Status Report

NASA Internal Briefing: “Why This Important” – NASA Communication Material Review Process

By SpaceRef Editor
March 28, 2005
Filed under ,

Download Compressed file or if you are inside the NASA firewall, download it from here.


summary of key findings

  • People want to believe in NASA.
    And the window of opportunity is now.
  • NASA’s ‘brand’is extremely strong.
    The problem is lack of effective communications.
  • There is strong desire to know what NASA does.
    But today that knowledge is very thin.
  • The public look to NASA for a vision of exploration.
    Between Columbia and the CAIB report, 2,250 articles were written about NASA and vision, most calling for NASA to develop a vision.
  • There is no blame associated with Columbia: The public understands the risks and is supportive.

cultural context: NASA is a potential leader in shaping a new future vision for the U.S.

  • Traditionally Americans bought into positive visions of the future such as ‘city of the future’.
    NASA’s vision must fit into America’s larger vision for the future.
  • America currently has no overarching compelling vision for NASA’s vision to fit into.
    The lack of resonance of NASA’s vision is reflective of the current state of the larger system.
  • As baby-boomers age they will increasing “look for meaning.”
    NASA can answer questions like, are we alone, and how did the universe begin.
  • NASA has one of the most widely recognized ‘brands’in the world.
    But the ‘brand’is rooted in the memory of the moon landing which is the key memory for those over 35 years of age.
  • Robots are acceptable, but only in their role as helpers to humans.
    But without humans, robotic exploration loses critical mass as a compelling vision, and becomes exploration for exploration’s sake.
  • There are no popularizers (e.g., Carl Sagan) or outside driving force (i.e., a Cold War) to help build NASA’s vision.
    So NASA must take the lead in communications.

summary-the good news: NASA enjoys highly favorable ‘brand’equity

  • 80% overall interest in the space program (39% very interested).
  • 84% feel NASA is doing a good job (33% excellent).
  • 80% feel it is important that the U.S. and NASA be ‘number 1’in space (48% extremely important).
  • 75% feel that their personal lives are better because of NASA’s work (35% much better).
  • 86% feel the country is better off because of NASA’s work (46% much better off).

summary -the bad news: people have little or no specific knowledge of what NASA
does or the benefits

  • When asked ‘what is NASA?’
    • 42% respond with only the name, and only half of them got it right.
    • 24% talk about space programs; 16% exploration and research; 7% do not know.
  • On average, a person can only think of two needs that NASA fulfills; 30% can think of only one.
  • People generally can only think of one benefit from the work NASA does, and the answers are highly fragmented.
  • The space policy leaders have positive memories, but their current perceptions of the benefits are decidedly negative (Source: Harmonic Interviews, October 2003).

NASA could be at risk

  • There are no serious negatives, but:
    • The public cannot articulate anything more about NASA than one obvious thing.
    • While people “believe”NASA does important things for society, specifics don’t reside in our shared consciousness.
    • It’s easy for the nay-sayersand cultural cynics to sustain their point-of-view because they appear to have “facts.”
    • Therefore, when someone is challenged about NASA’s relative value, defense is weak.

the brand equity must be supported

  • The strong positive brand equity of NASA is reinforced by memories of positive past experiences, which are stronger among people over 35 years of age compared with younger adults.
  • In order to sustain the positive brand equity, knowledge about NASA must be built in semantic memory.
  • Although NASA has a strong ‘brand equity,’there is the possibility that it may decline without a strong knowledge base.

it’s the underpinnings of NASA’s brand that must be fortified

  • Build a stronger knowledgebase in semantic memory, especially in terms of benefits to peoples’lives and the country.
  • Build “new”positive memories for younger adults to help create more positive emotional associations.
  • Get the message out to target audiences using messages that answer questions and encourage involvement.
    • When asked what NASA’s biggest problem was, a majority strongly felt it was ‘communications'(Source: Harmonic Focus Groups, October 2003).
    • 43% said they would like more information (Source: Harmonic Research, February 2004).

lack of knowledge about NASA has its costs

  • The overwhelming support of NASA and the blind faith by Americans drops by half when put in the context of costs.
  • Benefit/Cost = Value

  • Without knowledge of benefits, particularly direct personal benefits, it is difficult for people to justify cost.
    • Especially against things like education that have clear benefits.
    • Providing specific information will enable the public mindto place budget figures into an appropriate and positive context.

all communications should fall under the brand umbrella

All of NASA’s communications should fall under the Brand Umbrella. Specific messages under the umbrella should then:

  • Help ‘explain’NASA, building a knowledge base.
  • Encourage elaboration by using a clear benefit focus.
  • Orient toward perceived delivery of specific benefits.

‘destination driven’is not a valued context – It creates a weak value statement

  • Example: If NASA is going to Mars, it needs a spacecraft that goes to Mars, with improved radiation shields, propulsion, and communications.
  • But why undertake human missions beyond ISS or build a Moon baseor a large telescope at L2 or develop nuclear propulsion; what do they haveto do with going to Mars?
  • If NASA is looking for life and will explore to find it …
    • Then NASA needs human missions, a CEV, a lunar base, large telescopes at L2, nuclear power and propulsion: all are necessary to the search for life.
    • 50% of people think NASA’s vision is to go to Mars; 25% think it is to go back to the Moon. This would indicate a majority of the country believes that NASA is destination driven.

the communications strategy – The communication strategy is to effectively build a knowledge
base of NASA’s activities and benefits.

  • NASA has a strong brand equity among all audiences, however theyknow little of what NASA does and even less of any of the benefits NASA provides.
  • Communicating what NASA does and the benefits will translate directly to increased support by the public and provides the public a stronger case tosupport funding.
  • If all messages are consistent with the vision, the penetration of the vision will increase, the penetration is now at 21%.
  • Communicating specific and personal benefits, in a manner which creates excitement,positive emotion and imagination will make the messages resonatebetter.

NASA needs to truly communicate the vision

  • NASA is acting as both the conduit and impediment to the direct benefits of exploration for the public.
  • If the vision, or the benefits of exploration and NASA, are to penetrate, NASA must be allowed to communicate more effectively.
    • The public (as well as educators) do not vary in the manner in which they perceive and relate to NASA, so that a single umbrella communications strategy can effectively have an impact on all major segments of American society.
    • By focusing the current communications, especially already budgeted paid media (i.e., education materials like direct mail), NASA can control the message, who it reaches and ensure that audiences are exposed to the message often enough and in the proper environment. It is not a question of spending more money, but using the money already budgeted to be more effective.

SpaceRef staff editor.