What’s the brand of Economic Research?
It would be an understatement to say that branding carries power.
From devastating pandemics to political ambitions, and aspiring influencers to game-changing start-ups, branding has been used as a tool to convert indifference into attention. A successful brand has the power to connect with people, awaken deep passions, and drive action through shared interests, purpose and outcomes.
Given this, at Good Business Lab, we have been increasingly asking ourselves the question: What is the brand of “Economic Research”? What personality does it have? What personality should it have? What emotions, if any, does it elicit? Excitement? Boredom? Yawn? Yay? What value does it add to society? Does society appreciate or even realize its contributions? Should they? Why should they?
Research contributes value through the knowledge it creates, and adds to society through its application to real world contexts. The value of medical research sky-rocketed over the past year thanks to its role in combating the COVID-19 virus, and has created its own brand of being critical, indisposable, lifesaving, worth every buck. But, are these attributes the same for the brand of economic research?
Perhaps not (yet).
While in the medical sciences, research is valued in a time-sensitive manner —- in that it elicits a sense of urgency owing to life and death consequences — in other domains say, economic development, it perhaps has a while to go before it warrants a comparable level of immediate attention. This is partly because the time taken for economic research to complete, be written about, and then released through academic papers is often eclipsed by the speed at which the topics of interest evolve across the landscape. This is not to undermine the topics that have stuck and managed to catch global attention - those of minimum wages, universal basic income, social security and medicaid. However they represent but a humble portion of the growing pie.
Additionally, it is difficult to value what you don’t understand.
Economic research, much like research in general, is often wrapped in jargon understood only by a privileged few, neatly circumventing the lay people. The wider mission of economic research—to cope better with risks and improve the experience of living for societies at large—is hindered by the fact that civilians and people at the grassroot level, despite being potential beneficiaries of the research results, are unwittingly blocked out from truly understanding and meaningfully contributing to the conversation.
This is a big dilemma. A dilemma which is hindering progress, and a dilemma we are committed to solving for the benefit of the larger research community.
To transition “daunting”, “boring”, and similar words out of the vocabulary and replace them with “insightful”, “interesting”, and “relevant” is no easy task. It took a pandemic to make scientific research interesting not just for researchers but everyone, with status briefings from leading scientists topping the viewerships and rating polls. The initial introduction of COVID-19 vaccines also came with a cloud of skepticism and doubt, but thanks to rigorous research and (mostly) clear messaging, the masses have become overwhelmingly convinced in its importance in the fight against the virus. The brand of COVID-19 affected not just perceptions that way but behavior.
How can we communicate the insights of economic research simply, and allow all people — regardless of their education level or content consumption preferences — to participate in the conversation?
We have all been affected by the pandemic, and have therefore had a stake in the progression of scientific research. But is this the same for our beloved development economics? Economic research has burgeoned over the years, being conducted in worlds and circumstances which are so different from our norms -- why should someone not directly impacted care about this? Will the research outcomes have any impact on our daily lives?
Yes, it will. But it is our responsibility as researchers to help you understand why, how, and what to do about it.
Although economic research may not inform life-death decisions as medical research does, by addressing vexing problems on subjects of education, health, microfinance, labor,
governance and so on, it informs something just as important — the quality of life.
As researchers, we aren’t experts in answering all questions (though great at asking, as this article highlights) but definitely have the tools to reduce uncertainty around them, and direct curiosity towards something actionable. The need of the hour is to now make everyone care — about the questions, potential answers, and partake, if willing, in the necessary actions to address the questions raised, closing the loop, building a strong brand. Not branding economic research would be an opportunity lost in wake of the value it brings.
In all that has been said, it is but true, that research needs to be greater than the sum of its parts; its ambition can’t be contained in publishing papers when since time immemorial, it has always been to drive real-life change. A brand alone may not ensure that research achieves its true ambitions, but without a brand, the traction to the masses and the common man, so fervently desired, may take even longer.
This challenge, unfortunately, has no guaranteed outcome. We have thus embarked on this “Rebranding Research” journey as part of Marketing at GBL, unknown of what may unfurl, but with hope that somewhere down the line, impacting lives is a likelihood, and changing lives, a real possibility.