Are you able to quickly and quantifiably justify the business value of your corporate aircraft? Might your company’s senior executive travelers benefit from increased use of the corporate aircraft? Have you ever been asked by the reporting executive or CEO to maximize an aircraft’s flight hours?
If you answered “No, yes and yes,” then you might benefit from learning how to market your corporate flight department to executive travelers.
In my opinion, everyone in business aviation should be able to easily justify the value of their business aviation assets with just a few, intelligent, stats-based talking points that help meet the corporation’s strategic goals and objectives.
The challenge is that not many business aviation professionals are familiar with doing so. You cannot simply go to a website (i.e., NBAA.org) and download a how-to guide or brochure and present it to management. Not only are the answers unique to each company, depending on your company’s business needs, they also depend on your aircraft usage policy.
And finding the answer takes careful research, considerable planning and a lot of industry know-how.
If you do plan to make the business case for corporate aviation to the senior executive decision makers and/or begin promoting the use of your corporate flight department, you will need to create a marketing action plan.
Here are 5 tips to market the corporate flight department to executive travelers:
1. Get Buy-in from the Boss
Before you even begin to think about this, let me first say that you must never, ever, go down the path of promoting the use of the corporate aircraft without the express consent and endorsement of your reporting executive as well as the CEO or chairman.
Doing so, without senior executive support, is political suicide. In most cases, a corporate aircraft is used at the discretion of senior leaders. Quite often, there comes a time when the executives might ask you to increase the flight hours or ‘enhance utilization.’ Then, by all means, you should proceed.
2. Do Your Research
Before you can help your corporate flight department market its services, the first (and probably most critical) step is to thoroughly do your research. You must understand the strategic and tactical direction of each of your company’s business units that you might serve in an ‘enhanced utilization’ capacity.
OK, so how is that accomplished? As mentioned above in step one, you must be totally aligned with your reporting executive, to ensure that the business aviation marketing initiative is consistent with the executive group’s thinking. Once you receive the’green light,’ consider the following action plan:
a. Study Your Company
At this stage, it’s your job to perform due diligence and learn as much as possible about the industry your firm serves, its clients, its product development initiatives and seasonality considerations. You will need to know your company before you can realistically determine how to support the future needs of your firm’s key corporate travelers.
The early phase starts with ‘desktop research.’ This means reading and assimilating all of your firm’s relevant public documents and presentations. If your company is publicly traded in the U.S., I suggest downloading the latest Form 10K and Form 10Q documents,which are annual and quarterly filings required by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.
Second, peruse your corporate website and the latest marketing materials (e.g., white papers, sales sheets, on-demand webinar content, etc.). Find out what external marketing and sales messages are important. Determine what products are being promoted. What events are your leaders attending? What are customers saying about you in the testimonial section?
Then, dig even deeper. Perhaps your HR department offers an online ‘university’ onboarding course for new hires that you can attend. Also, look on YouTube or your Intranet for videos that share the ‘about us’ story of the company. You’ll likely see content from your existing (or future) target audience.
b. Understand Your Potential Customers
In addition to serving senior leadership (e.g., chairman, CEO, president and board members), your potential internal customers might include the senior sales team, real estate developers, senior financial officers, talent scouts, etc. Literally every client of Gray Stone Advisors has different aircraft use policies and different internal customers. What is your current aircraft utilization policy and how might it be subject to change to enhance sales, operations, marketing, etc.?
To really know your existing and future travelers, make it a priority to learn their ‘world’ inside and out. It’s your job to completely understand how you might be able to help them benefit by using the aircraft to meet their objectives. Remember, “It’s all about them!”
c. Get Strategically Creative
Once you’ve amassed a solid base of knowledge about your prospective travelers, the next step is to develop realistic ways to help them solve their specific, most troubling issues that relate to travel, inter-personal communication and connection. Find ways to help them understand that their investment in business aviation can add significant, quantifiable value to their business. Without a doubt, operating business aircraft requires a considerable expenditure of resources. With that level of investment, business leaders need to have a rock-solid understanding of how it’s going to create a positive return for them and the host corporation.The use of business aviation must help them enhance their bottom line contribution to the corporation.
Corporate traveler supporters of business aviation need to be confident that their investment will generate a very significant return downstream. And we’re not thinking of it in terms of offsetting what they would otherwise invest in airline fares or hotel room charges. Rather, you show them models for enhanced revenue and gross margins for each of their business units so that they become candidates for using the firm’s business aviation assets. Remember, of course, that TIME (yours and theirs) is the ONLY non-renewable resource!
3. Interview Your Internal Customers
After completing your initial research, schedule discussions with your existing and prospective customers, based on their business unit’s performance objectives. The goal of these meetings is to better understand their business and how the enhanced use of business aviation will create significant incremental value within each division. Of course, you will (hopefully) already have learned much of what they will tell you. Your prior research will provide a solid foundation for insightful discussions. And,you will less likely be overwhelmed by them.
Keep in mind that you can’t create an effective marketing and communications plan without getting input from as many of the ‘targeted’ business units as possible. It’s important to gather feedback from every relevant department in your company including,executive leadership; finance and accounting; manufacturing; human resources; supply chain; and, of course, the marketing department. This step is especially important because you are aligning aviation with every facet of your company.
Before each interview, craft an agenda that includes a sharply focused outline. This will guide the discussions with each of the key business unit leaders, key stakeholders and those with important perspectives of the business’s direction.
Be sure that YOU have answered these 10 questions BEFORE speaking with your prospective new users:
- What is the mission for business aviation within the host corporation? What are business aviation’s performance goals?
- Where are your firm’s business locations?
- How many employees and executives does your flight operation serve now? Who are the ‘authorized’as well as the ‘actual’ users?
- Which business units are prime for enhanced utilization?
- Is the use of business aviation assets allocated to the various business units and, if so, at what rate?
- What is business aviation’s perceived value proposition by current and prospective users?
- What are the recurring internal and external customer(traveler) issues not presently being met by business aviation?
- From your perspective?
- From the perspective of the present user base?
- From the perspective of your potential user base?
- Does the aircraft cabin technology match or exceed that of the principal travelers’ offices?
- Are there opportunities to more broadly serve the existing customer base?
- What is the key messaging that will resonate with your current and targeted ‘internal customers’?
4. Craft a Marketing Action Plan
Once you’ve laid the foundation by following the steps above, you’ll be ready to craft your marketing action plan to share with your reporting executive and senior leaders.
There are many generic marketing templates available on the Web, and the Gray Stone team has a custom aviation template that has been useful during similar consulting engagements with our clients (just send us an email if you’d like our assistance).
Using your research, you’ll be able to identify how your prospective travelers can realize incremental value through the enhanced use of business aviation assets. Defining and quantifying this incremental value constitutes the centerpiece of your marketing plan.
5. Communicate the Plan
Communicating the plan is the last step in the process. This is when you present your findings and strategic direction to the senior executive team. We recommend a summary overview be prepared in a PowerPoint presentation, followed by an executive summary of your marketing plan with just the key details.
Remember, though, that in order to make an effective impression on your corporate senior executive team, your marketing messaging must be crisp, concise and clean. If it’s too conceptual and broad, requiring your target audience to have to work too hard to develop specific solutions, then it will fail.
The goal of a marketing plan is not to merely focus upon the justification for business aviation. Instead, you need to address specific issues facing your senior executives today and provide solutions. The marketing and communication pieces that you develop need to reflect your deep, visceral understanding of their challenges and the value they’ll be able to reap by employing business aviation to a greater extent than they do today.
Have you been asked to promote the use of corporate aircraft within your company? Is it part of your role to justify the value of aviation to the organization? If so, what advice do you have for others heading down this path? Feel free to list your marketing successes or suggestions in the comments section below.