What Makes a Business Airport or FBO stand out from Competitors?



A reputation for excellent customer service and consistency in service delivery is what all business airports and FBOs strive for. Being situated in the right location is not enough to attract and retain customers. In a lot of instances it breeds complacency, and service delivery is not on a par with what is often a higher price for “convenience”.

Private jet crew and operators need to deliver a high quality service and get value for money. Their reputations rely on choices they make to manage the needs and expectations of their principal. Choosing an FBO based on price alone, or location alone, is not what makes them feel at ease. Even in the world of what is perceived as a “luxury sector” value is still essential. Money saved, but time lost, is often a disaster for every one involved. Cutting corners on service levels is a sure fire way to lose clients and leads to an uphill struggle to attract new customers. Business aviation whilst an international business is still small enough for reputations to be made and broken based on the experience of people you know, or in this world of social media that you have heard of.

What makes a business airport stand out from competition is whether people genuinely want to come back and use your services. First experience matters, but the last experience matters more. The experience does not start from the moment the customer enters the door, it starts from the first communication prior to the booking, through to the last communication after the service has been delivered. It can be argued that it even starts before they contact you. Your reputation precedes you is true on life and online. Maintaining a quality service from start to finish and making sure that this service level is experienced every time, and is communicated to all, is what helps FBOs stand out from the competition. Value added services, going beyond expectations consistently, will ensure you maintain a positive brand reputation and can help attract repeat customers.

What elements are crucial for airports and FBOs to consider when branding their company/operation?

The brand is much more than the logo or corporate identity. The brand represents everything that you want people to feel and experience. When it comes down to it, all business airports and FBOs do exactly the same thing. The basics are pretty much the same for all facilities: passenger and ground handling, aircraft servicing and refueling, customer and crew lounge provision, catering and ground transportation, etc.

To stand out from the crowd you need to identify or create your unique selling points (USP). What is it that you do or provide that no other service delivers? If the answer to that is nothing, then you have a problem.

You won’t be able to stand out if there is literally nothing which makes you stand out. And it is not always about the big ticket items – it’s great to have additional services blow dries and showers on landing, chauffeur service and security partnerships. But sometimes it can be as simple as reliable fast WIFI everywhere, clean facilities, good food and exceptional hospitality like remembering which magazines the customer likes to have on hand, their favourite toiletries, etc., Taking care of the little details matters. Taking care of the big details are a given.

So pick a USP which is meaningful for your customer, as at the end of the day that is what is of paramount importance. The fact that you have grass growing on the outside of your building might be nice, but unless that is important or can be conveyed as important to your customer, it is merely a distraction. Now if your facility is the most environmentally sustainable facility using renewable energy and recycling all waste - and has grass growing on the outside - that would be a USP worth talking about! But green credentials in aviation is often a topic people choose to avoid. But it needn’t be.

If you are in a region with no other business airports for miles, you might feel that you don’t need to bother about delivering a good service because people have no choice but to use you. But that in itself creates an opportunity for a competitor to enter the market. If the service you deliver is so disappointing to the user, it is only a matter of time before you are driven out of business by someone who improves on your service. In business people often say you have to be the first or the best, the same applies in business aviation.

In a competitive environment where the customer has reasonably located alternatives you need to up your game even more. And it is not just about being the cheapest, it is more likely to be about which service is the best when all things are considered. Putting the customer’s needs first is paramount. Examine all of your services from that perspective and find ways to improve it.

Raising service levels so that it can be seen as a brand benefit and matches or exceeds the customer expectation is the first thing.

Start with creating the best operation that you can, with trained and motivated staff, with clean facilities and attention to detail, then look at how you can wrap that experience up in your brand. Having the coolest name in aviation won’t matter if no-one has positive memories of using your facility.

What is the best way to connect with potential customers in this industry?

First you need a good understanding of who your customer is. Business aviation is a very social business and there are a lot of events and invitations to networking opportunities all the time. But knowing who to connect with is the first step to knowing how to connect. The end user is not often the person that you are likely to connect with in the first instance, so understanding the needs of the influencers or the crew is paramount. Whether a customer comes direct after finding you on Google, or whether they have been referred by another crew or whether you are simply the only option, making sure every person who can influence a booking knows about you is important.

Creating a website which showcases your actual facilities (no stock imagery here), making sure that people can find the information they are after, or quickly find a means to contact you and of course find your location is a good first step. When creating a website don’t think about what you offer just from a basic level, but think more about what your customers need. You have more than one customer – the needs of the crew, operator and the principal are equally of value. Quite often it is the crew or aircraft operator who are making the choice of which facility to use.

So making sure the crew are happy is a good first step. Looking after their needs means they are more likely to talk positively about the facility and their experiences. Where an aircraft is managed by a company (as opposed to an operator) sometimes it falls to an executive assistant or PA to make the arrangements. Making sure you obtain enough information to meet the needs of the principal helps both of you.

If you are looking for more general awareness (within relevant publications), advertising both in print and online can be very effective. Especially if you are a new or improved facility.

Inviting users to visit the premises for events, trade shows, conferences or seminars is a good way of showcasing your facility. Some FBOs have gone one further and hire out their facilities for events or filming. The ultimate product placement.

Social media is a great way to connect with potential customers all over the world. Whilst social media is free it takes commitment and a strategic outlook for it to pay off. Taking images of the same thing all the time would get tedious very quickly, so coming up with an angle that is original, creative and sustainable is important from the start. We usually advise clients entering social media landscape for the first time to observe and listen first to what other competitors or complimentary services.

Email marketing (even in the era of GDPR in Europe) is still a valuable means of communication with customers. Keeping communication open in the way that is preferred by the customer is key. Timeliness of communications, additional service notifications and partnerships which benefit the customer are likely to be of interest, especially if the added services are something customers have been requesting.

PR is great if you have a newsworthy story. Unless you have a genuine story it is unlikely you will get PR coverage, so choose your stories and opportunities wisely. In an industry where confidentiality and privacy is paramount that limits opportunities to overshare.

What do you believe is the general public's perception of the business aviation industry?

I personally don’t think the general public spend much time thinking about the business aviation industry. What they probably think will be based a lot on what they have seen in films. Business aviation, or private jets as they are more likely to describe it, is something reserved for the rich, millionaires, lottery winners, actors and footballers. It is more likely considered an unattainable luxury and therefore of little interest to them.

It won’t matter how much the industry tries to educate people about the contribution to the economy, saving in business time, improvement in business productivity, a time saving and revenue contributing industry – it isn’t what Joe/Josephine Public thinks about in his/her time. Those who understand the value, will understand the value, and those who don’t won’t. And it doesn’t matter at the end of the day. Not everyone gets behind every type of industry. Whether it is a tech business or banking, people will love you and in the next breathe hate you. What is important is that the business aviation industry continues to meet the needs of its customers, influences policy makers and reacts to technological and environmental challenges positively.

With that said, business aviation is changing – it is not just a shift within the industry to a subscriber/user based model, this is a trend seen across the board, from car sharing, to home sharing and even clothes sharing models. There is less emphasis on owning and more opportunities to access services. This has brought access to more people. How accessible or affordable it is depends on how well customers understand their options and how well the new entrants to the market position and communicate their offerings.

What is your top tip for an airport of FBO looking to change their approach to outreach and branding?

Whenever a client comes to me and wants to change their branding, my first question is why? If it is just a name change, that is a pretty pointless branding exercise. But if they genuinely have a mismatch of experience vs perception, i.e. people don’t get the brand or they have outgrown the brand, or the brand is somehow tarnished by past experiences which are no longer relevant, then working on the internal perception of the brand is the first step before you externalise.

Understanding what the brand means to the people in the business, stakeholders and customers is important to weigh up. Sometimes internally people are tired of a brand and want to change it, but to the customer the longevity of the brand communicates a history of service delivery and continuity. So throwing everything out is not always a good thing.

If you are fundamentally happy with your brand but you need to find new ways to communicate starting locally is a good step. Sometimes brands are so focused on global marketing that they fail to maximise their own regional opportunities. Creating local relationships and partnerships, whether they are commercially based, charity or education based is a good thing to do to increase local awareness of your business.

This will benefit you in obtaining local business and local media opportunities which will assist in raising the online profile of your business, hence creating a stronger international proposition. Starting with your own backyard is a good way to start.

Then apply a common-sense approach to all marketing proposals. There are still companies marketing based on top keywords in Google and they will gleefully show you the results. But the fact that no one is using those phrases and worse still you aren’t getting any enquiries should tell you that something is wrong with that approach. If the message resonates and is directed at the right audiences, at the right time and in the right way, you will get more enquiries.

Why does business aviation need branding/marketing?

All businesses benefit from having a strong brand and having that brand communicated to existing and potential customers. Creating the best business in the world with the coolest name, in the coolest location, with the best equipment and resources, but telling no one would be pointless. People don’t just find businesses, businesses have to find their customers. Good businesses use their customers to find more customers – used to be called word-of-mouth, now it is peer-to-peer or just plain recommendations, testimonials and online reviews.

Business aviation customers don’t have endless time to do the leg work to analyse all the information coming from all of the myriad of sources, so they need to get a sense of a business very quickly. So finding ways to communicate your proposition clearly and effectively is what marketing and branding is about.

Whether you need to come up with of a memorable but unique sounding name – a brand, or a strapline - which differentiates your business from another. Or by creating a distinct and memorable website or marketing brochure. Because the services are the same, and the pool of stock images is often the same, having marketing collateral which can easily be confused with one of your competitors is a disaster. So clear differentiation in style and content is important to try to achieve.

Effective branding and marketing helps you stand out from the crowd to attract and retain customers. It costs more to attract a new customer, so making sure every customer has a reason to come back and use your service is something that marketing can help with even after the last passenger has gone on their onward journey.

Extracts from this article appeared in Business Airport International - July 2018

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