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Sales-driven businesses like aircraft brokerage firms have sometimes struggled to see the value of branding and its impact on the bottom line. For many companies- branding was considered the “soft stuff” of marketing gurus and ad agency types—lots of fun like the guys on the AMC mini-series Mad Men seem to have— but hard to justify financially.

AvBuyer   |   1st January 2011
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Quantifying The Value Of Your Brand:
Effective branding yields greater profitability.

Sales-driven businesses like aircraft brokerage firms have sometimes struggled to see the value of branding and its impact on the bottom line. For many companies- branding was considered the “soft stuff” of marketing gurus and ad agency types—lots of fun like the guys on the AMC mini-series Mad Men seem to have— but hard to justify financially.

Yet as it ends up- from a financial perspective- a company’s brand falls into a category used by accountants called “intangible assets.” This category includes such things as patents- rights and intellectual property. Thus- intangible does not necessarily mean non-quantifiable. In fact- these non-physical assets can sometimes be the most valuable things a company owns.

Today- branding is becoming an increasingly serious concern of general aviation CEOs as they see the effect it can have on such things as new business development- the structuring of strategic partnerships- customer loyalty- recruiting and company valuation.

After a decade and a half of launching and re-launching numerous aviation brands- I’ve observed seven quantifiable- revenue-enhancing benefits that emerge when a company’s branding is done with intentionality and creativity. They are the following:

When your sales team members visit prospective clients for the first time- there is a greater likelihood of winning new business if a strong- well-regarded brand has gone before them. If a potential customer has already formed a positive opinion about your company based on your branding efforts- your sales team can enter that dialog with greater confidence.

The formula I use with clients to define this brand-building effort is: Uniqueness + Frequency + Consistency = Brand Identity. When prospective customers see your company’s brand frequently and it is presented with great consistency- revealing your organization as uniquely differentiated from competitors- your success rate in new business development is greater than with a forgettable- undifferentiated brand.

It is axiomatic in business that the cost of acquiring a new customer far exceeds that of retaining an existing one. Yet many companies- and especially their sales personnel- are so deeply engaged with landing new business that existing customers are often taken for granted.

A systematic focus on reinforcing your brand at every customer interaction is a tremendous safeguard against this kind of customer service entropy. It is useful to occasionally perform a “brand audit” examining the dozens of touch-points where your customers interact with your organization. Every interaction either reinforces the brand or undermines it.

Similarly- one of the least appreciated- yet most valuable aspects of consistent advertising and public relations is the impact it has on current customers. When they see your company frequently visible in the aviation trade media- they feel affirmed in their good judgment for hiring your firm.

Price becomes less of an issue when a brand is well regarded and professionally deployed. Decision-makers often choose to work with a company based on the trust implied by the company’s brand. A solid brand functions as an insurance policy for the buyer. In other words- a brand that stands for something other than low cost can direct people to make decisions based on things other than price.

A brand’s value can thus be calculated as the difference in price that customers are willing to pay vs. the commodity pricing for similar services delivered by your competitors. Unless you are prepared to be the Wal-Mart of your industry- you’ll need to build a brand that suggests paying a premium is well worth the value and privilege of working with your firm.

We often hear organizations extol the virtues of “empowered employees.” The problem is that it’s usually just talk. Most interactions you’ve had with customer service departments would suggest they never got the empowerment memo. They may be well acquainted with bureaucratic policies and procedures- but they lack any real autonomy or personal judgment.

But that all changes with a strong brand. When a company has a clearly defined brand- the brand begins to define company culture and employee attitudes. Effective leaders can articulate what their brand means to employees and then free them to interpret and apply the brand in their everyday interactions with customers. That’s true employee empowerment.

A well-branded company enjoys far better odds of successfully launching a new product or service than one that lacks a compelling brand. Brands are belief systems (not merely logos or taglines). Because they are belief systems- the credibility accruing to a brand’s past success in one product or service category can be leveraged to launch a new product or service.

An interesting example of this principle of branding has been seen over the last decade at Eagle Creek Aviation Services of Indianapolis. The company had focused its efforts in the 1980s and 1990s on Twin Commander aircraft sales and service- building an enviable reputation for technical expertise and customer service.

This niche specialization connected the Eagle Creek brand with the Twin Commander community of owners and operators - a leadership role it continues to enjoy to this day. But then the company was able to leverage its brand to enter the pre-owned Cessna Citation sales and service market- where it achieved similar success. Then most recently- Eagle Creek has emerged as a leader in delivering and servicing the Embraer Phenom.

These product-line transitions not only testify to the company’s responsiveness to new market demands- but also reveal its brand’s power to instill confidence in entirely new.

Anyone who has been in business very long will confirm that a referral is the most powerful force in business development. Just as people feel good about - and speak enthusiastically about - their favorite brand of hotel- car or smart phone- so also you see people quick to mention their association with the best brands in aviation.

There is a certain amount of psychological identification taking place when people identify themselves as customers of a certain company renowned for professionalism and quality. This transfer of brand identity naturally leads to referrals. Companies with strong brands rarely need to ask their clients for recommendations.

This is perhaps the most important outcome of effective branding because at some point in every aviation company’s history- it will either be:

a. Passed on to one’s children;
b. Acquired by partners in the firm;
c. Sold to investors;
d. Purchased by another company;
e. Go public; or
f. Pass into oblivion.

In all but the last outcome- a strong brand delivers more value at the time of succession. This can translate into hundreds of thousands- or millions of dollars in an acquisition. Smart investors pay good money for well-regarded brands. That’s because brands guarantee the loyalty and attraction described above- securing future income for the potential buyers of a company. If you’re passing a company on to children or partners- then you certainly will want to pass on the most valuable- respected asset you can. A compelling brand makes that possible.

These preceding seven benefits of effective branding can be worth millions of dollars over a company’s lifespan. The investment in time- money and talent to build a memorable brand can be viewed as seed capital with a substantial- quantifiable return on investment.

For aviation businesses willing to make the investment- the results include sustainability even in hard economic times and a more profitable outcome when it is time to sell the company or pass it on to others.

David Heitman is 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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