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A gorilla- a cow- a camel and an elephant walk into a bar. “Rough day!” exclaimed the elephant as they find a table in the corner. “I spent the whole day in a marketing meeting - I was in the room the whole time and no one even acknowledged me. What am I - invisible?”

AvBuyer   |   1st March 2011
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A Marketing Menagerie
Effective branding yields greater profitability.

A gorilla- a cow- a camel and an elephant walk into a bar. “Rough day!” exclaimed the elephant as they find a table in the corner. “I spent the whole day in a marketing meeting - I was in the room the whole time and no one even acknowledged me. What am I - invisible?”

“Really?” said the gorilla- who happened to weigh 800 pounds. “Try being me for a while. I have to act like a big-shot- category-leader all the time. Just for once- I wish I could be spontaneous and take some risks- but no! It’s all about predictability and domination.”

“You’re not joking-” said the camel- as he stared down into a large glass of water. “I was really supposed to be a horse- but then I got designed by a committee: The marketing people- the sales team…even the CEO’s wife - everyone got what they wanted- but just look at me! I’m a lumpy- humpy- confused mash-up of a creature. I think I’m having an identity crisis!” They all cast a jealous glance at the cow who just happened to be sacred.

“Everyone leaves you alone Cow-” said the camel. “You’re untouchable.” But the cow had heard enough. “You all envy me now- but just wait! If you end up like me- you’re destined to remain the same forever… unchanged- unquestioned- un-evolved.

Why won’t anyone ever challenge me? I’m surrounded by yes-men. I have a sneaking suspicion that I’m becoming irrelevant- but no one wants to question the sacred cow. Trust me; this is no graze in the meadow!”

“I can relate-” offered the gorilla. “Just for once I’d love to collaborate with some competitors to build up our industry- but they all seem intent on attacking me every time they get a chance. ‘He’s big- bloated and arrogant’- they say.”

“Well- no offense- but you have put on a few pounds since you became the dominant brand-” the elephant interjected. “As you know- I never forget anything- and I can remember when you were a lean- mean challenger brand. You were on top of your game- but you’ve let yourself go.”

“You’re right-” the gorilla acknowledged as he motioned to the bartender for another banana daiquiri.

“So- have any of you launched a Twitter page yet?” asked the Camel.

“I started tweeting-” the gorilla replied- “but then the lawyers wouldn’t let me say anything interesting. The PR department screened everything I said too - apparently something about needing to defend our carefully managed reputation.”

Quietly- the camel nudged the elephant- and tilted his head toward the other end of the bar. There sat a hedgehog- regaling a large group of adoring patrons who seemed to hang on his every word.

“Now that’s who I’d like to be-” whispered the camel under his breath. “That hedgehog’s life is so simple! He knows who he is. He’s focused and centered (unlike me- ‘Mr. Designed-by-a-Committee’). If I don’t even know who I am- how can anyone else?”

“Ever since Jim Collins’ book ‘Good to Great’ came out- that hedgehog’s been living like a rock star-” observed the elephant.

“There’s just something about a guy who stays focused on one thing but is nimble enough to adapt to new market realities-” added the gorilla.

“Well- I’ve got to go-” the cow said as he tipped back the last swig of his milk and tonic. “Do you three want to come over and watch the Super Bowl at my place?”

“Sounds good-” replied the camel- “I really like the commercials!”

Like Aesop’s fables- the preceding story of talking animals has a lesson—several of them actually—for aviation-related businesses:

Most companies are not the proverbial 800- pound gorilla- and thus find themselves in the role of a challenger brand. But as your organization begins to take on growing market share- it is vital to maintain an energetic balance between market leadership- and market innovation.

The big issue for gorillas of all weights is to become more nimble- responsive and willing to take a few well-calculated risks with marketing. If you play it too safe with your marketing- although you’ll seem stable and steady- somebody more interesting will steal the spotlight.

Sacred cows have a way of keeping aviation companies from evolving to the next level of success. It’s a good exercise to periodically ask your employees two key questions:

• What are the sacred cows here?
• What are the unquestioned assumptions that keep us from being more relevant to our customers?

It’s often hard for senior management to ask these questions; but visionary CEOs will question assumptions and ask the tough questions about what’s holding their organization back from being the category leader. This applies to all areas of operating a business (and especially to marketing). Refusing to change an old- tired brand is the path to old- tired irrelevance.

Someone once said that a Camel is a horse designed by a committee. Well- the same is true of marketing. Whether it involves writing a tagline- designing a logo or developing an ad campaign- if it makes everyone in your organization happy because they all got what they wanted- it’s probably either confusing- complicated or boring.

Marketing-by-committee is almost always a recipe for disaster. It’s good to remember that your audience of prospects and customers will hear or see 2-500 marketing messages every day. The only way to cut through that clutter and fog is to have a crisp- clear and occasionally counterintuitive marketing message. Design-by-committee almost always fails here; but bold- salient- innovative marketing always moves to the top of your audience’s awareness.

Is there an elephant in the room at your company - that unspoken but pervasive issue that keeps your organization from breaking free of its confines?

As a close cousin of the Sacred Cow- the Elephant in the Room does more than just hinder innovation. It creates doubts about the leadership’s willingness to admit to mistakes- to objectively evaluate traditions that aren’t working and to humbly seek new solutions. Elephants are big- and that means that an elephant in the room could be squashing marketing innovation. Perhaps it’s the irrational refusal to embrace new communication technology.

Perhaps it’s the inability to admit that one’s brand is lethargic and out of date. Maybe it’s a naive belief that the same things that got us where we are will keep us there.

It is my privilege to work with aviation business innovators around the globe. The one thing that distinguishes them from their competitors— besides simply outworking them— is their willingness to embrace smart- new ideas while focusing on a courageously differentiated brand. They understand that the days of putting marketing on autopilot are over.

Information and commentary about most aviation companies via social media move faster every day. Only a consistent monitoring of things provides the situational awareness necessary to understand where a brand stands compared to competitors. Only a proactive commitment to promoting one’s brand in advertising- PR- search optimization- trade shows—and a host of other venues—will keep an organization meaningfully visible with prospects and customers in an increasingly sophisticated and globalized aviation marketplace.

The 800-pound gorilla- the design-by-committee camel- the sacred cow and the elephant in the room have it hard enough. How much worse to become a dinosaur?

While innovation possesses a certain amount of risk- we live in an era where failing to change and try new ideas is riskier than playing it safe. Given the unprecedented changes in communications technology- economic forces and globalization- standing still and doing nothing is the greatest risk of all.

David Heitman is a speaker and author- and serves as president of The Creative Alliance- a branding and public relations firm specializing in general aviation marketing. He can be reached at
[email protected]

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