B usi ness
The business sector continues to account for the great majority of U.S. research and
development performance and funding.

The National Science Foundation (NSF) estimates that despite the severe economic
downturn, overall spending on R&D conducted in the United States was $398 billion in
2008, up from $373 billion in 2007. In fact, national R&D spending has increased mostly
uninterrupted since 1953. Over the past 20 years, growth in R&D spending has
averaged 5.6% in current dollars and 3.1% in constant dollars – somewhat ahead of the
average pace of GDP growth over the same period.11

U.S. R&D Funding Sources – 200812 U.S. R&D Performing Sectors - 2008
($ in billions)

$51, 13%

Business Other
Sector, (gov't,
$268, Other, etc), $58,
64% $26, 7% Business 14%

Particularly in light of the current role of sustainability in reputation-building among U.S.

businesses, it is surprising that more companies do not take an active approach in
communicating their science initiatives externally. They often do not report sustainability
metrics to investors. Communications departments may be unaware of sustainability-
reporting practices – even though more than 50% of companies keep track of the value
created by sustainability in terms of reputation-building and cost savings 13.

Public Trust is Key to Brand Equity

One of the most critical components of all brand equity is public trust. In recent years,
trust has declined significantly across the board at corporations as scandals, greed, and
outright felony have racked WorldCom, Enron, JP Morgan, and many others.

For both charts: http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/infbrief/nsf10312/
McKinsey study, ibid.

Scientific Brand Equity • June 2010 Page 6 of 10

Edelman, a PR firm with over 100 years of experience, has been measuring the public
trust in corporations over the past three decades. For the first time, this year’s Edelman
Trust Barometer shows that “transparent and honest practices” and “a company I can
trust” are more important to corporate reputation than “quality products and services.” In
the U.S. and in much of Western Europe, these two attributes outrank product quality
and far outrank “financial returns,” which sits at or near the bottom of 10 criteria in all
regions. This milestone is in stark contrast to 2006, before the financial crisis hit, when
financial performance was in third place.14

Thus it is important in today’s world for corporations to be truthful and accurate, and use
communications channels and messaging that are trustworthy in the eyes of consumers.

Edelman, Trust Barometer (2010), http://www.edelman.com/trust/2010/docs/2010_Trust_Barometer_Executive_Summary.pdf

Scientific Brand Equity • June 2010 Page 7 of 10

Consumers Trust Science and Scientists
In the same 2010 Edelman report, researchers also found that “academics and experts”
are the most credible sources of information about a company, in the eyes of an
informed public (see figure below). Financial or industry analysts are also among the
most trusted spokespeople for a company 15, but they run a full 12 percentage points
behind “academics and experts,” according to the Edelman Trust Barometer.

A logical next step, therefore, is that corporations should use their researchers and
scientists (plus academic experts who are versed in the relevant type of R&D) to
communicate their brand messaging. In other words, they should build and communicate
their science brand equity as a component of their overall brand equity.

In the years ahead, companies will continue to push the boundaries in scientific
research and development. We submit they should also be pushing the
boundaries in scientific communication, as they have resources and capabilities
beyond the academic spectrum.

Companies can combine their focus on brand equity and brand development with
their applied scientific research, innovation, and technology development.
Organizations and marketers should explore the notion of building and
communicating science brand equity. Those companies that invest in this area
will reap benefits through increased brand equity, stronger relationships with their
constituencies, and the rebuilding of public trust.


Scientific Brand Equity • June 2010 Page 8 of 10

Interbrand Brand Value Methodology

Scientific Brand Equity • June 2010 Page 9 of 10

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