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Brand Advertising versus Direct Response Advertising

Brand advertising versus direct response advertising“So, what’s wrong with building your brand? You have to get your name out there, you know. Not every interaction should be a sales pitch.”  A very smart advertising salesperson wrote in response to yesterday’s podcast on advertising.

“True, but every ADVERTISING dollar you spend should have a CALL TO ACTION associated with it!” I replied. “And a great offer doesn’t have to be a sales pitch.  It can be a free buyer’s guide, or a tutorial or tip sheet that your customers would love. By providing an invitation for the customer to respond,  a direct response ad is an interaction rather than a one-way broadcast.”

I know why advertising salespeople are opposed to this.  It makes every ad they sell look like a failure if it didn’t directly lead to sales.

And most people hold their advertising to unrealistic standards – it’s true that many ads don’t have a direct, profitable short-term return on investment. That doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re failures.

One person found out about us when they saw an ad for our Marketing Master Class three months ago, and later bought a Marketing Flight Plan. This one transaction more than paid for the cost of the ad, which, until a week before I would have classified as a “poor performer.”  Sometimes we need to lengthen the timespan and/or expand our “success criteria” for an ad.

So, just because things are difficult to measure doesn’t mean that it’s not worth the effort to collect and analyze as much data as you possibly can.

But, I digress.

Brand Advertising is what they teach in most university programs. And it’s wrong.

Brand advertising is what Don Draper does on Mad Men.

And it can be great for certain consumer products.  But it’s completely unsuited to the aviation industry.

Most people, when they took a marketing class in college, learned about “brand advertising.”  They learn about saturating a market with your logo, colors, fonts, and symbols. They grew up in a world with Coke and Pepsi logos plastered on every available surface and shining from every sign and window.  They know how powerful a visual brand is, and they think that the highest and best purpose of advertising is to promote the brand.

And that’s fine, if you’re Coke or Pepsi.

But, in the aviation industry, we have a few minor differences:

  • Everyone is a prospect for Coke and Pepsi.  Very few people are prospects for a G IV completion, or a B737 type rating.
  • Coke and Pepsi have a very low cost product with very high margins. They can devote 67% of their revenue toward advertising. Most of the rest of us have thinner margins and can’t invest that much in advertising.
  • Coke and Pepsi are practically interchangeable and require very little education to buy.   Most of our products are very specialized and require a lot of education to make a purchase decision.

So, why is direct advertising preferable to brand advertising for aviation companies?

  • Because people are busy and distracted and will forget about our product or service if we don’t ask them to respond to an ad immediately.
  • Because requiring a response gives us an opportunity to track the effectiveness of each ad. (Imperfectly, but imperfect data is better than no data!)
  • Because we can’t afford to blanket the world with advertising, and need to make each ad accountable for as much revenue as we can.

But what about brand building? Isn’t that important?

Of course – but conveniently, the best way to build your brand in the aviation industry is to sell more products.

Your customers become your very best brand advocates and sales team!

Which is why we recommend plastering your brand (and that shiny logo you’ve been dying to use)  to your heart’s content on Phase III marketing activities, including new customer welcome packages, referral and renewal campaigns, and so on.

So, done correctly, a direct response advertisement with a compelling offer (or “call to action,” as marketing nerds call it) can be a better tool for building your brand than those glossy, artsy ads that leave you wondering what exactly it is that they sell.


If The Purpose of Your Ad is to “Get Your Name Out There,” Don’t Waste Your Money!

“I was kind of upset. We had run the ad for three months straight, and received no inquiries.  But, as the ad salesman said, the real purpose is really to ‘get our name out there.'”

Um, no.

To “get your name out there” is a fine objective if you’re Coca Cola or Boeing or GE.

For the rest of us, we require better performance from our marketing dollars.

“But shouldn’t we be copying the methods of big, successful companies? After all, that’s who they mention in the marketing textbooks.”

Um, no again.

A big, important brand with a great reputation is earned, not bought.

Those big companies have been doing business with hundreds of thousands of people for decades. The vast majority of those associations have been positive. So when people hear about those brands, they associate the familiar name and logo with those positive associations.

We are teaching our Branding and Consistency Workshop again this year, and it’s a great program.   We like making small companies look like large ones, and we can help protect your investment by making sure your brand is recognized for the good it does. (NOT by just “getting your name out there!”)

But great design, fonts and colors can only go so far, so consider this article a HUGE caveat.

Even the biggest, most reputable brands can lose all of their value overnight with a bad association.


The oil company Exxon had a huge marketing and PR budget, with signs along every major freeway and sponsorships of many worthy projects.  All that was eclipsed for years – people that remember the  1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill STILL feel a twinge when they hear the name. They are making a remarkable comeback, but it’s a great illustration of how a brand that’s a household word can lose its luster.

Wikipedia lists 12 major brands that collapsed irretrievably since 2008, including these:

150px-AIG_logo.svg 200px-Nortel.svg 250px-Lehman_Brothers.svg

In the aviation industry, we have ValuJet Airlines.


Flight 592 was a DC9-35 on a domestic passenger flight between Miami International Airport, Miami, Florida, and William B. Hartsfield Atlanta International Airport, Atlanta, Georgia that crashed into the Everglades on May 11, 1996 as a result of a fire in the cargo compartment caused by improperly stored cargo, killing all 110 people on board.

Does the color of their logo affect your opinion of their brand?

I didn’t think so.

Spending more resources on responsible advertising, great customer experience, safety, and a great product will do more for your brand than the choosing the right color for your logo ever could.

(And yet many companies spend more time obsessing over this detail!)

The amount of money spent is certainly not a guarantee of great brand-building. Nor is a catchy slogan, a stylish logo, or the correct colors or fonts used in your marketing materials.

Those things only have value with people who already find them familiar, and have positive associations with the brand. People who know, like and trust you, and see your branded materials  often on your billing statements or customer service communications build these associations.

As newer or smaller companies, have to earn credibility for our brand.

We build our brand every time we answer the phone, send a letter, acquire a new customer, or solve a problem.  The more consistently positive we can make these interactions, the better.

So, what good is advertising?

Every advertising and prospecting campaign (not every advertisement) should be expected to generate a positive return on investment.

Every advertising and prospecting campaign should be complete (See Anatomy of a Successful Marketing Campaign in Aviation with an appropriate list, offer, and presentation;  and should have measurable objectives that take into account the total cost to acquire a new customer, the expected lifetime value of a customer.

There are no “mulligans,” no throwaway ads to just “get the name out there,” etc.   We call those things “random acts of marketing.”

A very common mistake (made by a large number of businesses) is to run an ad once, get unsatisfactory results, and stop using that ad, or that medium altogether.  Why is this a  mistake?

Because very few aviation customers respond to the first ad, postcard, or email they see.

We plan each campaign to have a minimum of three components (or ads) sent to the same list, preferably using different media.  (Such as a magazine ad, followed by a postcard, followed by an email, followed by another postcard.) All with the same offer or call to action.  (And we usually start with a low-cost, low-risk offer for our first campaign with a new list of prospects.)

What we may find is that the last postcard redeems the cost of the whole campaign.

Does this mean the other ads were wasted?

Not at all – it just means that an in-depth, organized campaign was required to capture sufficient attention and build the credibility required to motivate the prospect to click, call, write or do whatever it is we asked him to do.

So, in answer to the question (couldn’t we just send the LAST postcard?  The one that worked?)  The answer is, unfortunately, no.

We can’t we just send the last postcard and save the time and expense of all those other steps.

There is no “easy button.”

On the good side, if marketing were easy, everyone would be doing it well. Including your competition!

Product Packaging – Presenting Your Product to a New Customer

Whether you sell service packages, charter flights, insurance, software, or books; the way you package and deliver your product is important for several reasons:

  1. You want your customer to feel sure that he’s made an excellent investment.
  2. You want to make sure he has everything he needs to use your product right away.
  3. You want to answer any questions your new customer is most likely to have without calling your office.

We will go into much more detail about these and other examples in our Aviation Marketing Master Class on Wednesday, February 19 (mark your calendar for 1:00 MST if you haven’t already!)

But here is an excerpt. As you review these examples, a few factors to keep in mind:

  • Customers are most likely to talk about your product or service to their friends and colleagues in the first few days and weeks after a purchase.
  • Customers that start using a product immediately are less likely to return it than those who set it aside for later.
  • Customers do what’s easy and fun.  If a product seems too difficult or time-consuming to use, they are less likely to be satisfied and more likely to complain or return it.
  • The package and its contents need to be in proportion to the size of the purchase.
  • Someone buying a Gulfstream 650 business jet is going to expect nothing but the highest-quality products, and anything that looks “cheap” is inconsistent with the experience.
  • A customer who purchases a less expensive product may not expect gold-plated accessories; but does expect and appreciate thoughtful packaging that anticipates their needs and answers questions.
  • Consumers in the aviation industry have a higher-than-average expectation of quality and service, including product packaging and presentation.

Some of the best examples of product packaging that most of us are familiar with come from Apple and Harley Davidson products – those two companies seem to put as much time and thought into packaging design as they do into the design of their products.

Here are three excellent examples in the aviation industry.

Example – New Piston Aircraft

John has purchased two Cessna 172s in different years. The Cessna company has an excellent customer purchase experience that includes several factors:

  • A factory tour
  • A series of courses and flights with a Cessna CFI
  • An acceptance flight with a Cessna Test Pilot
  • “Baby pictures” of the new airplane with the proud owner
  • A package of accessories and documentation, including the required manuals, cleaning products, flashlights, a multifunction key ring. (All very high-quality products with Cessna logos prominently displayed.)
  • A Customer Care card with contact information.

product packaging - airplane

Example- Avionics Package

The  Garmin G1000 system included with the aircraft had a separate product package, which included:

  • A full-day course (hosted at the Cessna facility in Wichita)
  • Course materials (Very well-written, full color materials with lots of screen shots)
  • A nylon flight bag with the G1000 logo
  • A chambray shirt with the Garmin logo.
  • A starter data plan from Jeppesen (The avionics only function with a software subscription, the starter subscription is a  great co-marketing item that has the benefit to the customer of being able to use the avionics package immediately; and the advantage to Jeppesen of pre-selling its software subscriptions.)

product packaging - avionics

Example – Flight Training Program

This example is a bit dated, but when I began flight training I received an excellent package from the flight school.  Many flight schools have thin margins, so while the expectations for “goodies” can be lower,  the  materials should include excellent, thoughtful information. This is a place where you can differentiate between a competing flight school!

This package included:

  • A kneeboard with an E6-B, worksheets, and sectional maps
  • Text books, log book, and a FAR AIM (no longer produced in print)
  • An inexpensive flight bag.

product packaging - flight school

One of our client flight schools that caters to career-minded students also includes:

  • Shirt with first-officer insignia
  • Photo in uniform
  • Resume assistance package
  • Video of recorded mock job First Officer job interview
    (recorded during training session with the client.)

Inexpensive, But Thoughtful –
The Radio Worksheet

Some of the most effective elements in product packaging aren’t expensive, but thoughtful of the needs of a customer

One of our favorite items in this package is a “radio communications worksheet” – a simple, photocopied half-sheet of paper.

While this one was designed for new flight students to help them structure their radio calls,  any business based at an airport could produce these printed worksheets very inexpensively.  Pilots will find the frequencies, readback conventions and other helpful notes handy.

These could be improved for marketing purposes by including a logo and contact information for the local FBO, restaurant or other airport-based business.

product packaging - Radio sheet

Other Product Packaging Ideas

Aircraft Repair or Detailing –

Provide a small kit of cleaning supplies, bottle of glass cleaner printed with your logo, floor mat with your logo, etc.

Charter Service –

Luxury charter- luxury snacks or candy, flowers, champagne

International charter– socks, eye masks, small bottles of moisturizer, etc.

Local or recreational short-haul charter – bottled water, snack bags, area guides

Insurance or Legal Services –

Office products, such as mousepads, tear-off memo pads, calendars (with stunning aviation photography, of course!) pens, flash drives.

Need some assistance putting together a thoughtful presentation package that makes new customers excited about their new purchase?

Schedule some time on our calendar and let’s talk about how ABCI can help.

ABCI Can Help YOUR Company. Find out How!

Find 30 Minutes on Our Calendar and Let’s Find Out!

Four Things to Consider when Choosing a Marketing Company

If you're in the aviation industry, there are many factors to consider when you're choosing a marketing company to help you sell more products or services.

Product Packaging – “What’s In the Box?”

Whether your product is an actual, physical object, or a service, or a set of services (like our consulting services,  or our Marketing Master Class)  unpacking the boxit’s important to understand that your customer wants to know EXACTLY what they’re getting before they part with their cash.

That’s only fair, right?

We like to create a welcome package for every product or service, and an “unpacking the box” video that shows exactly what comes with the product or service they’ve purchased, and how to use it.

We put together this short (8 minute) video to show prospective and current Master Class Silver Level members what to expect in the mail in January.

If you’re interested in the Master Class, we’ll be talking in February about attractive packaging for your products and services; and if you join before January 31, 2014 you receive the free storage binder and other goodies you see in the video.

Join here:


If you’re interested in talking with us about producing a welcome package or a video for your product or service soon, click here to find an open time on our calendar and let’s talk!

Four Great Holiday Campaigns for Aviation Companies – And One Bad One

Long before Thanksgiving, we start seeing and hearing holiday-related advertisements.  Smart sales and marketing professionals start thinking of ideas for effective holiday campaigns for aviation companies.

holiday campaigns for aviation companies

This vintage postcard (circa 1917) shows that the connection between aviation and the holidays is not a new thing!

Some of our clients are somewhat resistant to “jump on the bandwagon,” thinking that holiday promotions are not appropriate to their product or service.  You don’t have to be in the greeting card or candy cane industry to run an effective holiday campaign.  Here are four examples to consider.  With an open mind and a bit of creativity, even the most hard-core, Business to Business aviation company can run an effective holiday campaign. In fact, the more unexpected and unconventional, the more effective it can be, simply because it gets people talking!

Campaign #1 – “Home for the Holidays”

Who can use it – aircraft maintenance companies, detailers, avionics installers, interiors, completions

Why it’s effective – Flight departments often become less busy during December and January. Workers take time off or telecommute during the holidays, rather than jumping on planes to go to meetings do other work that requires physical presence.  You can take advantage of this slowdown by providing services while the airplane is not needed.

Sample Headlines/Offers

  • Is Your Plane Staying Home for the Holidays?
  • Get the parts for your airplane projects, so you’ll be ready when it has a chance to stand still.
  • Get new avionics installed before January 15 and we will include (additional services.)
  • Give your plane’s interior a new look for the holidays . . .

Campaign #2  – Holiday Charter Package

Who can use it – Charter Carriers, Part 121 carriers, etc.

Why it’s effective – Everyone is looking for great experiences with their families or teams over the holidays.  Even if your company specializes in business travel charter, you may be able to acquire some consumer contracts this way. Added bonus – if you do this successfully once, you can market to the same folks the following year as people like to establish holiday traditions.  This is a good one for direct mail – The Postal Service has an Every Door Direct Mail service by which you can target the most affluent zip codes (and sub-zip codes) in your service area.

Sample Headlines/Offers –

  • The Holidays are for Family and Friends! There’s nothing like being there in person.
  • Take your family to (destination) for the holidays!  We’ll arrange everything. (Ground transportation, lodging, etc.)
  • Christmas Lights Tours – Including limousine, roses, and dinner!

Campaign #3 – New Year, New Regulations Campaign

Who can use it – Compliance Consultants, Software providers, etc.

Why it’s effective – Changes in FAA, TSA, EPA, EU, and other laws often go into effect in January.  Since flight departments often feel pressure to make changes in December to be in compliance, this is a great time to offer your  assistance.

Sample Headlines/Offers

  • Chief Pilots – Are you ready for FAR Part 117?  Get your flight duty programs in compliance now  so you can enjoy the holidays with less (crew) fatigue. http://www.faa.gov/about/office_org/headquarters_offices/agc/pol_adjudication/agc200/Part117/
  • Airports in Europe -Will You Be EU Regulation Compliant?   –  Phase 1 will enter into force on 31 January 2014 at the latest and will make it mandatory for airports to screen with special liquid explosive detection equipment at least LAGs  (Liquids, Aerosols and Gels) in STEBs (security tamper evident bags) http://ec.europa.eu/transport/modes/air/security/aviation-security-policy/lags_en.htm

Campaign #4 – Get a Jump on 2014

Who can use it – Consultants, legal and tax professionals, anyone that sells a product or service that solves a problem or helps an aviation company make more money.

Why it’s effective – Aviation companies, like everyone else, are going over their sales figures for 2013 and doing strategic planning to make improvements in 2014.

Sample Headlines/Offers

  • Make 2014 your Most Profitable Year Ever By <<Insert Specific Benefit Statement Here.>>

Any of the above campaigns can be successful, provided they are structured in an appropriate way, with the three mandatory elements in place:

  • A great list of recipients
  • An attractive offer tailored for those recipients
  • An effective presentation (We usually recommend a multi-part campaign, such as a mailer, followed by emails, social media mentions, a website landing page, and phone calls.)

One Bad Campaign – Hijacking Your Holiday Cards

Interjecting an opinion here.

While we strongly believe that sales and marketing campaigns are a GOOD thing, (There is nothing wrong with politely and enthusiastically asking people for their business) there is an appropriate time and place for it. We also believe that it’s become an accepted (and fun) tradition to use holiday themes in marketing campaigns.


Holiday cards are not the time and place.

Sending a card of thanks, appreciation, and good wishes during the holiday season is a tradition among civilized people all over the world, for whatever holidays they celebrate.

Sending any kind of marketing message in the process is likely to be perceived as insincere and manipulative.

Holiday cards can be as politically correct or incorrect as you like, (i.e. the ongoing battle of Christmas Cards versus Holiday Cards, which we won’t jump into here. )  As long as your holiday cards are expressing a sincere and thoughtful appreciation for the relationship and warm wishes for your clients and their teams and families, they will be well received. Be as creative, fun or traditional as you like – sincerity and authenticity trumps everything else in this department.

We recently had an aviation professional ask us how to measure ROI (return on investment) on holiday cards, because his company was reluctant to spend the money on them.

Seriously? Yes, seriously!

We recommended that if his company truly refused to send holiday cards to its existing customers without demanding a return on investment, that our friend (the aviation professional) do two things:

  • Spend his own money to send cards to valued contacts who have done business with him this year.
  • Look for another job.

A company that will make no investment in its relationships with customers and comply with accepted social norms is either in profound financial trouble or has truly lost its soul and will probably not be around long.

Agree? Disagree?  Feel free to comment!

Three Marketing Horror Stories

marketing horror storiesHalloween is a time when we scare ourselves for fun. It seems an appropriate time for marketing horror stories.

One of our neighbors turns his front yard into an amazing  musical graveyard full of special effects. I think he spends the rest of the year planning and building things that will scare the jeebers out of the neighborhood kids. Well, everybody needs a hobby!

The government shutdown, the economic situation, and aviation regulations and tax implications are all frightening enough without any embellishment.  Many of the things that scare us are outside of our control. But here are four things that should scare you. And these are things that you can and should do something about!

Marketing Horror Story #1 – Dependency on One Large Client or Client Type

The scariest number in any business is the number one.

Pilots love redundant systems –  All pilots associated with  our companies eat two different lunches when we’re on the road. (Speaking of horror stories – John and I carelessly both ate hamburgers at a hangar cookout in Farmington New Mexico – we were looking for the nearest airport soon after takeoff.) We have two radios, two sets of instruments (the sixpack is the backup for the glass panel, looking out the window is the backup for the sixpack, etc.)   We like having at least two of everything. Options can save your life!

If the life of your company depends on just one of anything  (all of your business from one client, all of your talent from one employee, all of your data on one hard drive) you should be staying up nights in a cold sweat until you get that fixed.

The most obvious example that comes to mind is an aviation company that does the vast majority of its business with the U.S. Postal Service. Being astute business people, of course they’re expanding their product offerings and researching marketing opportunities to reach out to a diverse group of civilian organizations and corporations.

We’re picking on the government here, but if most of your revenue comes from just one client, or if most of your clients come from ANY one narrow sector of the economy, you should be scared.

Marketing Horror Story #2 – Being the Low Cost Option In Your Market

Wal-Mart positions itself as the low-cost leader in the retail industry.  There are aviation companies that pride themselves on being the low-cost provider of a product or service.   We think this is a scary place to be.

Low cost equals low margins. Low margins equal risk.

You can’t afford to attract and keep the best people. You can’t afford to provide the best service. You can’t afford the sales and marketing process to have a reliable flow of new customers.  You can’t afford to upgrade to new technology that your competitors adopt.  That latest technology that your competitor invests in might just be something that revolutionizes the industry and allows them to provide their product or service at a lower cost than you can.

Their investment could put you out of business.

Customers who buy from you because of price are by nature more cost-sensitive, and easily leave you for a competitor because of price.

Better unique selling propositions (USP) to aspire to are those that inspire loyalty from your employees and customers.

Strive to be one or more of the following:

  • The highest-performance provider (by some meaningful metric.)
  • The over-the-top luxury service provider.
  • The custom solution provider.
  • The safest or most reliable product or service provider.

Customers who buy from you for any of the reasons above are more likely to stick with you even if you charge more, and even if your competition offers them a better deal on price.

Marketing Horror Story #3 Empty Spots In your Sales Pipeline.

Or (Gasp!) No Documented Sales Pipeline At All!

A functioning marketing system includes a pipeline of prospects in your sales process. It takes many aviation companies months to acquire a new customer. (This is the time that passes between the first contact with an ad or a trade show, through the time it takes the prospect to do the research, get consensus among the decision makers at his company, get the budget approved, and execute a contract.)

If you know the statistics of how many people from each stage in your marketing system proceed to the next stage, and how long it typically takes, you know how many new customers you will have six months or one year from now.

If you don’t know this, you should be very scared.

If you HAVE a reliable sales pipeline but see a dramatic drop at any point along the way, this is not quite so alarming because you have some time to make adjustments and corrections.

marketing horror stories - sales pipeline

Click to Enlarge

If any of these three marketing horror stories rings a bell, find some time to talk with us as soon as possible.
th Improving the Profitability of the Aviation Industry, One Company at a Time

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Why Aviation Companies Need to Tell Great Stories

Nobody cares about your sales and  marketing objectives, but everyone loves great stories!

Nobody cares about your sales and marketing objectives, but everyone loves a great story!

Will Rogers once said something like this –  “It’s hard not to like a man once you know his story.”

Frankly, nobody cares about your marketing goals, and very few people are probably passionate about the product or service you offer.  But everybody loves a great story.

Businesses that tell great stories get great press, get people talking about them, and make more sales. When you think about companies with great stories, you might think about Harley Davidson, Wells Fargo, and Franklin Covey.

Harley Davidson has consumers so passionate they have the Harley logo tattoos. People strongly identify with its comeback story, and its cultural message and they want to be part of the “tribe.”  Wells Fargo sends its stagecoach to parades and events to remind people of its long history of supporting Westward Expansion and the gold rush with its commitment to customer service and the security of its customers’ assets.

Speaking of great stories, do you know where the term “riding shotgun” came from?

When my brother and I were kids, we each hurried to call “shotgun” to claim our turn in the front seat of the car.

Neither of us knew at the time (but I later learned when I worked for Wells Fargo)  that the term came from the “shotgun messenger” who sat next to the driver in the front of a Wells Fargo Stagecoach. The “shotgun messenger” was responsible for quick pickups and deliveries, as well as security of the stagecoach while it was on the road.  Needless to say, a loaded shotgun was necessary equipment in the Wild West.

Anyone who has ever carried a Franklin Planner (and there are lots of us out there, though most of us have switched to iPads) has doubtless heard the story of Benjamin Franklin’s obsessive use of little notebooks in a quest for personal effectiveness and self-improvement.

Southwest Airlines even turned its origin story into a children’s book:

Some of the incumbent airlines of the time (Braniff, Aloha Airlines, United Airlines, Trans-Texas, and Continental Airlines) initiated legal action, and thus began a three-year legal battle to keep Air Southwest on the ground. Air Southwest eventually prevailed in the Texas Supreme Court, which ultimately upheld Air Southwest’s right to fly in Texas. The decision became final on December 7, 1970, when the U.S. Supreme Court declined to review the case without comment.

The story of Southwest’s legal fight was turned into a children’s book, Gumwrappers and Goggles by Winifred Barnum in 1983. In the story, TJ Love, a small jet, is taken to court by two larger jets to keep him from their hangar, and then to try and stop him from flying at all. Taken to court, TJ Love’s right to fly is upheld after an impassioned plea from The Lawyer. While no company names are mentioned in the book, TJ Love’s colors are those of Southwest Airlines, and the two other jets are colored in Braniff and Continental’s colors. The Lawyer is designed to resemble Herb Kelleher. The book was adapted into a stage musical, Show Your Spirit, sponsored by Southwest Airlines, and played only in towns serviced by the airline.

The History of Southwest Airlines, AvStop.com

At ABCI, our mission is to improve the profitability of the business aviation industry one company at a time. 

Great storytelling is a big part of that mission.

Here’s a negative example of how powerful a story can be:

Part of the reason private aviation has been so vilified in the press is because “the other side” has done a better job of storytelling.  Brian Ross’ 2008 story on ABC News’ Good Morning America about  the Big Three automakers arriving in separate private jets  (plus the spin from other news outlets and even lawmakers) did so much damage to the image of private aviation that five years later businesses are still feeling the need to justify their use of private aviation as a business tool.

NBAA, to its great credit, has taken on the challenge of telling the stories of business aviation customers and operators in part with its No Plane No Gain initiative, but it’s really up to each individual company to tell its own story.

There is understandable resistance to this idea – it takes a lot of courage to speak out in a traditionally conservative industry. Many of our clients and their clients are reluctant to reveal much about themselves in a sometimes hostile media environment.  But it’s up to CEOs and business owners to tell the stories of their businesses, products, services and people with passion,  authority and courage.

Here are some great examples of success stories from the business aviation field:

Eaton’s Aerospace Group Wins, Supports and Wins Again  – This Story about Eaton’s development of a HPGS (Hydraulic Power Generation System) for the  LearJet 85.  We like the way this story is told and structured – Background, Challenges, Solution, and Result – this is a great structure for any case study or story.

Gulfstream IV SP Aircraft Renovation – Before and After  – This is the story of a problem solved by Dallas Jet International (DJI) founder and CEO Brad Harris in which an airplane given a new life with out-of-the-box thinking and great partnerships.  This story includes before and after photographs – a dramatic transformation is always a powerful element in great storytelling. (Think of all the rags-to-riches stories you’ve heard!)

Passing it On – This is a story written by Special Service Corporation (SSC) Chief Pilot Eric Groves about his experience watching his son grow up and follow in his footsteps, leading up to Jonathan Groves’ first solo at the age of 16.  This has all of the elements of great storytelling – the story and pictures make us identify strongly as pilots worried about the future of the industry, and as parents who care deeply about our kids.

Disclaimer – SSC and DJI are  ABCI clients.  Of course we have an interest in promoting their stories!

Here are three questions that will help with writing, improving, and communicating great stories about your business:

  1. What is your “origin story?” Why was your company founded? What was the need they filled?  What is your own “origin story” with your current business?  What attracted you to your current position and what did you hope to achieve?
  2. What problems have you solved for customers? Who are your company’s oldest customers? How has their business improved in the time they’ve been associated with you?
  3. What is the key difference between your company and your competitors?  Why do you do things differently? How has that made a difference for a customer?

In any political campaign it becomes obvious that the party that “controls the narrative” (tells their side of the story best) wins.  The same is often true of companies competing for business.  All other things being equal, (and sometimes not even close to equal) we spend our money, our time, and want to be associated with the companies that tell the best stories.

There is a Native American proverb that says “Those who tell the stories rule the world.”

Need some assistance getting your stories told?  Find some time on my calendar and let’s talk about your objectives and how ABCI can help!

More resources on becoming a better storyteller:


Image credit – http://occupations.phillipmartin.info/occupations_story_teller.htm

Links to Visit

Storytelling in the boardroom http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/powerpoint-help/storytelling-in-the-boardroom-introduction-HA102516811.aspx
Juice Analytics Data Storytelling http://www.juiceanalytics.com/writing/30-days-to-data-storytelling
Pixar’s 22 rules to phenomenal storytelling http://www.slideshare.net/powerfulpoint/pixar-22rulestophenomenalstorytellingpowerfulpointslideshare
Powerpointninja.com http://www.powerpointninja.com/
visual.ly http://visual.ly
flowingdata.com http://flowingdata.com


Books to Read

Made to Stick (Chip & Dan Heath)

Resonate (Nancy Duarte)

WSJ Guide to Information Graphics (Dona Wong)

Show Me the Numbers

PResentation Zen Design (Garr Reynolds)

Brain Rules (John Medina)

The Back of the Napkin (Dan Roam)


Videos to watch

Telling Compelling stories with Numbers: Data Visualization (Stephen Few)

The Joy of Statistics (BBC)

Persuasion and the Power of Story (Jennifer Aaker)

Digital Marketing Analytics (Adobe Systems)


Avoiding Bad Publicity Slip-Ups

Bad publicity is just that – bad. In a painfully embarrassing slip up this week, Bay Area news station KTVU, which  reported that the pilots of Asiana’s disastrous flight 214 included fictitious names that we won’t bother to repeat here.   Worse, the NTSB has had to join KTVU in apologizing for the incident, since the agency had confirmed these names in response to an inquiry from the station via a “summer intern.

While most viewers instantly grasped that the list of names was a tasteless, racist joke, this is an example of marketing and public relations nightmare.

Every company (news outlet, regulatory agency, materials manufacturer, or any other type of concern that has to deal with some segment of the public) has to balance two considerations:

On one side, you have speed and efficiency.  This model  espouses that trusted employees are able to communicate with customers on the phone,  post to your blog and social media outlets, engage in sales, networking and public speaking.  They always represent your company in the best possible light and nothing is ever misstated or needs correction.

On the other side, you have processes that cover every possible contingency.  Nothing ever leaves the desk of an employee (or his lips at a networking event or over the telephone ) without having been thoroughly scripted, reviewed, scrubbed and polished.  This model requires that enough staff is available to ensure that three people review every document and teams rehearse every public statement.

Reality for most companies lie somewhere between the two.

Here are some lessons we take from this incident:

  • Errors  are going to happen. We have to hire good people, give them good guidelines, provide a reasonable review cycle for publicly-released information, (even if it’s informal)  and trust that most employees (and even interns) have the good sense and self-interest not to produce a statement like this for the sake of humor, or whatever they thought it was at the time.
  • A simple, quick review cycle is worth the time and hassle. Speaking of review cycles, make sure that everything that is published to more than three people (even if you wrote it yourself) gets read by at least one other person before you send it.  We even read each others’ important emails that are addressed to one person, depending on the complexity and importance.
  • Humor is sometimes misinterpreted.  We love a good joke as much as the next person. But when we edit our material or rehearse a sales presentation, we advise that “clear is better than clever” most of the time.
  • We communicate globally every day. Things we say in the regular course of business, especially online, are read globally. Our markets are international.  It is a good idea to run major advertisements, images and statements by representatives of several target groups.  Colors, symbols, and words can mean vastly different things to different audiences. (The cautionary tale in marketing textbooks – since proven untrue – is that Chevrolet tried to sell a car called a “Nova”  in Spanish speaking countries, not realizing the the name translated to “Doesn’t go!” Not a great endorsement for what was being sold as reliable transportation.)
  • When an error happens, apologize and move on.  Dwelling on it will only make the situation worse.  Obviously, KTVU, the NTSB  and Asiana Airlines have more important business on its plate than addressing this embarrassing slip up.  Our advice- (not that they’re asking) apologize quickly, make needed corrections,  and move on to the more important business at hand. As we learned from Paula Deen’s recent publicity snafus, the apologies tend to draw more criticism than the original event.  About some things, the less said, the better.

ABCI would like to add our sincere condolences to the families of those affected by the Asiana incident.  We trust that governing agencies as well as companies involved and affected will devote their attention to impartially investigating and effectively addressing the causes of the incident, and not be distracted by the public relations fiascoes like this one.

Excluding Customers You Don’t Want

On this blog, we spend most of our time talking about how to find and attract customers.

This week, we’re going to spend a few moments considering the customers we’d rather NOT attract.


Get out a piece of paper and write down three to five customers you could most easily live without.

You’re probably grinning while you’re doing this, (and perhaps should burn the list before you leave the office today)  but it’s really a worthwhile exercise consider this list, and determine what these customers have in common:

  • They may be a poor fit for your business model.
  • They may be asking you to make a lot of special modifications that your other customers don’t require.
  • They may need an unusual amount of training or customer service.
  • They may be grouchy, obnoxious or just plain unpleasant to deal with.
  • They may spend a lot of time negotiating a “better deal,” trying to get something for nothing.

For whatever reason, whether through fault of their own,  or just a because of a mismatch of business models or expectations, many of us find ourselves spending an inordinate amount of time trying to keep these people satisfied.

What role should your marketing play in DIScouraging customers that are not a good fit?

We had a discussion with other marketing companies at Infusionsoft University about this topic.  They called them “churners” and (rather accurately but uncharitably)  “leeches.”

It can be worth it to “fire” customers occasionally, but from a marketing perspective it’s best not to attract them in the first place.

You’ve probably already done the work of profiling your ideal customer, and you’ve carefully positioned your marketing to attract that person. Now take a moment and think of any sales and marketing messages designed to signal “churners and leeches need not apply.”

  • We tell people in our first conversations that “we are not the least expensive option for marketing. This discourages those who would rather get nine-dollar-a-month paint-by-numbers do-it-yourself website. That’s not our target market.
  • We also let people know that working with us will require a time commitment on their part, to ensure our efforts remain in sync with changing market dynamics and corporate direction, and to review drafts.
  • We tell people there is no “easy button.”   Great results require effort.

As a result, we lose a few prospects.

But typically, those are ones worth losing.

As a result, we have more time, energy, and enthusiasm for clients who ARE a great fit for our business model.

We have more fun and they make more money.

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