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Avoid The Common Marketing Mistakes

There is no doubt that general aviation marketing has become increasingly sophisticated over the past decade. This is particularly true of the broker dealer community. Once-upon-a-time- there was a significant amount of privately held information shared by only a few well-informed aircraft brokers and dealers who could leverage that scarcity of knowledge to help their clients.

The Internet changed all that. Formerly proprietary pricing and aircraft market data is now available to anyone with a computer or a smartphone. Google supercharged the process with its powerful search tools while social media opened up amazing- sometimes confusing- new horizons.

This democratization of aircraft market data meant that brokers and dealers would need to have a compelling brand to differentiate themselves from their competitors. As a result- the last ten years have seen many aviation companies increase their market visibility and build their brands with greater intentionality- while others have been left behind. Success in today’s competitive- price-conscious marketplace depends on having a clearly differentiated- memorable brand reinforced by skilled implementation of a wide range of marketing activities.

It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the number of marketing opportunities out there and the work required to keep them all coordinated and current. Too often- a company official whose primary function is not marketing gets tasked with the job and is only able to give it partial attention. Other companies have wisely invested in hiring in-house marketing professionals or an outside firm to assist them so that marketing gets the focus it deserves.

The good news is that an intelligent marketing effort can end up becoming the investment with the highest ROI a company makes. But without careful attention- poorly executed marketing can end up costing thousands— even millions—of dollars- not just in expenses- but more importantly in missed opportunities. Below are some of the common marketing mistakes aviation businesses can make and how to address them.

AN UNDIFFERENTIATED BRAND
In a highly competitive marketplace- it is tempting for companies to try to be everything to everyone. But that’s a one-way ticket into the shark-infested waters that turn a company’s services into a mere commodity. On the other hand- being renowned as the undisputed leader in one clearly defined category is the path to success. That might even require developing a new category that no one else is addressing in order to create a blue ocean of reduced competition.

In the comedy movie City Slickers- a grizzled old cowboy named Curly tells the yuppie ranchers that they need to find the “one thing” that really matters. While Curly never tells them exactly what it is- through the course of the movie’s adventures- Billy Crystal and the others discover the “one thing” that makes life meaningful for each of them.

In the same way- companies must take time to discover the authentic and compelling “one thing” that differentiates them from their competitors. Without that- it’s almost impossible for prospects to have any basis for choosing one company over another…other than price.

An aviation business can- of course- promote more than just one area of expertise- but to have a memorable brand requires being known as the heavyweight champion of just one category. This single-virtue approach can take many forms.

A company can be recognized as: the most knowledgeable; offering the best client care; the expert in a certain class or type of aircraft; charging the lowest fees… the list goes on. A company can be known for being smart- wise- fast- efficient- resourceful- energetic or responsive - but it can’t “own” all those attributes.

Trying to be too many things to too many people usually ends up straining credibility with prospective customers and making a company’s brand sadly forgettable.

LACK OF INTEGRATION
One of the most crucial components of marketing is consistency of message and visuals. While customers and prospects may not be able to articulate exactly what they feel when they see inconsistencies in marketing- it nevertheless sends a signal of un-professionalism. It’s like showing up to an important meeting with slacks and a jacket from two different suits.

Since most bizav decision-makers are savvy professionals at companies whose own brands reflect well-integrated marketing- it behooves a company selling to these large corporations to have an equally sophisticated marketing profile. That’s why companies committed to brand consistency will take the time to develop and maintain a set of graphic standards to govern logo use- typography- color schemes and other visual elements. Similarly- a key messaging document will allow a company to stay consistent with its marketing verbiage.

This is especially important in PR and media relations contexts- but is also crucial to insuring that the sales team- the customer service reps and the company website are all sending the same- carefully honed message. The natural tendency toward entropy will mean that- over time- a company’s marketing arsenal can suffer some dilution- misuse and confusion. Assigning an internal marketing manager or an outside marketing firm to serve as the company’s “brand steward” can keep this potential chaos in check.

It is useful for a company to occasionally lay out all its ads- sales collateral and web page printouts on the conference room table and determine whether a sense of rigorous- professional integration is the rule- or whether a chaotic mix of images- colors and messages might be contributing to brand confusion.

Another aspect of integration is keeping all of a company’s employees informed about the company’s latest marketing efforts. If the sales and customer service people aren’t aware of the current state of marketing and advertising- they may not be speaking the most current language with customers and prospects. There is great power in “internal marketing” where every employee has been informed about and can articulate the key messaging of the company. Every co-worker is thus empowered to become a brand ambassador.

Marketing integration also requires an intelligent and intentional media mix. Rather than allowing marketing efforts to drift along- a well-integrated effort will achieve something akin to what the military calls “full-spectrum dominance.” The phrase describes a situation in which a joint military structure achieves control over all elements of the battle-space using land- air- maritime- space and information assets in order to assure superior strength in all potential engagements.

The same is true for marketing- making sure that advertising- website deployment- direct marketing- sales support- SEO- paid search- social media and public relations are carefully orchestrated for maximum reinforcement.

SPENDING TOO MUCH/TOO LITTLE
Marketing dollars are hard to come by- and you want to use them where they will have the biggest impact. It is possible to overspend in various marketing categories while neglecting others. But spending too little is actually worse than spending too much.

Even if you overspend- you are at least getting a lot of impressions out there of your name and brand. These can eventually accumulate into much needed brand recognition. But when you spend too little- you are throwing that money away—it never has a chance to grow into a meaningful incursion into the busy brains of your audience.

If- for example- you’re going to advertise in a magazine- be there every month. If you’re going to do direct marketing- do it frequently. How many times have you heard someone say: “We tried a (fill in the blank: ad- mailer- trade show) and it didn’t work.”

Well- maybe it was the wrong audience- the wrong message or the wrong creative. But chances are that statement is a function of trying a one-shot approach that missed its fast-moving target and the whole idea of marketing got labeled a failure.

Busy decision-makers need to hear a message five or ten times before it sticks. Most people end up hearing between 3-000-5-000 marketing messages a day. For your message to stick- a one-time effort has little chance of success. A question I’m frequently asked is how much should a company spend on marketing. Many consumer companies spend 20- 30% of revenues on advertising. That would be way too high for anyone in general aviation- regardless of the size of company.

Generally- a professional services company or a manufacturing company might think about five percent as a starting point. Three percent may be sufficient. Seven or eight percent may be necessary to make a measurable impact.

FAILING TO LEVERAGE TESTIMONIALS
It’s hard to argue with the words of a satisfied customer. Testimonials are one of the oldest marketing tactics in the world- and still one of the best. Social media has created a “recommendation economy” that rewards companies that can gather and disseminate positive comments from their customers. There’s always something quite persuasive when praise for a company comes not just from its own marketing materials- but from satisfied clients eager to share their good experience.

That’s why it’s surprising to me that so many companies fail to solicit- collect and leverage testimonials. Gathering feedback—both negative and positive—is the essential ingredient in continuous improvement. As you address any negatives- you can leverage all the positive feedback in the form of testimonial quotes.

By having your praise come from a third party- a lot of credibility is gained. One way that some companies get this kind of material is to build a feedback mechanism into their sales process where every transaction comes with a customer satisfaction review.

The sooner you can obtain a testimonial from the client after a successful deal—at the peak of positive excitement about the project— the more enthusiastic the comments are likely to be. As you gather testimonials- use them strategically. Listing them all on a sheet or on a web page may not be the best approach. People won’t read them all when they’re all glommed together like that. Better to integrate them one at a time in sales letters- brochures- web pages and proposals.

While written testimonials are powerful and can be included in a wide range of marketing materials- a more robust way to share customer perspectives is with video. Sure it costs a little more- but there is something powerful about seeing satisfied customers’ facial expressions and hearing their tone of voice as they describe their positive experiences. (Caution: Bad quality video will do more to hurt a brand than help it - so if a company seeks to let their customers tell their stories on camera- it is best to hire a professional production company to shoot and edit the video.)

REFUSING TO TAKE RISKS
It was impressive to see luxury air carrier OpenSkies recently announce its Love Everything or Pay Nothing money-back guarantee. The all first-class airline (a subsidiary of British Airways) made this bold move and not only attracted passengers for its select city-pair flights- but garnered millions of dollars in free publicity.

Even if OpenSkies has to rebate a few cantankerous customers- the ROI on that is better than any other investment it could have made. Smart- strategic- creative risk-taking is almost always the spark to a successful marketing effort. Playing it safe makes a company look like all its non-descript competitors. But ‘zigging’ when others ‘zag’- and thus taking the counter-intuitive route is usually the path to getting noticed.

If you’re not taking at least a few risks- you’re probably invisible to a substantial portion of your potential market. While some aspects of marketing have a clearly quantifiable ROI- many of the greatest benefits are intangible- yet nonetheless crucial to the bottom line. Customer loyalty and referrals—while primarily dependent on customer service—are fostered by a compelling brand and dynamic marketing.

A well-tuned brand and expertly deployed marketing enable a company to launch new products and services more successfully. A strong brand can even make price less of a consideration and turn a prospect’s focus on the company behind the brand- not just its fee structure.

When marketing mistakes are avoided and everything is clicking- it gives employees a sense of pride in their organization and that’s reflected in greater courage and confidence in promoting the company. Perhaps most importantly- a well-respected brand and a history of effective marketing are crucial to an aviation company’s succession strategy. Whether the ultimate plan is to pass the company on to children- to sell to partners- or to be acquired by another company- the more effective its marketing efforts- the greater the value the company commands at the time of succession.

David Heitman is president of The Creative Alliance- a branding and public relations firm specializing in general aviation marketing. He can be reached at david@thecreativealliance.com


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