Why the moon landing began with good branding

53 years after man landed on the moon, Sue Mizera believes there's no better example of strong branding than the Apollo space programme.

Few things could be so complicated as creating, predicting, funding and accomplishing man’s walk on the moon, and safe return to earth. Yet President Kennedy’s 25 May 1961 short, succinct speech to Congress did exactly that, for which he asked, and obtained, Congress’ commitment to $7-9 billion in support of the effort.

In my view, this speech is a marvel of exactly what strong branding is about – capturing all the nine elements of a brand, succinctly, sharply and in perfect integration. A guiding principle, an inspiring rally-cry for liberty and science, it is surely one of the reasons for the to-time, to-budget success of the moonshot, 50 years ago this week.

What is a brand? 

Pardon me, as I need to step back a moment.

Far more than a logo or graphic identity, a brand is the enterprise itself, its culture, its strategies, the focus of its future and a key driver of its success. It consists not just of two or three elements, but nine: all are intangible, continual sources of richness, abundance and renewal.

A brand takes the form of an Octagon and encompasses:

  • Vision: Where do you want to be in three to five – perhaps 10 years? What is your quest? Your North Star?
  • Mission: Highly correlated with vision. Why does everyone come to work every day? What do they need to do to help make the vision a reality?
  • Core values: What is your ethos? How do you interact with one another, partners and customers?
  • Total offering: In one, maximum two sentences, what does anyone knocking on your door get? Can everyone in the organisation explain this?
  • Promises: What do you guarantee your audiences and why should they believe you? Three to five messages you need to convey over time.
  • Personality: Every enterprise has one. As if a person, who are you and who do you aspire to be?
  • Target audiences: Current and potential. What insights drive them to you and keep them engaged and loyal?
  • Name: Is it clear, differentiating, easy? You might be surprised how often this presents a difficulty.
  • Positioning: What holds everything together at the center? Your differentiation, reason for being, why anyone should care.
The Brand Octagon image

President Kennedy’s speech perfectly adapts to this model

NASA’s Octagon, adapted from the president’s inspiring, eloquent speech, provides a focus and clarity that were key reasons for the ultimate success of the moon landing.

The vision is still the most audacious of any that we know – to put a man on the moon and return him safely to earth by the end of the decade. Nothing will become real unless you can imagine it and articulate it.

The target audiences were Congress and the nation.

The core values are powerful and distinctive: dedication, unity of commitment, freedom, urgency and discipline.

These values highly correlate with NASA’s personality: impressive, important, difficult, expensive and exciting.

Promises include the Project Rover nuclear rocket, the lunar space craft and satellites for communications and weather – all were very specific, and in the end, all were realised.

And the brand positioning? The triumph of freedom over tyranny? What has this to do with the space program? The time was 1961, the height of the Cold War. The Russians had launched Sputnik in 1957 and the US was already four years behind. The positioning reveals the real agenda of the space programme was as political as it was scientific and technological.

Whether apocryphal or not, the famed meeting of President Kennedy and a NASA janitor sweeping up makes another important point.

“What are you doing there, sir”? asked President Kennedy.

“I’m helping put a man on the moon, Mr President,” replied the janitor.

Perfect internal alignment with the mission.

NASA brand octagon image

NASA’s Octagon shows what any brand – your brand – should be capable of:

  • To rouse, startle and shape new thinking, attitudes and behaviours.
  • To ignite the enterprise with the power of its ethos and courage.
  • To stir new, external audiences to sharper, more eager engagement because of its convictions.
  • To help shape the communities and cultures you operate in and make a statement about the human potential you impact.

Want to learn more about creating a strong brand?

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