What Popular Science Magazines Can Teach Businesses about Good Communication

5 minute read

Popular science magazines like Discover Magazine or Scientific American (in the US) and Bild der Wissenschaft and GEO Wissen (in Germany) are my personal Gold Standard in communication. They are visual, straightforward and memorable. And businesses can learn about a lot more than just science from reading them.

Popular science magazines use visual explanations to introduce and explain a scientific or technological concept to us. They excel at teaching us in a clear and comprehensive graphic, with very little explanatory text. What’s more, they motivate their readers, encouraging them to consider new possibilities, for example, when they explain space travel or the Hyperloop.

These magazines design their graphics to highlight real world applications of a particular thing, or its potential uses or both.  Just take a look at the infographic from livescience.com on how the (Nicolai) Tesla Coil works. Or look at the picture in my article header. Popular Science explains concussions and Science Uncovered presents it’s take on the risks of extracting shale gas.

In complete contrast to popular science magazines, the corporate world uses too much text and not enough images. We’re wordy and often utterly forgettable. We focus on explaining a piece of technology in bulky PowerPoint slides or hand our customers cumbersome user guides. And often we fail to explain how and why it will make a difference to the business and to customers.

An Example

Consider how refreshing your B2B customer might find it if he or she received an infographic comparing and contrasting your pressure-tested, widget versus an inferior model? You could highlight not only independent testers, but high-profile places where it is being used, maintenance records and show its production life cycle. And the upside of using an infographic versus a boring old letter or e-mail is that they’re more likely to remember you and your product.

Graphics Explain & Help Customers Remember

Graphics help people understand complex issues. Using them also helps us to remember concepts over a longer period of time. It’s neatly summed up in the old saying, “A picture is worth a thousand words.” Carmine Gallo’s bestselling book Talk Like Ted cites scientific research that shows people who are shown images in conjunction with text can recall information for up to two years, when the average text-only recall is often just two minutes.[1]

The good news is that the use of infographics in the B2B is on the rise. According to research from the US-based Content Marketing Institute, “Infographics were the B2B content marketing tactic with the biggest increase from 2014 to 2015, up from 51% to 62%.”[2] Europe is playing catch up.

Top 5 Practical Takeaways

  1. Make it a priority to hire a graphic designer or train the one you’ve got.
  2. Convince your management why pictures work. Use these HubSpot statistics to support your case:  http://blog.hubspot.com/marketing/visual-content-marketing-strategy#sm.000ha8azp18kddn3zto1h9uo5ipsh
  3. Buy some science magazines or watch popular science shows like Bill Nye, the Science Guy (in the US) or Ranga Yogeshwar’s Quarks & Co (in Germany) for ideas.
  4. Ask for help from your product designers or IT coworkers. You’ll find many great scientist-teachers among them!
  5. Focus on explaining not just the “how” it works but also on the “how” your customers benefit from using it!  

Science magazines are like our best science teachers; they explain in simple terms, they reinforce with images and they excite our imaginations. More businesses should imitate their communication styles.

I’d love to hear your feedback.

[1] Gallo, Carmine. Talk Like TED: The 9 Public-Speaking Secrets of the World's Top Minds. New York: PanMacmillan, 2015.

[2] 2015 Benchmarks, Budgets, and Trends—North America. Retrieved from: http://contentmarketinginstitute.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/2015_B2B_Research.pdf

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© iStockphoto.com / Robin Scharpf