Successfully acquiring funding for a Horizon 2020 research project is no doubt the first hurdle any researcher must overcome. Once such a feat is accomplished – it is time to set out and officially execute your research and realize its potential for impact and change. Surely, most of your time will be spent on research management and execution. But – here’s a very important aspect you must keep in mind as well. Ready? Here goes. You can have the most innovative research project, a truly groundbreaking approach, and the potential to bring substantial impact to this world, BUT all of this will fall short if you do not make sure to have a solid, strategic, and professional marketing and business plan that follows suit. Still not entirely convinced you are ready to allocate budget and time for this? Continue reading for a list of reasons that we’re sure will help change your mind.
A quick understanding of marketing and business plans
Before we take a deep dive into the reasons you need to have a marketing and business plan, lets first align with the understanding of what exactly such a plan constitutes.
The business plan:
A business plan is often used as a financial tool which helps assess the viability of the project in business terms. By this we mean that it helps to determine the business aspects that may result out of the research project, and whether the project’s outcomes may eventually open new business avenues and produce income to its participants / partners. To clarify, foreseen or expected business activities are typically beyond the scope of the research project. These activities cover financial aspects that should be considered for the realisation and commercialisation processes (such as sales, sales and distribution channels, operations, marketing and more) that will hopefully stem from the outcomes of the research project. Horizon 2020 puts the emphasis and gives priority to research projects that can present such an outlook into the future.
The marketing plan:
While the science and research are the ones that help achieve the mission and goals of the project, the marketing plan is a detailed set of actions that helps to achieve the ongoing reach-out.
A marketing plan needs to achieve the following:
- helps to identify audiences
- produce collaboration and partnership opportunities
- positively position the research project in respect to their competition
- create a name which spans beyond the members of the scientific ecosystem for what the project has achieved so far
- and more…
Both the business and marketing plans are activities which will probably span beyond the scope of the original research project. Although it may seem like an additional (unnecessary) burden to take on – not only are these expected by the Horizon 2020 reviewers, but these two are truly a force to work with which ensures your research project grows and develops past the immediate audiences and opportunities it produces. The two plans are dependent on one another – one identifies the mission and the reach-out goals, and the other executes and helps achieve market presence and growth. Together – they help maximise the impact of your project.
The life-span of a marketing and business plan
One final important note that must be realized in this context is that marketing and business plans must be set in place and executed continuously and consistently. It simply is not enough to draw up the initial numbers for a business plan, or put in place the first marketing message. These are great – but if they are not carried out, the effects of these will become weaker and will not help achieve their intended values. To this extent, it is crucial to have dedicated team member/s that are set on producing and executing these plans for the life span of the research project, and beyond. These plans are dynamic, must constantly be tried and tested, seen if they are still relevant in line with the progression of the research project and, if needed – updated and changed.
Now that we have a better understanding of what constitutes both a business and a marketing plan, let’s continue further to understanding why they are so important. To further clarify, let us start with what is possibly the number 1 most important reason you must ensure to have a plan set and ready for your research project.
Reason number 1 – maximise the impact of your research
As stated above – researchers who successfully secure Horizon 2020 funding are expected to extend the novel breakthroughs they achieve as far and wide as possible in order to maximise the impact of their project. To put it simply – if the research and its results do not successfully extend past the immediate scientific ecosystem, it’s ability to reach substantial impact will be hampered and minimised. This, in fact, is where the business and marketing plan steps in. Look at it as the megaphone for your research that ensures it echoes and resonates constantly. One that systematically shouts the core messages of your research, and sends out important updates, realises key opportunities, and ensures your research is on center stage – where it should be. Without one, it is safe to assume that innovative and groundbreaking as it may be, it simply will not reach its full potential for impact and change in our world.
Granted, we truly believe the reason above is so important it should stand alone in helping researchers realise the importance of this component in the execution of their research. But, unsurprisingly, there are 9 more reasons yet that we’d like to share that showcase just how much value a professional business and marketing plan can bring. We’ll work our way down from the more extensive reasons (again the most extensive being the one right above) to more micro-level aspects.
Additional reasons you’ll want a professional business and marketing plan
The marketing and business plan can:
- Further impress the reviewers during the review process of the research proposal. It cannot be said enough. When writing a Horizon 2020 grant application – you must always keep the reviewers in mind, and ensure to “feed” them with what they are looking for. This task is quite difficult, because the reviewer’s expectations are only partially clear. There are many elusive and unwritten requirements which we have come to understand and articulate with time and experience. One such unwritten expectation is to showcase robust marketing and commercialisation plans in the Impact section of the application. Doing so successfully will help you gain more points during the evaluation, and more you a few steps closer to securing funding.
- Increase chances for securing additional funding, hook potential partners/team members, and in general enhance collaborations. Having a strategic and impressive plan is a sure way to showcase the immediate and potential value of your research. Since the plan addresses important aspects relating to the growth potential of the research (hence securing more research grants) and the business (€€) opportunities for commercial partners – this often times translates into additional collaborators and investors who’d like to ensure they are a part of your movement. An excellent example that exhibits this Horizon 2020 spirit is the recent addition of the “blended funding” introduced by the EIC Accelerator instrument (previously known as the “SME Instrument”).
- Improve your chances of accomplishing your marketing goals. Having a plan ensures consistency, flow and focus. Writing a plan is a lot more than simply writing your goals, it maps out your stepping stones, timeline, responsibilities, who executes what, and more. This level of detail sets you on a clear path to business and marketing success of your research project.
- Help identify potential strengths/opportunities as well as threats and weaknesses. Sitting down to formally curate a business and marketing plan means you have to address, fully and truthfully, the research project to its core and its potential. It generally means you’ll be asking yourself some very honest questions that spotlight the strong attributes of your research and, simultaneously, the seemingly problematic aspects as well. Going through this process is so important. First and foremost – you’ll have a firm understanding of what exactly is the key value proposition of your research, and know to focus key messaging and marketing activities on this. But even better than this, you’ll have identified the potential opportunities during which others may notice “flaws” in your research, and be well prepared to address this (or create solutions to this issue) when the time comes.
- Communicate effectively your vision and plan of action to your team and university / company / partners. Horizon 2020 projects are consortium based. This means that while you are the project leader, you’ll have others working with you to execute your vision. Having a business and marketing plan is an incredibly successful way to ensure all team members are on the same page in terms of the immediate and future goals and targets of your research. This plan helps everyone understand your vision, and align on the ways by which to get there. Surely, one research project can invite various strategies for impact. Your plan will help unite everyone to work together and allocate all resources to the same roadmap.
- Help you take advantage of only the relevant opportunities and reduce the risk of pursuing the wrong opportunity. Once you begin to execute your research and market its stepping stones and advancements, additional eyes and ears (hopefully) will be focused on you as well. This attention can yield external invitations for collaborations, partnerships, and more. Many times, the mere invitation can be so exciting, that we fail to truly assess if this offer is actually one that can help the research further progress and improve. In these very situations, the business and marketing plan can act as a compass that navigates us to where we aim. We can then set the research and the offer side by side to see if this is a positive match to move forward with.
- Help you to better understand your competition. As part of the business and marketing plan, you must research your competition. This is done in order to firmly understand the existing ecosystem your project is entering, and what makes it unique and valuable. Identifying the existing competition can bring forth a truly impressive amount of information you’ll be so happy to have your hands on. From what the competition has already achieved, where they failed in their process, what type of marketing activities they are executing, where their (and possibly YOUR) target audience is and how to communicate with them, and so much more. Knowing your competition is key.
- Help you to better understand your end-users and provide them with the type of content they are looking for. Another important aspect of the business and marketing plan seeks to identify the various “customers” or audiences of your research project. Having a clear understanding of your user personas will help to align your communications with them and speak your research in the most accurate way to ensure they are interested and engaged with it.
- Spend your budget wisely based on a plan. Your detailed plan must take into account the allocation of budget for the different stepping stones and objectives you’d like to see through and achieve. Setting a budget to alongside this plan means that you know well ahead of time, just how far your current budget will help you reach, and if/when you’ll need to look for additional funding opportunities. This budget will include a risk factor so that you can safely execute your plan and be ready to act if things take a wrong or unexpected turn.
Conclusion and next steps…
By now it should be apparent just how much value a proper business and marketing plan can offer your research project. We strongly urge to allocate time and energy to curating one that will accurately define and assess the goals of your project. We also wish to remind you that the curation of the business and marketing plan is something that should be done during the project proposal phase inside the Impact section. This can be an extensive and complex process. If you need any assistance, we invite you to check out our dedicated service. If you are ready to move forward with a marketing plan, consider our dedicated article for building a website for your Horizon 2020 project and following suit with a social media strategy.