Branding of Space Commerce is Overdue

By Richard Mains, Posted 06/26/09

4 comments

While researching, capturing and developing content as Editor of the Commercial Space Gateway, I try to more clearly define and communicate the “brand” associated with the emerging space commerce market.  One definition of a good brand is a memorable image, name or phrase that “promises the value that can be delivered”.  A brand thus gains power in proportion to the realization of that promise.  Unfortunately, many conclude now that most of the public and the Congress don’t see the value that’s being “delivered” by the overall space enterprise, inevitably including the commercial space subset.  Considering that “NASA” is one of most famous brands in the world and the biggest organization operating in space, there must be something going on that's not so obvious.  

A professional analysis of this issue titled the “American Perception of Space Exploration” suggests that “NASA does not have a branding problem; it has a communications problem, in that people do not understand the connection between the brand and its current activities”.   The report identifies a disconnect between the public’s perception of the “promised value” and what is “delivered”.  Based on my recent experience, commercial space has both a branding and a related communications challenge.  But, let’s dig into this a bit further.    

In our media-dominated world, many think that branding is essential, for the success of people, products, organizations and yes, even markets.  A good brand helps create committed customers who understand and share a sense of the value in making an investment in developing, producing, or buying something.  This is a significant issue since defining what’s meant by “space commerce” is not easy in an environment where the standard industry codes still barely recognize “aerospace” as a category.  We need to develop branding that promises clear value and ensures, that as the value emerges, it gets delivered and the benefits are communicated effectively to the customer-stakeholders. 

For example, commercial human suborbital spaceflights on space planes (initially “space tourism”, then “personal spaceflight”) promise to dramatically lower the cost of access to the edge of space.  This will provide value to adventurers who are willing to pay relatively big ticket prices at the emergence of this market.  However, as the demand expands the flight rate will increase and the cost/flight will be driven down - competition will ensure that.  This price shift can open the door to new customers with fewer resources including researchers who want to accompany their small experiment payloads for 3-4  minute duration multiple exposures to microgravity. This can be provided at a much lower cost than traveling to orbit on the Shuttle or to the International Space Station, sites that should be reserved for research that is sufficiently proven to warrant the larger investment.  Thus the market will evolve and lead to another one, and the value proposition will expand, as well.   This is the power of lower-cost space access – it is seen as a primary new market catalyst.    
 
The overall emerging space commerce market needs access to significant business investments for new space infrastructure development, new space applications, and commercialization of many products and services. How can we effectively communicate the projected value of these investments? What would be a powerful brand definition sufficient to clarify the value to stakeholders and get them excited about this industry’s potential?

As we ponder this, we should ask ourselves some questions.  Do we agree that it's an appropriate strategy for space commerce to pursue both government and private sector R&D seed money while working to create a new space transportation market?  How should our space commerce brand relate to more traditional space business, such as communication, navigation and positioning satellite applications?   The increasingly-used brand name “NewSpace” tends to be applied to the suborbital commercial human spaceflight market.  Should it be broadened to apply to entrepreneurial commercial space enterprises of any kind?  If so, how can that be accomplished?  

We need a memorable brand that recognizes government funding limitations as a customer, opportunities for new private sector investments and innovations, and the prime value of generating business profits and public benefits.  Could we use “Bringing it Home: Commercial Benefits from Space”?  What about “Space Commerce: Reaping Benefits from Space”?  Or maybe “Down-To-Earth: Commercial Benefits from Space”?   My last idea is “Real Space Access: Down-To-Earth Benefits”.  What do you think of this branding and communications issue and these branding ideas?  We need your creative input and we need it now! 

Comments

Is Branding for NewSpace Premature?

From: Eric Brachhausen, 07/05/09

This article asks a lot of good questions, for which I personally don't have the answers. But to help jiggle the kaleidoscope into a more aligned pattern, let me add some comments. First, I'd say let's reflect on history for a moment, and the use of brands. What do we know about the use of brands at the industry level in the railroad industry or the airline industry? Was there ever a promise of value that these industris as a whole made? It does not appear so. For the railroads, take a look at http://www.18xx.net/history/usslogan.htm. For airlines, check out http://www.textart.ru/database/english-advertising-slogans/airline-advertising-slogans.html. I think we can conclude that individual carriers did make attempts at brand identities for the purpose of differentiating themselves from others in the same field. These slogans don't always promise something, but they do help answer the question for potential users, "What are you about?" One of them that I recall best actually making a promise was Robert Morley for BOAC saying, "We'll take good care of you!" Once an industry has matured enough to have distinct competitors, branding can serve a useful purpose. This does not mean an industry slogan is not a good idea. But it would have to mean something positive, irrefutable, and compelling for just about everyone from any vantage point. Yet it could not be so diluted that it means nothing at all. This is a real PR challenge. I am wondering what the various airlines, for example, would find of value in a slogan for the whole industry, when the alternatives to rapid travel between continents are pretty scarce. At the current stage of development, maybe the New Space slogan should be answering the question, "Why are we doing this?" There should be an answer beyond the reason that a small number of people will be able to have an extraordinary experience. Somehow we could work in the idea that ultimately space technologies ripple through society to benefit many others. Something like "Harvesting the benefits of extreme innovation." Or "Peak performance in space brought down to earth." Once the industry is more established, then I think there will be room for brands by market sectors and brands by individual companies. And these will have to cover cargo, people, information, or whatever. Remember Fedex and their "When it absolutely, positively has to get there overnight?" There had already been hundreds of millions of accident-free passenger and cargo miles flown that enabled them to create a credible promise that separated them from the pack. Therefore, I believe that when New Space is ready, brands will materialize to satisfy our many needs.

Branding

From: Joan Vernikos, 07/03/09

I agree with Jeff that creating "brands that cater to the markets" is a more useful exercise.After all space is a place and branding it is no more inspiring than branding the ocean. NASA's most effective communication to the creativity of the commercial sector has been in spite of itself. Images of a rocket launch, the view of Earth from Earth orbit or the Moon, the scenes of astronauts cavorting apparently weightless, conjure emotions and generate ideas and possibilities, unrelated to their original purpose, that were into the commercial sectors of today.On the other hand, relatively few of the incredible technologies developed because of going into space have seen similar success.In these cases, communication to the general public in layman's language of what something can do and why it was needed in space leaving the rest to the imagination of the listener may do more than any verbal brand.In the 1960s the glare and scratching of the spacesuit visor was a huge problem. The image of an astronaut in EVA and Ted Wydeven's development of polymer coatings switched on a light in someone's brain at Foster Grant who made glasses. Communication was once more the image but also making the public aware of the problem and the solution and leaving the rest to the entrepreneur's creativity. We have been far too careful not to communicate problems. Problems whether with or without solutions grab the public's attention. Identifying brands is not unimportant. Richard's essay is significant in stimulating a most important discussion.

space brands

From: Stan Rosen, 07/02/09

I agree with Jeff. There are so many potential commercial space applications that each will have it's own identity, just as there are now many different flavors of the multi-billion-dollar commercial satcom business (FSS, MSS, BSS, mobile, broadband, etc), commercial space remote sensing, commercial space PNT (positioning, navigation, timing) services, etc. And most of this is well outside NASA's brand. The set of "NewSpace" offerings (which I assume Jeff means to define as crewed rather than robotic activities) is only a small fraction of current and potential space offerings, so that moniker doesn't seem widely useful. What is needed is to promote a broader appreciation for these potentials, both as money makers and as significant contributors to society.

A few thoughts on branding and NewSpace

From: Jeff Krukin, 07/02/09

The first thing that struck me is the quote from the above-referenced study; “NASA does not have a branding problem; it has a communications problem, in that people do not understand the connection between the brand and its current activities”. A brand is a form and process of communication, and I would argue that you must first understand how you wish to be perceived, then create a brand in support of this image, and then create a communications strategy in support of this brand. In this context, if you have a branding problem, you have a communications problem, and I think NASA suffers from both, perhaps primarily because it is not the master of its fate and thus does not have absolute control over its brand and how it is perceived by the public. Regarding the use of "NewSpace" as a brand, in 2005 the Space Frontier Foundation surveyed about 20 CEO's of the companies we considered to be "NewSpace," which began with the impossible task of creating a precise definition of that term so we could decide who to survey. Some companies, like XCOR Aerospace, were obvious choices because they fit the entrepreneurial mold. Other companies, like Spacehab, were seen by some as a stretch. In some ways, defining "NewSpace" is more of an art than a science. Nevertheless, it would be useful to develop multiple brands rather than just one, since entrepreneurial space activity incorporates more than suborbital flights. In my primer "NewSpace Nation" (available at www.jeffkrukin.com in hardcopy and Kindle formats) I took what should only be a first step at defining the sectors of the NewSpace industry, which I described as: 1) Atmospheric flight 2) Suborbital transportation 3) Orbital transportation 4) Orbital destinations 5) Services, support, and the supply chain 6) Commercial spaceports At a minimum, each needs its own brand that supports its unique image and markets. Developing answers to Richard's questions is one way to begin this process. However, I think it will be more useful to create brands that cater to the markets (investors and consumers) within each sector rather than to attempt to create one big NewSpace brand. I think Richard's suggestions are good educational statements, but I'm not sure they are succinct enough to motivate investors and consumers to open their wallets.

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