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Milton on my Mind

In 1982 I attended the Aspen International Design conference with a small cadre of WSU professors and students, and we all stayed in a big house. To my delight I arrived only to discover that one of my housemates was none other than the famous designer and my hero, Milton Glaser. For me it was like meeting John Lennon, or Frida Kahlo. WOW. My eyeballs about popped out of my head when I spotted this icon of design.  Of course, I’d studied his work throughout college, drooled over the infamous Bob Dylan album cover that defined the ’60s psychedelic art style, and had total admiration for this illustrator/designer/thinking man. Being the shy demure art student, I ended up sitting smack dab next to him at dinner. I wanted more insight into the man and he did not disappoint with his charisma and verbal dexterity. He could turn a phrase, help you see the truth, and share his passion. I was mesmerized by his stories about creating the “I heart New York” ad campaign, and never receiving one dime of profit. Can you imagine how much he would be worth if he had retained reproduction rights to the most famous, long-lived campaign of all time?

Form and Light

I recently returned from NYC and 40 years later his simple catchy heart mark still commands respect and remains mass produced in merchandize mecca. After having the documentary “Milton Glaser: To Inform and Delight” in my Netflix queue for almost two years, I was surprised to see it appear at our home directly upon my return from the city he loves so much. Talk about perfect timing. This film revisits my graphic design awakening with drawing, painting, logo, prints, posters and his editorial work creating New York magazine. While working in a wide range of design disciplines, Milton early on recognized the benefits of specialization. His vertical market was primarily the food industry. Ours: aviation.

Creating Something New

Milton believes in a small-studio atmosphere where he’s intimately involved in the day-to-day work, arriving at his office and working side by side with his small but powerful team. I understand his joy in the doing the work and share his philosophy. Nothing gives me more pleasure than practicing my trade, solving problems, and creating art and copy with a group of people I enjoy. Milton and I agree there’s nothing better than working in the community for the public good, creating ideas that last longer than you. His motto and mine: do good work.

And, by the way, my husband groaned when he pulled the film from the Netfix sleeve, but he was quickly drawn in and came away amazed by the impact Milton’s design continues to make on the world.

Just who do you think you’re talking to?

I’m always charmed by the enthusiastic, quasi-mass marketing of aircraft in the 1920s. If the manufacturers had had their way, the average family would have had a Travel Air or a Cessna or a Stearman tied down in the backyard just to keep up with the Joneses. Not all that wild a notion in the Wichita of the time, a city where you couldn’t swing a torque wrench without smacking a student pilot on his way to one of the dozen flight schools thriving here. And the schools probably had as much to do with the marketing enthusiasm as the OEMs. There’s no shortage of “Daring Young Men” pilot instruction ads from the period.

Marketing evolves with the product

This sunny optimism survived into the ’50s, with its futuristic dreams of a flying car in every drive. And I kind of miss it. (I always wondered, though, at the term “flying cars:” if it has wings and a propeller, even if it’s parked in your garage, isn’t it simply an airplane? Of course, anybody who makes cracks like that needs to be directed to Terrafugia’s Transition® with its trademark theme, Driven to Fly™. Well, hush my mouth.) Early on, though, our flying forebears had developed a down-to-earth and keen sense of competitive product difference. Jazz Age fliers were still iffy enough about monoplanes that the biplane clung to its market share. Power, speed and range were going to be the product discriminators for a long time before comfort entered the messaging. It would have taken some real advertising chutzpah to tout the comfort of flying in anything with an open cockpit. But marketing, like the machinery, quickly grew in sophistication.

Where’s the competition?

A day spent at the static exhibit at the upcoming NBAA convention will have your head spinning in vertical take-off mode. Not only will you get an eyeful of the dizzyingly competitive field of aircraft in the general aviation market, you’ll get the 50,000-foot view of the marketing and messaging challenge. All in one place. You can almost feel the OEMs jockeying for position at the starting post. (I can tell you that the monoplane is enjoying a healthy market share.) Cabin space, of course, can make the difference when power, speed and range are roughly equal. But those are all numbers. I like to think we’re still touching on the same childlike love of flight used as the appeal in those earlier, anything-is-possible days.

The Mobilization of Advertising

Ask on-the-go aviation professionals which media they spend the most time with, and it will likely be some form of a mobile device. News, flight planning, networking, weather updates, texting, ecommerce – and at the touch of a finger. Available regardless of when you check or where you are.

Tablets and smartphones are fueling the move to mobile. At ComScore’s last count, there were 234 million of us using mobile devices. Just in the U.S. Think about what that means to you. And your marketing. Millions of engagement opportunities. Millions of potential new customers.

Approach With Caution

Mobile’s ability to sell aviation products and services are obvious. It’s how best to navigate this still relatively new landscape. In considering how to leverage mobile, be upfront about what you don’t know and put mobile through your regular vetting process. Just because it’s hot, doesn’t mean it gets a free pass.

Part of the challenge of mobile stems from the sheer infiniteness of mobile communication. Android, iPhone, iPad, Xoom. Smartphones, PDAs, tablets. There’s no standardized means to create and implement ads across all these devices. And then there’s the ongoing measurement struggle. With still no industry-approved standardized means for tracking, how do you determine which mobile sites deliver the most bang for your advertising buck?

With $20 million in mobile advertising revenue worldwide predicted for 2015 (a huge jump from 2010’s $1.6 million), mobile will find its rightful place. Mahi de Silva, CEO of mobile-ad company Admarvel, said it best in a recent blog post: “What took 10 years to really refine on desktop, mobile is pulling together in a year.”

Find the Edge and Sharpen with Emotion

Marketing aircraft has been more and more a discipline of margins. Narrow margins. Close tolerances. Edges. Aircraft in their respective classes compete closely on speed, cost of operation, comfort and dependability. Claims like “superior” and “first” depend on how you scale the comparison. And in this, aviation advertising is like most other advertising of very-high-involvement purchase decisions for highly evolved products.

All things being equal (at least in the mind of the prospect) what’s going to include you in the purchase decision? The pressure’s on the promotion part of the marketing mix to find that edge. Messaging and positioning can provide it.

Setting Yourself Apart and Above the Competition

Here in the Air Capital of the World, our aircraft manufacturers have built more than 100 models and approximately 300,000 aircraft – from single-seat, open-cockpit biplanes flying at 3,500 feet to transatlantic jumbo jets that cruise at 39,000 feet and carry hundreds of passengers. Back in 1928 Wichita boasted 16 aircraft manufacturers. There are six here today: Airbus, Boeing, Bombardier Learjet, Cessna, Hawker Beechcraft, Spirit AeroSystems.

Airplane makers are as proud as manufacturers can be of a product, but they’re respectful of the competition. This makes it a decent and fun industry to work in and to promote. It also demands that the creative take the high road, or should I say the higher flight path? You don’t tear down the other guy. You focus on your strengths.

When looking for the edge that makes the difference, falling in love with the product is always a good start. As a marketer, align your heart with the passion the maker of the product feels. And put it out there.

There has to be an underlying business case for your product. That’s a given. But you have to take it further. Make your target markets feel your competitive advantages. To see themselves in that cockpit with their hands on those controls. Or using the cabin as an office in the sky – or quiet respite as they travel from one meeting to the next.

Some products are easier to love than others. Falling in love with airplanes? Impossible not to. Your job: make them love yours.

Think Connection on Social Media, Not Marketing

A remarkable number of companies really bugger up the fantastic opportunity that social media provides. It boils down to the same issue that most companies have with their website: It’s not about what you want to say, it’s about what people want to hear.

Here’s an example of what I mean. Billboard ads aren’t voluntary. If it’s on the side of the highway and you read it, that’s it. What has been seen cannot be unseen. The marketer wins.

If, however, your tweets are boring to me, I’ll simply choose not to follow you, and no matter what you may say after that, it’ll never fall upon my ears. This difference inherently places social media in a completely different category than traditional marketing — which means it must be approached completely differently.

Power to the Tweets

Social media isn’t a platform to dump information to the masses, as your exposure can drop to virtually nothing if your content isn’t interesting. Instead, it’s an interface to connect with people in ways that traditional marketing can’t touch.

Just a few days ago, the Wall Street Journal wrote an article about Bombardier’s groundbreaking, all-composite Learjet 85. A quick search for “Learjet” on Twitter shows at least a dozen references to that article specifically, some made by magazines, others by individuals. This is an opportunity for the company to step in and be part of the conversation. What had been just an article, now becomes an opportunity for dialogue.

Building Community on Facebook

Facebook, on the other hand, offers a completely different outlet. Company profiles on Facebook can create a complement to a website with a social spin. Photos are a huge part of this, provided the content is interesting and unique. Why not show pictures of a few newly painted aircraft? What about crowds visiting your booth at Oshkosh? Think of what would be interesting to people who are likely to land on your page.

Signature Flight Support uses Facebook (and Twitter) to provide news its customers can use – weather concerns, traffic issues, new locations, service specials, new team members, you name it. An FBO of the day feature helps people become more acquainted with the full network, including locations they haven’t visited before. Social media helps the world’s leading network of FBOs feel a bit more intimate. Approachable. An operation you’d want to do business with.

Quality Not Quantity

And that brings us to the final point. Who are you reaching? Ten years ago, you would target a demographic and hope the response was good. Now, you can use Twitter to find a demographic that is already interested, direct them to your Facebook page, and hook them with content. After all, you never know who might be tweeting today and shopping for a FBO or an aircraft tomorrow.