This will be a huge achievement for a relatively young space company that was founded in 2004, and whose rise towards the top has not been an easy one – from stiff competition from other space organizations to less predictable challenges such as the 2014 spacecraft crash.
However, despite these and other difficulties, the company has managed to create a name for itself in the space sector, in the news industry and in the eyes of the wider public. In the process, it has attracted lots of investors and potential customers, many of whom have already paid up for their flight.
This has been achieved in part, by tried-and-tested marketing strategies that have enabled the brand to remain in the limelight for well over a decade (without sending a single customer into sub-orbit, let alone to space). So, below is a look at some of the publicity techniques and marketing strategies used by the company to advertise its brand and services.
1. Publicity stunts
As we know, Virgin Galactic was founded by Sir Richard Branson (knighted in 2000 for services to entrepreneurship), who is famous for, amongst other things, being a master of the publicity stunt.
From attempting to fly around the world in a hot air balloon to dressing as an air hostess, driving a tank through New York city, throwing himself off a building (and almost decapitating himself), and many other fun misadventures we know he loves.
It therefore, does not come as a surprise that publicity stunts are one of the main marketing strategies used by the space brand. Some of the top publicity events that have helped to increase awareness for Virgin’s group of companies have been cheeky jibes at competitors, some have been cheep gimmicks, others risky investments, however as Richard regularly points out, all of them have cost much less than the advertising spend needed to generate a similar amount of coverage in the media.
a) New Mexico spaceport rappel
In 2006, Branson rappelled down the side of the spacecraft hanger while drinking a glass of champagne to celebrate the opening of Spaceport America in New Mexico. The publicity stunt gained a lot of attention all over the world, thus increasing awareness of Virgin Galactic and their services.
b) Spacesuit in a press conference
Another stunt performed by Branson to publicise Virgin Galactic was in the very early days in 2004 when he attended a press conference to announce the launch of the company, while wearing a Virgin-branded spacesuit.
The suit gave the media some good images to work alongside an array of nicely crafted soundbites, which helped to capture the attention of the world, thus giving the company a great entry into the space industry.
2. Social media
Social media is another area of marketing that has helped the company to stay in the public limelight, in addition to helping it interact and engage with the media, potential customers and fans alike.
The company has three social media accounts, Facebook, Google Plus and Twitter, where they posts several updates per week on what is happening with the brand.
These updates include tweets about the company spacecraft testing, upcoming events, product development updates, etc. These helps to keep the world updated on what is happening with the company, thus helping to maintain a strong brand presence.
Using social media also allows people from all over the world to interact and engage with the company and for Virgin Galactic, like many others, have become the primary way to have a dialog with the public.
3. Inspiring website
The company’s website http://www.virgingalactic.com/, is one of the most beautiful and inspiring sites in the space industry and has been essential for marketing their commercial spaceflight program to prospective customers.
According to Will Whitehorn of MyCustomer.Com, the website is a vital marketing tool that has been very instrumental in promoting the company’s brand. Especially in 2004 when the inspiring graphics helped the company to raise more than $10 million from customers who were interested in flying to space.
Since then, the website has become integral to the company’s marketing strategy. It is where hacks, customers, potential customers, and other people interested in the space industry go to find out more information about the status of the company and its spacecraft.
To maintain a strong online presence, thus ensuring that the website is visible to everyone, the company uses a number of SEO techniques to ensure it is visible in Google search results. These include keyword optimization, image and video optimization, internal linking, etc. All these help to ensure that the company gets high search engine rankings, for example, despite being much smaller than some of the big players, when you search “spaceflight companies” on Google, Virgin Galactic’s website will appear on the first page of the results.
4. Earned media
Earned media is another marketing technique that has helped to promote Virgin’s aviation and space brands, thus helping its position of the space industry. The company receives many mentions by news outlets such SpaceNews.com, SpaceRef.com, Space.com and AviationWeek.com.
The company also helps generate stories to feed the always hungry news industry, for example by launching a cheeky blimp that poked fun at British Airways, and Virgin Galactic enjoys ongoing free publicity from other news companies such as Telegraph UK, PRNewswire – a press release company, Bordermail.com – Australian, The Guardian, and several others around the world.'A good #PR story is infinitely more effective than a front page ad' @RichardBranson @virgingalactic Click To Tweet
5. Charity activities
Charity is another marketing strategy that is used by Virgin Galactic to promote its brand and indeed to express its brand values. Through its Galactic Unite program, the company offers scholarships, mentoring programs, internship opportunities, virtual classrooms, grants, and other activities that help to give back to the community.
In return, the company is able to increase brand awareness when these activities receive recognition from the media or when they are spread through social media mentions.
6. Digital marketing
As well as the aforementioned social media and websites maintained by Virgin Galactic, another way the company has been able to generate free press, remain in the public’s imagination and increase brand awareness is by leveraging various online marketing strategies. These include:
a) Video marketing
Virgin Galactic is one of the space brands that is effectively using the growing popularity of video content. The company has a YouTube channel , where you can find several videos that ranges from insights on the latest flight tests, company and industry events, as well as interviews with staff and partners.
There are also many videos about the company on other video sharing websites such as Dailymotion.com.
b) Publicity distribution
Virgin Galactic also uses various online marketing services to help provide further reach. One such service is image.net a digital publicity distribution service that helps to promote digital content such as videos, images and press release pdf files. Along with the usual press release and publicity channels these ensure their marketing message, their fantastic imagery and their latest news is at hand for anybody that wants to tell their story for them.
What next for Richard and co?
Although the first citizen astronaut paid his way to the International Space Station back in 2001 – long before Virgin Galactic was founded, and the recent announcement that SpaceX are to fly two space tourists round the moon in 2018, the Virgin Galactic brand is (still) on its way to becoming one of the best known space companies to offer commercial spaceflight services.
A goal that will make it much easier for mankind to colonize the space frontier – and provide Branson with another achievement he has been working on for many years.
Its journey so far has been anything but easy, with the company facing several challenges, including the recent spacecraft crash that dealt a significant blow to its commercial spaceflight program and the confidence of many well-wishers.
However, Branson always reacts quickly and effectively and stays as cool as the ice his aviation brand provides in-flight. He has done so since he started his first businesses, which involved skipping between the UK and France flogging records and failed attempts of selling Christmas trees and budgerigars. Selling products that caught the public’s imagination to a much lesser degree, proved to be more difficult than selling the Virgin Galactic brand/dream to the world.
By keeping a stiff-upper-lip when needed and remaining steadfast in his objective to help more people reach the space frontier, Branson has become the master of capturing our imagination, making great deals, loving what he does and using the old proven trick of, well, showing off. As an optimist and a keen flyer, where it will take him (and possibly, many of us), remains to be seen.