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Home > Nanotechnology Columns > Penman PR > Marketing Nanotechnology Products to Consumers - Why will they buy?

Patti D. Hill
CEO / Founder
Penman PR, Inc.

Nanotechnology-based or enhanced products are entering the marketplace, but consumers don't seem to notice or care. It seems nanotechnology innovations are created on behalf of the technology and not for the intended audiences. In order for these products to make a difference in our lives, the meaning and benefit of purchasing and using nanotechnology products must cut through today's noisy clutter to reach the general public in a profound way.

January 17th, 2008

Marketing Nanotechnology Products to Consumers - Why will they buy?

The consumer marketplace is becoming rich with nanotechnology-based or enhanced products. In March 2006, the Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies, a Washington, D.C. initiative associated with the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, released an impressive list of nanotechnology consumer products that could be found in the marketplace from sunscreens to water repellant and stain-resistant clothing to gum, car wax, sporting equipment and nanoparticle-laden cosmetics.

They all suggest significant strides from the scientific perspective - but from the consumers' point of view the products are simply new or different versions of products in an already crowded marketplace. Marketing these products successfully to today's consumers is not like a field of dreams. You may build it, but in reality they may not come.

The single point of all innovation, and what's missing for the many consumer-oriented nanotechnology-based or enhanced products, is the creation of value for the consumer. Unfortunately, the general public at large is either unaware of nanotechnology or doesn't care.

In 2004, Dietram Scheufele, Ph.D., at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and Bruce Lewenstein, Ph.D., at Cornell University, conducted a national telephone survey of over 700 adults in the United States. They found that most Americans knew little about nanotechnology - and what they did know they learned through mass media.

In December 2007, Cosmetics Design Europe published their findings after polling more than 2,000 British adults on the extent of their knowledge of nanotechnology. Sixty-one percent of respondents had never heard of nanotechnology, and of those that had heard of it, 36 per cent of the respondents said that they were not aware that the technology was currently being incorporated into a large and varied number of consumer products.

Unfortunately, the wonder of these nanotechnology innovations have subsumed other concerns that moved the priority away from the consumer. It's time to refocus. With the current lack of awareness among end-users, innovative companies must strongly consider engaging in marketing strategies geared toward consumers' wants and needs. These required societal processes are intended to discern consumers' wants, focus on the product of their wants, and mold consumers' desires towards the product. It's marketing 101. The strategic deployment of marketing vehicles and activities are fundamental to the growth of any business and without it they normally do not prosper long-term.

In 2003, HP launched its "n is for nanotechnology" advertising campaign. It was interesting and well-produced, but unrealistic to the general consumer watching television on a Thursday evening. The ad spoke about a light bulb that never burns out; a car that can think; a shirt that can give directions; a cell phone so small an ant could use it; and a computer that can hold all the books ever written.

The HP ad potentially left a "pie in the sky" impression not relevant to the general public - at least not at the time it was aired. And that same public has not seen any of these innovations since the airing.

For many technologists, scientists and executives, the marketing puzzle is….a puzzle.

There is so much to learn.

In order to strike a cord with consumers, the meaning and benefit of nanotechnology products must cut through the thousands of messages that barrage them on any given day. Not an easy task given that today's consumers have significant control over the information they receive, as well as and how and when they receive it.

The marketing strategy can be quite simple. Pay attention to consumers and be responsive to their needs and wishes. This means knowing what they want, and then begin the innovation process - not the other way around.

Consumer marketing tactics, however, can be more complex and should encompass an understanding of the actions consumers take in purchasing and using products. Understanding consumers' buying dynamics and behavioral sciences will help organizations know why consumers choose one product or brand over another, how they the choices are made, and how nanotechnology companies can use this knowledge to provide value to consumers.

Concepts such as motivation and personality; perception; learning; values, beliefs and attitudes; and lifestyle are essential for interpreting buying processes and directing both innovation and marketing efforts.

Smart, successful companies create value by understanding meaning first. They then design and coordinate their products, brand, channel, promotion, and pricing to deliver an integrated experience to fulfill that meaning.

The companies behind all consumer-oriented nanotechnology-based or enhanced products can leverage this approach.


Patti D. Hill is CEO / Founder of CameronWeeks Public Relations, the only firm that provides 100% senior-level public relations representation for complex technologies and industries. Combining a sophisticated understanding of business issues and with proven public relations practices, CameronWeeks' elite PR practitioners capably develop strategies and campaigns and implement tactics for emerging, established, and rapidly expanding organizations throughout the world. As a non sector-specific agency, CameronWeeks is the premium PR agency for an array of complex technologies and industries, including biotechnology, finance, economic development, IT, nanotechnology, and software.

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