University of Texas at Austin
Customer Engagement Proposal

 The following document is about Strategic Planning for a Customer Engagement Program for the NASA Manned Mars Mission and it is an Interdisciplinary Proposal Submitted by the College of Business Administration and College of Communication.


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Supervising Faculty Members:

Professor Eli Cox
Department of Marketing Administration
Graduate School of Business
E-mail: Epciii@ccwf.cc.utexas.edu
Telephone: 512-471-5431

Professor Neal Burns
Department of Advertising
College of Communication  
E- mail: Nburns@mail.utexas.edu  
Telephone: 512-471-8160

Team Members:

Matt MacDonald, MA Candidate Advertising – Creative Co-Team Leader

Arzan Devlaliwalla, Master’s Candidate Advertising – Strategic Planner
Kevin Hill, Master’s Candidate Advertising - Strategic Planner
Kira Procter, Master’s Candidate Advertising - Creative Co-Team Leader
Horacio Gallegos, Master's Candidate Advertising - Accont Planning Expert
Christian Heinz, Master's Candidate Advertising - IT 

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Mr. Burke Fort, Project Manager, J.D.
Center for Space Research
Campus Mail Code :R1000
University of Texas at Austin
Austin, TX  78712  
14 January 2000

Dear Mr. Fort:

This cover letter  accompanies our submission in response to your NASA 2000 call for proposals.  The University of Texas at Austin is interested in the challenge NASA presents and is pleased to field a student team that represents our emphasis on marketing and effective communication.  It is therefore fitting that the College of Business Administration and the College of Communication have combined their   resources in the production of this proposal and look forward to continuing the partnership in the execution of the work.  The combination of the marketing and advertising expertise of the student team will produce innovative solutions to the problems of enhancing customer engagement and sustaining it over a period of time.

Our proposal, “Strategic Planning for a Customer Engagement Program for the NASA Manned Mars Mission”, anticipates the use of the latest technology in helping NASA meet  its objectives and incorporates several of the tools that underpin our strategic planning process.  The assessment of current attitudes  will result in a baseline measure, which will help NASA in its future efforts and serve as a reliable benchmark  of attitudes towards  both NASA as an organization and NASA programs at the start of the 21st century.  The study  team has also  been fortunate in enlisting the aid and support of other key faculty members  and industry representatives to serve as consultants.  We believe that we have a motivated team and a comprehensive approach. Please feel free to address any  questions to either Neal Burns or Eli Cox, the supervising faculty members.  We hope that you and your judging committee find our proposed plan of work interesting.

Sincerely yours,

Professor Neal M. Burns  
Advertising Department

Professor Eli Cox
Marketing Administration Department

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Strategic Planning For Customer Engagement: A Proposal


This proposal is based on determining attitudes and perceived relevancy among key constituencies regarding the desire, capability and value of a MANNED MARS MISSION.  The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has such a program in its plans and this proposal becomes part of the overall business plan which supports the Mission.  The Team assembled to conduct this effort at the University of Texas at Austin is drawn from two schools with the University.  The College of Business Administration and the College of Communication have jointly participated in the development of this document; their student team is prepared to execute the study in accordance with the work outlined.

Appropriately, two faculty advisors have agreed to oversee the student effort.  They are Professor Eli Cox and Professor Neal Burns. Resumes of both advisors are included in the Team Personnel section. In keeping with the joint nature of our Team, two co-leaders have been selected from the student participants. They are Matt Macdonald and Miya Nazzaro.  Their resumes along with the names of the other students may also be found in the Team Personnel section.

The overall goal of the proposed study is to have the customer dimension – their attitudes and values – fully understood so that the possibility of messages directed towards them being effective is enhanced.   This dimension is of particular importance when missions and major national programs are considered that require long lead times between their inception and their anticipated pay-off.  The funding and support needed over a relatively long period of time will require a program of information and education along with a substantial sense of experiential involvement.  Those concerns have become the objectives of the proposed program.    

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Study Objectives

The objectives include issues that are not entirely unusual in current economic and social affairs.  First, very often today “dot coms” enterprises have diverse targets they need to reach and satisfy.  The general situation often calls for messaging to the venture capital providers (VC or angels) as well as to the customers of the product or service.  Without the VC being kept on-board, confident and perhaps prepared for an over-call the enterprise fails.  Similarly, without the support of the primary users the “dot com” loses marketplace clout and presence.

The second issue that strikes a familiar ring when considered with the MANNED MARS MISSION are those private and public projects that need to be initiated now although they will only truly be manifest some time in the future.  Building new airports, highways and urban infrastructure, support for new schools and educational programs, cures for dread diseases all call for present expenditures to achieve downstream impact.

The following objectives encompass these concerns.

  1. Establish a firm benchmark (CIRCA 1ST QTR.  CY 2000) for attitudes towards NASA and about their participation in long range space exploration and scientific missions.  

  2. Develop and employ a segmentation analysis for the various audiences and stakeholders involved with and impacted by NASA programs.

  3. Evaluate comparable efforts by other federal and state agencies -- perhaps include international  (e.g., UN activities) agencies as well in that analysis.

  4. Develop message strategies that are mission and segment specific.

  5. Author and distribute a marketing plan based upon the research and analysis that will enhance customer engagement and increase the likelihood of support.

  6. Propose an implementation and measurement plan that will serve as clear indicators of the proposed program's success or as suggestions for change in emphasis.  

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The methodology of the proposed study incorporates the disciplines from marketing and advertising and emphasizes in both disciplines the strategic issues that frame rational behavior and emotional responses.  In particular, the effort draws from the experience of several major advertising agencies and their use of so-called account planning techniques.  The basis of this discipline is that the message and the execution and the media selected all have an impact on the relationship the brand has with the customer.  The best tools to produce positive customer engagement will be those that involve the consumer.  In our process that involvement actually begins with the initial insights about our targets and their attitudes towards NASA and the MANNED MARS MISSION. Our team intends to use this customer input at every stage of message development so that the overall strategy and the creative message strategy incorporate the values.

The design of the proposed study incorporates these issues.  The approach consists of four major phases.

Phase 1.  Benchmarking.  This phase is devoted to the systematic assembly of both qualitative and quantitative data that will serve as a comprehensive description of the initial operating conditions.  Part of the philosophy of this effort, as a marketing study, is that the work is measurable and results in outcomes that are meaningful and easily communicated.  Accomplishing this calls for first establishing a meaningful baseline.

A series of interviews and focus groups will be conducted.  Following those investigations a survey instrument directed to each of the segments of concern will be prepared and administered.  This will enable the study team to determine the present status in the “mindspace” of each segment (press, congressional representatives, key opinion leaders -KOL’s, etc.).

  • The deliverables of this phase include:
  • Collection and analysis of new data as well as secondary data.
  • Baseline descriptions that incorporate perceptual mapping and conjoint analysis techniques in the interpretation of the data.
  • Identification of problems and opportunities.
  • Author a situation summary and structure a compelling presentation.

A few comments about the preceding summary statements may help the reader better understand the thrust of the proposed work. The process of deliberative polling and interactive focus groups is a natural for this project, and we are fortunate in having a consulting member  (Jim Fishkin) who has led the development of this deliberative polling to measure the impact of interactive communications on attitudes.  The conjoint analysis would be very helpful in identifying which reason -- or set of reasons -- was most influential for a particular segment in terms of the public benefit assumed to result from MANNED MARS MISSION.  The statistical processes used in analyzing web-based survey data will help identify the sources of variance and the most potent influencers of attitude.  These data will be incorporated into a comprehensive baseline report. 

The use of novel and innovative technology may also help bring important influences to bear on the opinion and attitude formation of various publics.  Using the speed and bandwidth of Internet2  (Note: Our intent is to use this new technology since the University of Texas at Austin is one of the institutions participating in the international Internet2 project University Corporation for Advanced Internet Development.  http://www.utexas.edu/coc/i2sociotech ) This would enable NASA to bring various constituencies into contact and dialog with key NASA resources and principal investigators.  The UCAID organization and several university and corporate participants have indicated an interest in working with us on this project.

A short note on Internet2 may be in order.  Internet2 is an experimental network of network investigating technologies for  an always-on multi-megabit network, capable of supporting voice and video streams in addition to data all the way to the end-user.  Technologies being explored in the Internet2 project use the new Ipv6 protocols.  These protocols permit encryption, quality of service assurance, privacy, and multi-casting capabilities that will not only  deliver more bandwidth to the user – at work or at home – but will also assure dependability in high performance and mission critical applications.   Bandwidth is being added constantly at the core of the network, and projects such as Internet2 are building high-speed IP networks for research and academic uses. This new Net and the discussions that it in turn stimulates are expected to be of inestimable value to the MANNED MARS MISSION support program.

Customer and constituent satisfaction, confidence, attitude and priorities will be described and techniques for measuring attitudinal change in the future will be established as a result of the work in Phase 1.    

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Phase 2.  Process for Increasing the Chance of Winning

The first part of this phase involves building a strategy set which consists of a comprehensive set of alternative solutions. The second part of the activity in this phase is evaluation of the alternatives.  Techniques for predicting the likelihood of success and of ranking alternative strategies will be employed.  At this time in the study effort the more alternatives, generally speaking, the better -- the team is looking for new solutions.  Deliverables in this phase include;  

  1. Precise identification of multiple segments (targets).

  2. Determine current perceptions of each segment.

  3. Consider the change process required for each segment.

  4. Who must we impact first?

  5. Generating a comprehensive set of alternatives.

  6. Assess likelihood of success of each alternative.

  7. Ranking of alternative strategies based on cost to achieve, probability of success, etc.  

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Phase 3.  Positioning NASA and MANNED MARS MISSION

To help both the overall marketing plan and the sequence of messages to be written and delivered, clarity and precision on what it is that NASA stands for needs to be established (re-established?).  We call that process Position -- What we want to say  -- and Attitude -- How we want to say it.  Together they establish brand character. Brand Character is critically important for issues of customer engagement.  Carefully managed it ensures the fact that all "public appearances" of the NASA brand always represents what NASA stands for -- it is perhaps as close to brand equity as an organization like the NASA can get!  The secret to increasing the chances of winning is that we must change both perceptions and behavior!  And, we need to provide evidence that this has occurred.

Another key aspect of the investigation will be the identification of a significant common element that unifies the somewhat varying positioning emphasis of the various segments.  Finding and articulating that unifying aspect that cuts across all segments -- a kind of skewer as it were -- becomes an important part of the NASA brand equity .

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Phase 4.  Implementation and Measurement of Enhanced Customer Involvement. 

This final phase serves as the measure of our abilities.  The fact that the MANNED MARS MISSION study team is willing to be measured and that the instruments of measurement will be specified at the outset and require agreement from our "customer" speaks to the maturity of the proposed effort.  In short, there is a fiduciary responsibility to demonstrate that the work undertaken has had positive results or that clear direction for improvement is accessible from the data.

Selecting a range of tools for implementation immediately suggests that an integrated marketing approach will be employed as the basis for developing and maintaining customer engagement.  The messaging activities may include advertising, public relations, special events, contests, presentations, strategic alliances with new partners and other techniques and distribution methods.  The project team is fortunate in having the support and consulting services of Professor Deborah Morrison who has developed the creative sequence in the Advertising Department.  Her guidance will be particularly important in message development.

Each of the marketing communication tools will be expected to perform a special function.  The study team will look to advertising and PR to build the desired perceptual framework and brand equity and, if needed, to help change perceptions.

Similarly, the study team will look to the use of the Internet and selected direct programs to build relationships and change behavior.  The diverse and complex nature of an integrated marketing system calls for the team to be prepared to be accountable.  The statistical processes for measuring attitudinal and perceptual changes are in place and the study team is capable of using them to good advantage.  The measurements and evaluation will tie into initial objectives.  The main task will be for the study team to determine how NASA wants to be perceived by each key segment.  Related to this determination is an assessment of what each segment will let NASA become; position and attitude are not only in the hands of the message makers -- a historical and political context is often associated with a brand and impacts the way it is perceived.  

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The importance of the proposed study can perhaps best be seen in its relevance to other related public policy issues.  One of the guiding principles of the proposed effort is that the examination of a MANNED MARS MISSION include a review of other long range programs that are initiated in one period of time and pay-off much later.  Sustaining interest and participation during the interval between conception and pay-off is, at best, dicey.  This is particularly the case in democratic constitutional societies where new priorities and elections may reverse early intent.

The concerns relating to NASA and a MANNED MARS MISSION involve:

  • the perception, on a segment by segment basis , that the mission is genuinely part of the charter and purpose of the agency;  

  • as such, that the NASA embodies the hopes and aspirations of the various publics it represents and has their support;

  • that the agency is capable -- i.e., has the competency to execute the missions it chooses to undertake;

  • sufficient science and technology exist so that the MANNED MARS MISSION can, in fact, be accomplished with an acceptable level of risk -- i.e., it is doable;

  • that the cost/benefit relationships implicit in the execution of the mission are reasonable and understood;

  • a comparison of other major social and political problems and some judgments concerning national priorities results in the MANNED MARS MISSION being highly regarded; and finally

  • the likelihood that public perceptions may be positively influenced towards supporting the MANNED MARS MISSION by a well-managed customer engagement effort.  

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The first phase produces the core qualitative data for this study from its interview and focus group effort.  Generally speaking these activities will be conducted using the Internet  (if possible, Internet 2 in terms of its increased speed and bandwidth) although periodic face to face work may also occur.  The video summary of this first phase will be drawn from the taped interviews and augmented with material from the interactive on-line sessions.  Key opinion leaders, as well as major targets, will represent the segmented market to which the MANNED MARS MISSION must appeal and from which it must draw its support.

The positioning and benchmarking exercises will also include a survey designed representing some of the attitudes and concerns revealed in the qualitative process. The major deliverable from this phase of the study will be reliable benchmarks for the attitudes of each of the segments towards the MANNED MARS MISSION.

The last two phases of the proposed program deal with positioning, implementation and evaluation.  In addition to determining the baseline attitudes, the use of perceptual mapping and conjoint analysis will enable the study team to suggest the main source(s) of variance – i.e., the issue or concern with the most saliency that drives the attitude formation of the segment.

It is from this analysis also that the messaging instructions or basis of the creative strategy will be developed.  Again, each segment will be identified and its particular point of relevancy will be identified –- yet, an umbrella positioning or unifying concept will be developed to which all the segment messages relate.  Finally, the implementation scheme includes a mechanism for determining if the desired impact is taking place.  Are we able to demonstrate that as a result of the marketing communications strategy that is developed opinions and attitudes of particular segments are changing?

In conclusion the proposed program is ambitious.  It uses current technology, it is interdisciplinary, it incorporates quantitative and qualitative estimates of behavior that impact engagement – and it will be fun.  Our team looks forward to working with you.

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