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February 11, 2008

Marketing Virgin Territory

Jill Stoddard
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Delivering the dream of space travel has always been the exclusive province of government agencies, and over the past 46 years these agencies have sent only 467 people — most of whom were professional astronauts — into the final frontier.

With Virgin Galactic (VG), Richard Branson is trying to change that. Last Wednesday at the American Museum of Natural History, throngs of reporters were on hand to capture the unveiling of his prototype spacecrafts, which are being built to send everyday people — 100 of them by 2009 — into space.

Also in attendance at the event were 28 students from Professor Ketty Maisonrouge’s luxury markets class. They had special permission to be there for a different reason — to do marketing research on VG and the space-travel industry. The students met privately with Branson and Brian Binnie, who piloted SpaceShipOne’s second Ansari X Prize flight.

And the following evening on campus, a group of future VG “astronauts,” along with VG president Will Whitehorn and other senior VG executives, met and talked with the students for five hours.

“This was really one of these rare moments in life when you feel that you are somehow a small part of a historic event,” said Maisonrouge.

This is the first marketing class at CBS — and likely the first class anywhere — to take on space tourism. Students will examine what is at stake, the history of the Virgin Galactic brand and the quantitative and qualitative research surrounding these markets. They will present a marketing plan to Virgin Galactic executives in April.

“We are working in an industry that doesn’t exist yet, so to be part of these first steps is really a privilege,” said Maisonrouge. “I really feel that the students are sharing in the passion and enthusiasm for this project, and it will definitely be an amazing semester.”

Comments

by Osifo Akhuemonkhan | February 11, 2008 at 6:06 PM

A marketing class focusing on luxury goods?? It has always been my belief that luxury goods did not require a significant marketing effort. Unlike regular consumers, the luxury goods consumers do not need to be coerced with complex marketing strategies or the allure of sales or discounts. Consider the space tourism example?? I do not think this service sells itself. The space tourist is most likely not your average individual. Hence, he/she most likely does not need to be lured with complicated advertising or sales techniques. The average space tourist is a multi millionaire. A simple note saying "We can take you to space, and you don't need to go through astronaut training" should suffice. I understand that all companies must market their goods and services one way or another. What this post has caused me to ponder about is the enormity of the difference between marketing strategies for regular consumer goods and those for luxury goods. What other factors are there to consider when marketing luxury goods? How do you convince such consumers - people can afford pretty much anything - to buy your product?

by Doug Cress | February 12, 2008 at 11:23 AM

Osifo, defining 'luxury goods' is tricky - even ordinary people can indulge occasionally - though I agree, as people become more wealthy they tend to buy more luxury goods and care less about price (and require less 'coercion'). Beyond offering space flights, Virgin Galactic has the potential to be a terrific marketing tool for other Virgin enterprises - notably their airline.

by Ryan Petersen | February 17, 2008 at 11:32 PM

Guys, there's more to marketing than just price. What else might you want to convey to someone who has plenty of money and would like to go into space? Perhaps demonstrating that your spaceship is safe? That you will be comfortable enough to enjoy the trip? Or at least that they have some way of dealing with vomit in zero gravity?

by Rolando Alagde | April 06, 2008 at 7:56 AM

Why do people climbed mount Everest, I guess that essentially provides some of the answer to your marketing case. The issue of branding however plays a lot of role in this project, you cannot treat a paying customer the way you would a career astronaut, you would need to provide him a gratifying experience that he could talk about after he returns from the trip. In the words of Martin Lindstrom "Every detail of the brand should be created with true sensory signature." A preposition he calls "Sensory Branding Strategy".

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