What 'Branding' in This Age of Renewed Interest in Space Means for Entrepreneurs
Today, we are entering a renewed and re-energized era of space exploration and commercialization that to my belief is having a profound effect: It's instilling in consumers a deep-rooted desire to achieve something beyond themselves.
We’ve seen this before. In the 1970s, the Shuttle program was called "the realization of the 1960s civil rights dream of equality.” It represented hope and an opportunity to stand for something. As Michael Griffin, the previous administrator of NASA said, “...we humans have, since the earliest civilizations, built monuments. We want to leave something behind to show the next generation, or the generations after that, what we did with our time here.”
Today, that sentiment is not only alive and well, it’s intensified. In 2016, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden announced that “NASA’s Journey to Mars is about more than sending American astronauts to the Red Planet in the 2030s; it’s about bringing people together here on Earth.”
A growing list of private space companies are getting in on this mission to bring people together and open up the galaxy, in ways that the various players -- nations, companies, individuals -- see fit. Blue Origin, the Jeff Bezos aerospace company, boldly declares on its website, for example, that, “Earth, in all its beauty, is just our starting place.”
Words like that reflect the urgency we humans have to achieve something beyond ourselves. It also reflects the expansion of space exploration from the purely public to private ventures. Entrepreneurs, and marketers in particular, need to pay attention.
From one to many
Society is increasingly becoming driven by the need to do good, so it’s no coincidence that as we get closer and closer to space commercialization, and the frightening reality of a failing Earth, our need to unite towards a better future is becoming a priority. Consumer trends show that we’re bringing this social-good mindset into our day-to-day consumer decisions, and branding needs to reflect this.
Maybe those brands should take notes from the experts twho have inspired the movement toward renewed space exploration and commercialization. While Tesla and SpaceX are by no means social justice brands, they are marketing with a purpose. When Tesla launched a car into space, the underlying message to consumers was not to buy more Tesla cars; it was to prove that our society is one step closer to commercial space travel, and a potential ticket to better things.
It stood for something beyond the brand, for something beyond even customers' preferences. It made us all look in the same direction: outward.
Some companies have already recognized that the pendulum is swinging away from “all about me” to an emphasis on “us.” This is reminiscent of efforts in the 1960s and '70s when the brands Avon and Woolworth’s stood up for desegregation.And it's happened recently with ads supporting the #MeToo movement, and even with controversial ads like the one from Nike supporting Colin Kaepernick.
This thrust applies to matters of space commercialization, as well -- to appealing to audiences on a far more personal, not just "personalized," level. How’s that for the new frontier?
So, what does this mean for brands? Three things.
Your audience definitions are going to have to change.
Yes, you are still a money-making organization, but consider that your audience is being driven to buy by more than just your company's ability to predict the next button they’ll push, or whether they should be classified as casual athletes or yogis.
Clusters of personality types will soon be replaced by clusters of shared values. In fact, there is a real business argument to get behind a purpose for reasons that go beyond profit. Patagonia’s response to President Trump’s reclaiming of public lands was more than a stunt; it was apart of a massively profitable strategy that focuses on values of stewardship and public ownership.
2. You’re going to have to get really clear about who are.
You're going to have to be obvious about what you stand for as a brand -- and then start acting on it. If "purpose" becomes a check box, and you do little more than say the right things, you will alienate your consumers from your brand. Instead, think in terms worthy of space: What is your mission? What is your launch strategy?
Nike received a lot of backlash for its Kaepernick, ad, but no one who knew the brand should have been surprised. “Just do it” is more than a catchy tagline, it’s Nike’s identity and mission; and standing up (or kneeling, in this case) for what you believe in is in line with that. That’s why Nike has seen an increase in profits since its ad launched.
3. You need to start seeing customers beyond the CTC or even the point of sale.
The ability to speak directly to the individual has recently been considered the marketer’s most powerful tool. We have all learned more and more trying to get into the minds of consumers so that we can ensure that they will buy, or sign up, or join, because we know them better than they know themselves. But this era is waning and there are a lot of unknowns about what comes next. So, being able to pay attention to your audience members, and not just predict their actions/desires will help make sure you last for the long run.
That’s why Domino’s recent Points-for-Pies campaign is genius: Customers upload a picture of any pizza, and not just Dominos', that they're eating, to earn rewards points. The campaign has created a scenario where even when customers are eating a competitor’s pizza, they’ll still be thinking of Domino’s. The brand is their partner in pizza no matter where they go.
What the space industry has taught us is that shifting from a “me” to an “us” mindset is motivating. If history has taught us anything, it's that the inspiration that achievements in space give us is enough to literally "skyrocket" us, propel us further than we’ve ever been, and build a legacy that lasts. Brands can do the same, if only we build with the same great vision.