Selling Science: 23andMe Brings the Genome Home

23andme kitIn a move towards do-it-yourself genomics, the company 23andMe has been democratizing genetic testing and analysis through its $99 test kits. While individuals can’t yet run the analysis at their kitchen table, a simple swab sent through the mail is enough to get you an individualized examination of your predisposition to certain diseases, your likely responses to a range of medications, and an assortment of other health clues. How does 23andMe make this seemingly high tech procedure so consumer friendly? Their approach hinges on three factors: a cultural obsession with health, a fascination with information and other technologies, and the search for community.

Selling Health

We live in a health-obsessed culture. 23andMe successfully recognized this characteristic and has monetized it in the form of genetic testing. In particular, 23andMe sells the prospect of personalized medicine. With test results in hand, consumers envision themselves convincing a doctor to choose a different medication based on their DNA, or being hyper-vigilant about certain disease risks.

The owners of 23andMe market their product as a means to better health outcomes and long life, concepts that are irresistible for the mortality obsessed American.

A High Tech Obsession

Not only does 23andMe give its customers access to their genetic information – the decoding of which is a high tech procedure in itself – it gives them this information at the touch of a button. Now featuring a smart phone app, 23andMe has tapped into our constant technological connections. By using the app, customers can take their genetic analysis with them anywhere, showing it to doctors and comparing it with friends, while also using the app to track other health factors, such as diet and exercise. While the app may not make a difference in regards to who is interested in using 23andMe, it does open up the potentiality that patients will frequently reference the results, keeping the 23andMe brand always on their mind.

Uncoding Community

The final critical aspect of what makes 23andMe so successful at selling genetic testing is the community component. First, 23andMe encourages families and other communities, such as churches, to get tested together and then gather for a reveal to compare results. But particularly revolutionary has been the emphasis on illness and disease communities. By targeting individuals with certain conditions, such as Parkinson’s or sarcoma, 23andMe forms social and scientific communities. These communities benefit both illness sufferers by bringing them together and the scientific researchers who work with their DNA towards new treatments and cures.

Is there a scientific side to your business? How can your company harness community and technology to your advantage?

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Bird Pilatsky is a PhD student in Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at Emory University. A graduate of Smith College, with a B.A. in English and the Study of Women and Gender. She works as an archivist and research assistant with particular interests in LGBT issues, disability studies, and literature. Bird also works as a summer camp counselor. She has worked as an art & layout editor, runs an active blog, and enjoys reading, running, and rollerskating.

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