Business Aviation Marketing Today – Preface

Winning in the Face of Adversity and Change

As business aviation brand strategists, market researchers and communications practitioners we feel it is important for prospective clients to easily understand and have ready access to our perspective on their industry.

New client prospects always want to know “how will you address my issues, and what will it be like to work with you?” Our sincere hope is that this book will go a long way toward answering those questions.

The primary reason we’re writing this book, however, is because this is a very difficult time to manage a business aviation company’s marketing or marketing communications; we’ve taken a hard look at the roots of these difficulties and believe that there are two key forces shaping the current business aviation marketing environment.

First, we see significant structural change in the industry that has ramped up the adversity the industry faces today:

  • It is our contention that the Great Recession of 2008-09 not only had the obvious sales dampening impact that all recognize but was also a disruptive event that left permanent changes in the way aircraft are purchased and financed, and was responsible for a rapid expansion of the pool of quality used aircraft that will have implications for the sale and marketing of new aircraft for years to come.
  • We also contend that there are too many aircraft models for sale given demand, and that this situation will not improve in the short term (out to five years if not longer).
  • Aircraft utilization, on average, has not recovered sufficiently and this impacts MRO, the aftermarket, and FBOs.
  • And, as if to pile on, the pessimist will see potential new regulations, environmental issues and user fees that may also act as a speed bump to business aviation.

Second, in addition to these adverse structural realities, the discipline of business-to-business marketing – which encompasses business aviation marketing – has seen more rapid and significant change in the last three or four years than in the previous several decades combined:

  • The rise of the Internet, social media, digital communications has been upending the marketing and advertising conventions for consumer brands for some time, and it’s now time for B2B marketers to get on board or be left behind.
  • And what about the traditional advertising and selling tools: what is the role (if any) for aviation trade shows, the aviation trade press, and the long-standing sales force organization in this digital age?
  • The pressure is also the greatest it’s ever been for the marketing department to track and report measurable ROI against significant objectives for the CEO and CFO.
  • Like other industries, business aviation is facing generational change: what does it mean that the baby boom generation is now retiring and Generation X and the Millennials are taking ever more important positions and will soon (if not now) be the key influencers for new aircraft purchases and even how aircraft are used?

This book has four parts:  the first two parts will describe and lay out our perspective on these two key forces that impact the current business aviation marketing landscape: the industry’s structural adversity, and the changes being wrought in the marketing process. 

The third part of the book is an attempt to both dramatize and crystallize some of these forces: we’ve constructed a storyline (fictional, but nonetheless representing reality) that follows a newly hired business aviation OEM CMO as he gets up to speed at his new company and comes to grips with the adversity and change that we describe in parts one and two.

In part four we offer “lessons learned” for “winning in the face of adversity and change” and point to several companies that we think are in fact big winners, and the reasons why.

After the conclusions in the last part of the book you’ll see we’ve added a glossary of some of the marketing terms that we use.  We put these into the glossary to help with understanding, of course, but also because we wanted to keep the main body of the book as pragmatic and “real-life” as possible, and not to read as a textbook.  Nonetheless we do have specific (maybe even unique) definitions for many of the terms used in this book, and that’s what the glossary is for.

We want to conclude this preface with this important conviction:

While we write of the difficulties that business aviation faces today due to structural change in the industry and to changes in the way business-to-business marketing is conducted, we want the reader to know that we continue to view business aviation (and general aviation as well) as one of the most exciting and compelling manufacturing industries of all. 

The wonder at being able to travel across and between countries in a few short hours, in one’s own aircraft, continues to energize; while the industry may struggle occasionally there will always be a market for the companies that understand the nature of adversity and change and then plan successfully to cope with it.

Mark Ryan and Chris Pratt / Dallas, Texas / Spring, 2017

About the authors

Mark Ryan is a communications strategy and market research consultant with a special focus in general and business aviation. The mission of William Ryan Group Aviation is to provide perspective on new product development, selling insights and effective communications for aircraft OEM manufacturers, MRO, aftermarket, FBO/service and avionics companies.

Mark has been involved in market strategy, communications and advertising for more than 30 years, and in that time has worked with aviation companies such as Beechcraft, Hawker, Northrop Grumman, American Airlines, Dallas Airmotive and Avidyne.

He has conducted a significant amount of primary research for general aviation clients, investigating the thoughts, opinions and attitudes of more than 1,400 aircraft owners, chief pilots, and aviation department managers, including aviation company executives, middle managers, sales forces and line/production workers. He used this insight to help in the evaluation and value assessment of new aviation products and services, and to recommend and help design brand communication strategies and sales propositions, new company names, theme lines, logos and advertising programs.

Mark also has expertise in other industry categories, having helped (for example) Exxon understand the complexity of the consumer backlash to the Valdez oil spill, Texas Instruments deal with negative publicity surrounding product recalls, and Emerson Electric introduce a newly merged billion dollar subsidiary.

For most of the 80’s and 90’s Mark worked for McCann-Erickson, one of the world’s largest international advertising agencies, and for the past 10+ years was a partner in The Wolf Group, a communication issues firm, and Research Matters, a market research and communications consulting firm. Mark studied at Penn State (undergrad) and Ohio State (grad school).

Chris Pratt has been in the thick and thin of aviation marketing, market research, advertising and sales for more than 40 years. He has worked for Atlantic Aviation, Bombardier/Flexjet, Gulfstream Aerospace, Cessna Aircraft Company and for 13 years with BBA Aviation and its engine repair and overhaul business units.

Chris has pretty much seen and done it all: business jet manufacturing and sales; interior retrofits; MRO; FBO fueling and servicing. He has been responsible for managing market analysis, direct marketing and customer management programs, segmentation and tracking plus all forms of advertising and communications: public relations, website management and social media, promotions and trade shows.

Chris has both managed ad agencies in their work for his aviation employers, and also worked for the McCann-Erickson agency. In fact, McCann is where Mark and Chris met, where they worked together on the Beechcraft account: advertising, direct marketing and of special note much customer and product research that (among other results) led to the certification and production of new aircraft offerings.

Chris has degrees from Loyola University New Orleans (communications) and “the U” in Miami (business management). He is an accomplished private pilot and spent a significant amount of his leisure time building an aircraft in his garage that he continues to fly today.

Next – Part I: Today’s Business Aviation Market – Heightened Adversity through Structural Change