This past weekend I spent Sunday taking a tour of the JPL center (opens to the public once a year) with my family in Pasadena, CA. After experiencing a similar trip to the Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral, I fully expected a toned down experience with an emphasis on rovers and voyagers – boy was I wrong!
I suspected things were different this time when my wife kept sharing tidbits about how JPL was emailing her every few days on how to make the trip more enjoyable – cannot gain entry without a ticket, arrive only at your scheduled time slot, alerting us that there was a U2 concert (and other events in the vicinity). They did this with ever-increasing frequency as we got closer to the event.
When we arrived, they routed us to our parking spot with the same efficiency as a Disney theme park. During check-in, we got bags and maps and immediately spotted an information center rep that gave us good advice on what to see and how to manage line wait times to help maximize our experience.
In terms of customer experience, they converted a highly secured campus into a convincing tourist attraction with signs where you could easily find your favorite Jet Propulsion Laboratory mission topic. It was a hot weekend but they rented high-end air-conditioned trailer restrooms, extra ventilators in the halls and rooms, and large fans around the shaded outdoor exhibits. They even had food and beverage trucks strewn throughout the campus.
I have a basic understanding of aerospace science and could appreciate the subject matter. What came as a big surprise was how the content was presented by the scientists – with passion, sincerity, and patience (a lot of “stupid” questions). They also allowed us to touch, feel, & see – as well hear about the various aspects that go into Voyager and Rover missions.
They also gave us the sense that the rovers and voyagers were not just projects/machines but were members of their families – one lady even started to tear up when telling us how hard it was to program Cassini 23 to crash into the surface of Saturn in September. She spent years of her life on this project. My family related to and empathized with her. I was also pleased to see the diversity in age, gender, and culture amongst the scientists – this variety matched up well with the demographics of the attendees.
In the B2B IT industry, we continue to struggle to engage our customers in a way that delights them and aligns with our objectives – think of the last trade show you have been to and asked the rep “so, what does your solution do and how does it compare to your competitors?” – 10 minutes later…you glaze over, swipe your badge, and collect your swag, moving on to the next booth.
At the Jet Propulsion Laboratory event, I asked 5-7 engineers what the practical application of their particular widget was – they all did a surprisingly fantastic job of explaining the use case scenarios in simple terms and why these solutions gave the missions a boost over prior technologies.
Of course, there is a core and visceral motivation behind all of this – public support of space missions and general interest in aerospace careers has been on a steady decline since our moon and shuttle missions. This trend has put a lot of pressure on funding. So, NASA has to do a better job in connecting with the public – getting us to care and subsequently support more funding.
NASA’s social media marketing campaign ( 5 Ways NASA Accomplishes Its Digital Marketing Mission ) seems to be successful in building a following and it appears their physical event management skills are tracking well, but does it really take rocket science to improve and sustain customer engagement in the B2B marketing space?