Science Branding: Navigating self-promotion and integrity

Boundaries of human knowledge will only be pushed if scientists and researchers globally work together. Science thrives on cooperation. In contrast, universities, research institutes and scientific organisations are in fierce competition – in a global race for reputation and resources. The strategic management of science brands is more important than ever.

Winning the battle for funding and minds

Science brands must constantly endeavour to gain trust. After all, they are dependent on funding from the public or private sector. Even more important is their reputation in the scientific community. They need talented students, researchers, teachers and co-operation partners to increase relevance and quality of their output. This enhances brand reputation, but often opens up new sources of funding. Strong science brands therefore engage in systematic community building: they bind scientists, researchers and alumni to their brand in the long term.

The challenges of science branding

Build trust, foster identification: Well-managed science brands pursue these two goals strategically. However, brand management in the scientific context has three major challenges along the way:

1. Science brands walk a fine line between self-promotion and integrity. The challenge is to increase the visibility of the brand to a broad audience without undermining scientific standards and the reliability of the findings. Credibility is the most valuable asset.

2. Another sensitive area in science branding is balancing between control and autonomy. In order to pursue a consistent brand strategy, focus and clear guidelines are vital. At the same time, however, they should not restrict the independence and self-determination of scientists unnecessarily. ETH Zurich demonstrates how this balancing act succeeds.

3. A seeming contradiction needs to be resolved. Science brands must be reliable and trustworthy even when everything is constantly changing. Because change is inherent for science brands. The Paul Scherrer Institute PSI shows how to demonstrate stability and still manifest the dynamic nature of science.

Universities, research institutions and scientific organisations must strategically build and maintain their brands. A strong brand is the key to winning talent, funding and public acceptance. This requires a sound brand strategy, but also a great deal of sensitivity in brand management.