Marketing, properly understood, is a complex and difficult task. Problems arise when it is seen as a label to slap onto “sales” to increase the prestige of the sales force. The general disrespect for marketing comes from the fact that this happens ‘way too often.

A salesman can sell refrigerators to Eskimos. A marketer examines the various Eskimo tribes in depth, and identifies which ones have needs and/or aspirations that will make them susceptible to the salesman’s blandishments and which of the Company’s products might be most easily represented as useful to the prospective customer(s). The salesman who poses as a marketer ends up selling his preconceptions to management rather than challenging his preconceptions by researching the matter, resulting in difficulties that may approach disaster.

Which is where private space comes in. Pure engineers have a tendency to build cool toys without regard to whether or not anybody would want them (other than themselves; they wouldn’t be building the toys if they didn’t think they were cool). The World is littered with the sad remnants of companies that had a cool idea, but didn’t identify and address a valid market. Simply being cool is sometimes adequate for consumer goods. For big-ticket stuff, marketing needs to find out who needs it and might be willing to write a check if the sales force can convince them that that’s better than either doing without or doing it themselves. This may (and often does) include telling the engineers that their cool toy needs to be modified, which causes resentment because “marketing” is often “sales” with a new label.

It looks as if SpaceX and Bigelow, in particular, have in fact identified markets for their stuff and tailored their products to best penetrate those markets. This stands in contrast to many others, who (at least in retrospect) have been building cool toys and trying to find a use for them — Rotary Rocket comes to mind, as (sadly enough) does Rutan. The company that succeeds will employ really good marketers, not just clever engineers and good salespeople.

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