Steve McGrath, July 2018
If you’re getting into the space business, congratulations, your enterprise is inherently fascinating. One problem you may be facing? Lots of competition. Rivals are flooding in to join you in this $350 billion industry, potentially making you all but anonymous in a sea of technology-driven space startups.
As with computing and internet businesses, only the strong will survive. A key facet of strength is having an identity that investors, customers and the public can instantly grasp. Too many great companies toil in obscurity of their own making while waiting for their genius to be discovered. They eventually lose their lunch money to latecomers who communicate better.
Emulate the masters like Blue Origin’s Jeff Bezos, SpaceX’s Elon Musk and Virgin Galactic’s Richard Branson. These moguls have honed their identities by sharing cool stories, bold claims, big ideas and vivid dreams. If the average American can name any space entrepreneurs at all, it’s these guys. And the rest of the industry is just a blur of satellites, parts, launch vehicles, services, data merchants, miners, dreamers and brainiacs.
Try these tactics
If your company’s identity is fuzzy, here are nine ways to separate yourself from the pack. It’s not too early to start.
- Deliberately brand yourself– Gather your most creative people in a comfortable setting and define your mission. Let everybody weigh in with a paragraph. Now beat on these paragraphs, consolidate the good stuff, and distill it all to one declarative sentence that a sixth-grader can understand. It’s possible to distill it that far: You could call Bezos the guy who wants to service the moon; Musk the guy who wants to colonize other planets; and Branson guy (why are these guys all guys?) selling tickets to the heavens.
- Start with the why– Your mission should describe both what you do and why you do it. The why needs to be a benefit that everyone can appreciate. And aspirational is good. For Apple, the company mission was helping people with passion change the world. That’s pretty important, right? When you’ve got your mission, makesure everyone in the company is ready to articulate that mission to every new person they meet.
- Differentiate–Remember when Volvo was synonymous with safety? It was a tangible difference and they owned it. How are you different from everyone else in your segment? Are you the first, best or only something? Are you faster, better or cheaper? Do you have a disruptive approach to an old challenge? What about your company personality adds to the intrigue? Pick your most important differentiator, wrap it in emotion, and make it part of all of your elevator conversations – spoken and written. The ideal differentiator is real, concrete, important and lasting.
- Be a thought leader – What are you an expert in? What strong views do you hold? What valuable information can you share that others can use? You can help set the agenda within your segment, or you can take on big topics like space policy or the future of humanity. Write a blog, submit an article, or reach out to an influential reporter to secure an interview.
- Tell a story– Stories have power that other kinds of communication lack. Yes, that’s been said before, but so many companies still don’t do it. For starters, we recommend you create an origin story for your company and a compelling life story for your CEO. Musk, for example, is an open book. Stories are dead simple once you know the formula. And here it is: a character you care about encounters a challenge and overcomes it. That’s it.
- Make news – Whether it’s in the form of a press release or blog post, news is your company’s pulse. Regular announcements let people outside your company know you’re alive. Try to keep a steady flow. The cadence could be once a quarter or once a week depending on your resources and how much news you have to report. Funding, key hires, successes, customer stories, milestones, awards, and partnerships are all potential topics.
- Be social – This is another way to look alive, make friends and be a thought leader. Post regularly on the channels that make the most sense for you. Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook and Instagram are the mainstream choices. Let your organization’s personality shine through. Don’t just post; have opinions, join conversations and be funny (if you’re actually funny). Like, share, retweet and comment. But avoid controversy.
- Speak plainly– We just read a press release from a hot space company that I think is doing something that could benefit every consumer on the planet. Unfortunately, it’s so awash in tech jargon I don’t really know what they’re claiming to do. Simplify your story and don’t forget the big picture impact. For example, if you are making a better car battery, you’re getting America where it needs to go.
- Find a way to give back– If you can demonstrate that you care about your community (local or global), people will like you. Customers care more than ever about the values of the people they do business with. How can you give back in a way that affirms your brand? TOMS Shoes is the epitome. It didn’t become a juggernaut because the shoes are so chic. It blew up because of its policy of giving away a pair of shoes for every pair it sold. Giving back doesn’t have to be that elaborate. A day of service with your local United Way is a good way to start.
These are the staple ingredients of communications strategies the best companies on the planet employ. You might be saying to yourself, “We’re not ready for marketing.” We hear that, but marketing really can’t wait. If you expect investors, customers and influencers to bet on you, it really needs to be done.
Just let people know who you are.