Stakeholders in the biocides industry from around the globe are coming together this week at the 10th Annual Biocides Symposium, hosted by Chemical Watch. This year’s event boasts over 30 speakers discussing the dynamic issues and ongoing debates revolving around biocides, including authorization procedures, the latest efficacy developments, and innovative and the sustainable uses of biocides. Garnering particular interest at this year’s event is the presentation by the Center for Biocide Chemistries (CBC): The “Good Chemistry” of Biocides.
Over two years ago, the CBC began a journey of creating a public-facing resource for U.S. consumers, industry professionals and regulators to learn more about biocides and combat misperceptions about our chemistry. From understanding what people know about biocides, to developing a unique language for the public to hear what was being said, to launching an advanced educational resource, the CBC has come a long way to ensure that when people have a question or want to learn more about biocides, they’ll arrive at GoodChemistryLivesHere.com and find answers.
We sat down with Komal K. Jain, Executive Director of the CBC and Sarah Jane Scruggs, Director of Product Communications, American Chemistry Council, to give us a sneak peek of their presentation and discuss the journey from understanding today’s perceptions of biocides, to how best to communicate to the public-at-large, and lessons learned along the way.
Q: What made you take on what seemed like a monumental challenge?
Komal Jain: In 2017, I had just taken over management of what was then known as the Biocides Panel, and realized we, as an industry, had a problem. Questions and misinformation were beginning to circulate about biocides, but there was no clear voice representing the interests of the industry.
While we wanted to shout from the rooftops the great benefits and safety information of biocides, everyone – from consumers, to industry professionals, to regulators and policymakers – was being bombarded with information and we needed to find a way to cut through the clutter, and make sure we’re communicating in the right way.
We needed a thoughtful strategy on how to respond to the questions and correct the misinformation.
Sarah Jane Scruggs: What we also realized is that the perception of biocides was at a critical moment in time. We recognized that although there was chatter and coverage, and some contentious points here and there among stakeholders, our “issue” had not risen to a crisis level. We had a hunch that many people didn’t truly understand biocides – what they are, what their benefits are, how they are used in our day-to-day lives, and how they are extensively regulated and help keep the general public safe.
And although many people will tell you today, especially in the world of chemistry, that if you’re not the problem, don’t make yourself the problem; stay below the radar; don’t draw attention to yourself; answer only when asked directly, we saw an opportunity to come out from the shadows. We recognized that this was an ideal time for us to tell our story and shape what people think about biocides, before we reached a tipping point that would be beyond our control.
Q: You conducted a significant amount of research. Any particular “aha” moments you would like to share?
Komal Jain: We actually conducted nearly 2 years of research – surveying a targeted range of educated consumers, healthcare practitioners and members of the building and construction industry.
Our first “aha” moment came with understanding the familiarity the general public had with certain terminology. We truly had no idea if the public knew of biocides or antimicrobials or if these terms escaped their general vocabulary entirely. Of the terms surveyed, both antimicrobials and biocides were at the bottom.
Sarah Jane Scruggs: Here’s another “aha” moment – While those surveyed believe that manufacturing companies need to be transparent, particularly on what ingredients are in their products, they do not generally trust the product manufacturers and the information we share.
What is concerning is that despite product manufacturers’ efforts to be transparent and provide, for example, scientific studies proving the safety of their products, nearly 50% will not believe the studies. In short, they want us to be transparent, and we are being transparent; but yet they do not trust our transparency.
Q: You mentioned people need to “hear what you are saying.” What do you mean by this?
Komal Jain: So here is another “aha” moment… As we mentioned before, behavioral science shows us that how we interpret communications and make decisions is fundamentally emotional – not rational. And when this comes to emotionally charged, controversial, and especially misunderstood topics such as chemicals or biocides – this principle had to be at the heart of the messaging we developed.
It’s not what you say to people that matters, it’s what they hear.
Sarah Jane Scruggs: Wanting to make sure people were hearing what we were saying, we developed a messaging strategy that literally outlined for us “say this – don’t say that.” And we did this word-for-word throughout any messaging we developed. It was critical for us – thinking all the way back to where we started this journey – that we say the right thing to allow us to educate people, but not inflame the public and become the next big story.
Q: So what did you do with all of this research and messaging?
Komal Jain: Three years into this process, we now understand what people think about biocides, what they want to know more about, how we should talk to them so they hear us, and be proactive in doing so. We took all of this and accomplished two major milestones.
The first was rebranding the Biocides Panel. For 30 plus years, our group was known as the ACC Biocides Panel but this name did little to explain the breadth of our membership and the level of our advocacy, science and education programs. We thus researched, in our journey, what name or terms would inspire trust and appropriately reflect who we are.
We gave ourselves a unique brand, a unique voice, and became the Center for Biocide Chemistries.
Sarah Jane Scruggs: Our second milestone was the launch of the Good Chemistry Lives Here brand. This brand is not just a website – but a voice, a resource, an interactive platform, that consumers can engage with and better understand “what is an antimicrobial?” We created a brand that helps the public feel safe and trust that using antimicrobials is not a bad thing, and that truly, great families have good chemistry.
Q: What comes next?
Komal Jain: The CBC has taken advantage of the considerable consumer interest in biocides, and making sure we are combating the misperceptions that fuel scrutiny, mistrust and misinformation. We not only have created a global brand that is recognized for our important advocacy and scientific research, but also developed a consumer-facing program that provides balanced, easy-to-understand information about our important chemistry.
We are supporting the positive benefits of biocides and dispelling untruths. We have officially transformed from being just an industry-centric brand to an engaging, consumer-friendly brand. Our evolution is just beginning and we look forward to sharing more with you in the future.
To learn more about Good Chemistry Lives Here visit www.GoodChemistryLivesHere.com.