outsideinview.comThe definition of a launch plan is to create buzz around a product, making it interesting for users to engage.  The user experience is a critical part of our launch plan. I recently had the most incredible user experience that you could imagine.  I feel the need to share the experience as a way we, the product management and marketing community, can learn new lessons about the user experience by creating brand ambassadors.

While your experience (and every user’s) will vary, we must first start with understanding the users’ primary goals, the route that the user will take to achieve those goals, and how we in product management guide the user along the path to their goals.

My experience was with the product and brand known as NASA. Yes, the same government agency we know is responsible for all things related to space on behalf of the US Government. Stop right there. You mean that a government entity is going to teach us about user experience. Crazy? Yes, crazy in a good way. My post here is not all about the spacey geeky stuff – which I will leave for the geeky space people.

NASA had observed that public perception after the last space shuttle launch was that the US Space program was over. Yet, there was still tons of cool research and activity happening at NASA in collaboration with private entities. There was a risk of losing government funding. Awareness needed to built-in a cost effective manner. The solution?  Social Media.outsideinview.com

To start with, who even knew that NASA had a social media team? But, the social media team at NASA has taken this platform to a new level, one in which all companies should pay attention to when trying to engage customers.

NASA developed a social media outreach program with the goal of building an army of brand ambassadors who served as the “voice on the street”, helping to spread the word of the work still being done by NASA. As part of this team’s effort, they have created what they call “NASA Social” events.  These events bring together approximately 70 people from around the country, with different backgrounds, education, and experience, but share interests in social media and in space, in an effort to experience the brand NASA in more depth that the average Joe on the street would ever gain as a tourist. I participated in the NASA social event surrounding the launch of a satellite rocket at the end of January from Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

The NASA social media team made the registration process very simple yet validated social media cred and maintained a very fair selection system. They want to know that the participant is capable of evangelizing the brand and representing the NASA brand in the way that the social media team desires.

The subsequent instructions from the NASA social media team were simple and easy-to-follow providing directions to confirm your participation and make the necessary arrangements. They don’t clutter their e-mail with their irrelevant information, or sales pitches to gain support. It’s factual, informative and easy. All that is left is for participants to arrive at the event.

Once we arrived at the event we were warmly greeted by a team member. We were made to feel welcome with appropriate credentials and a great bag of fun “swag. “

outsideinview.comWe were led to our first briefing inside the Kennedy Space Center visitor complex where our program began. Our first speaker session, also broadcasted on NASA TV, provided us some high level educational groundwork for the satellite launch, which we would be viewing the next evening. We were taught by some high level staff including a senior scientist who will be using the data provided by the satellite we would watch being launched. It truly provided a full circle of knowledge.

After the speaker session, our experience continued with a behind the scenes tour, something The right product starts with the right experience.not available to regular Kennedy visitors. This tour included the new Atlantis Shuttle home (under construction), the actual satellite launch pad, and the Atlas Space Operations Center which housed the actual launch control room. (Sorry, no pictures allowed in this room.) As if that wasn’t a full day, by now our team of social media fans was filled with excitement and continued our night by coming together for an impromptu dinner.

Our next morning started with another discussion about satellite data before we boarded another bus for more touring. This tour included a visit to an unused launch pad which was undergoing renovation for the next generation of use. But the NASA Social team took us further behind the scenes and arranged for us to take the elevator to the top of the pad. The NASA Social team was just as excited as we were about this opportunity as no group had ever done this before. Imagine… We took the same elevator and got off at the same elevation as astronauts before us. It was a magnificent experience; one that cannot be described by words. Following this experience, we didn’t know what to expect and doubted we could be dazzled anymore by what the team could do. However, we were wrong as our tour took us to the NASA “Swamp works” facility, their version of an innovation center. This part The right product starts with the right experience.of the tour was only made better by an unexpected visitor to the facility on the same day, enabling the opportunity for us to spend a few minutes with the NASA Chief Technologist. This team purposefully crafted an experience that would make the users excited. Everything that was provided to us, shown to us, explained to us and shared with us was deliberate. In a group of 50 with varying backgrounds, education, knowledge of NASA and space, every one of us was engaged throughout the entire experience. All of us left being true brand ambassadors for NASA and having gained more knowledge of the programs implemented today and the plans for tomorrow.

So as a product management professional, I am left wondering how do I build a brand experience that can generate the same excitement, support and long-lasting impact? Isn’t that what we strive for when we build our programs? Isn’t that what we want our users to feel? Shouldn’t this be a level we all want to achieve?  Can we follow a similar model:

–          Find interested / curious / connected brand fans

–          Provide access to your experts

–          Educate and impress

–          Offer “behind the scenes” tours to excite

–          Do something unprecedented

–          Make attending competitive, but fair and easy to apply

–          Treat attendees like rock stars

–          Turn fans into brand evangelists to help spread the word

–          Build a community that lasts well into the future

Remember that NASA already has public tours and a museum, so their experience had to exceed what was already publicly available. User groups take on part of this for some companies, but that is like the “public tour”.

Looking in from the outside, are we doing everything we can with our products and our brands and our launches to generate the same excitement? Are we building brand ambassadors who are willing, knowledgeable and excited to share their experiences? Are we providing a value to our users that is special and unique? Are we making it easy to participate? Are we encouraging the sharing of information by building a community that will last beyond a launch or an event? The NASA social media experience is a model from which any product or service can and should learn. If not, we have failed in and, in the words of NASA, “failure is not an option.”

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