The Power of a Strong Brand

Good things happen when you have a powerful brand for your aviation business. Here’s our perspective in a five-part series:

  1. Five good things that happen when you have a strong brand.
  2. Why do some aviation companies have a weak brand?
  3. The minimum you need to have a competitive brand.
  4. So you want to challenge the leader in your category.
  5. Ensuring your brand is everything you want (need!) it to be.

5 Good Things That Happen When You Have a Strong Brand.

The other day I was talking to a prospective client who said this: “I know I should worry about having a strong brand for my company, but I also know that takes work, and resources like time and money, to accomplish. Is it really worth the effort?”

I replied, “Well, let’s make a list of what we can simply call ‘good things that happen when a company like yours has a strong brand’.” 

Here’s the list I came up with – a strong brand:

  1. Makes the customer’s buying decision easier: strong brands are well known, and trusted, which in turn engenders loyalty; why waste time shopping around when I know you will deliver for me?
  2. Means that you have achieved realistic, effective competitive differentiation in the minds of your customers; they know why you are “better than most or all of your competitors,” and the points of difference are important to them.
  3. Provides better profit margins. Think about it: a strong brand, with loyal customers, usually can charge some premium above the market standard price, with most or all of the premium going straight to the bottom line.
  4. Provides internal focus – just like customers know what the brand is about, employees will too, and almost without doubt also be on board with the company’s direction and vision.
  5. Helps to achieve long term goals – where you want to be, 3, 5, 10 years from now – because people know what the “direction and vision” is!

Then I said, “Look, I could talk about Gulfstream Aerospace – a trusted leader in long-range business jets that defines the playing field – as an obvious example of a strong business aviation brand that exemplifies these five points, but let’s look at another example I like.

“That would be Garmin, an avionics company that has ridden a key technology to broad product leadership. A relatively young company by aviation standards, Garmin entered the market in the early 1990s with GPS products for aircraft panels and as handhelds. (Remember the Garmin GPS 90? They don’t make new ones anymore but it’s still around on eBay). 

“Garmin was an early adopter of GPS for navigation and a leader in the use of graphical interfaces. The company developed its own software logic that it uses across product lines – meaning a short learning curve for upgrading to new products with the added benefit of capturing customers for brand extensions. Their focus on GPS soon evolved to include related navigation and communications gear integrated together – often in the same physical unit.

“While the early appeal of Garmin products was to general aviation and amateur built aircraft markets, Garmin also has become a leader in business aviation avionics where today they are OEM-specified in everything from Skyhawks to top line business jets.

“Garmin’s corporate vision statement: ‘We will be the global leader in every market we serve…’ clearly states their objective. The company has made their vision come alive through active involvement in all their markets, understanding how customers use their products, providing top-rated support, and building a product that is durable, of high quality and offers good value.

“So, Garmin certainly fits anyone’s definition of ‘strong brand’ and has reaped the real, associated benefits.”

Given all this, you might think that everyone would strive to develop a strong brand, or at least actively set out to do so. But, certainly, there are companies that have weak brands, and this next section looks at some of the reasons why.

Why Do Some Aviation Companies Have A Weak Brand?

The benefits of having a strong company brand are both clear and substantial – as argued above – and two prime examples are Gulfstream Aerospace and Garmin. So you might think that every company would strive to develop a strong brand, or at least actively set out to do so. 

But, as we know, there are companies that have weak brands, and it’s a worthwhile question to ask why that is the case.

In my experience there are at least four reasons:

  1. Some aviation companies prioritize an engineering mindset, at the expense of marketing. Since the days of the Wright Flyer, the focus of the mechanical engineers (and their progeny, aeronautical engineers) who build airplanes is the tangible flying machine, more so than the less tangible brand engine.
  2. Some don’t pay effective attention to a changing environment: changes in the political, cultural, economic spheres, changes in competition, and, perhaps most important, changes in customer needs and desires.
  3. Some focus on products, rather than a brand platform that products emerge from.  Take the example of Apple, which most will know: years ago, Apple was the IIc, Lisa and Newton; then the Macintosh; now, MacBook Air, iPhone, iPad, Watch. The products completely different, but the Apple brand – laser focused on ease of use, functionality, world class design – has been consistent yet remarkably attuned to the world around it.
  4. Last – and perhaps this should be at the top of the list – some just don’t invest in the people, processes and resources needed to develop a company environment in which a strong brand can be nurtured and then thrive.

Do you believe your company has a strong brand? 

Or a decent brand that could be better?

Or – okay, it’s not that great.

If you checked #2 or #3, you’ll be especially interested in the next section: the minimum you need to have a competitive brand.

The Minimum You Need to Have A Competitive Brand.

If your brand is “weak” or if you want to improve your brand’s standing, there are certain actions you need to take to ensure it is at a minimum competitive in your marketplace. The good news is that a systematic approach and process can get you there (it’s not magic):

  1. First: stop everything, hold the presses, start an assessment of the current state of your brand, today. You’ve heard the old chestnut: the best time to plant a shade tree was ten years ago; the second-best time is today.
  2. Do this assessment by appointing someone competent (employee or consultant) to run/manage the process. Get someone who’s done it before, has successful experience with products or services like the ones you sell, someone you feel good about and trust after a vetting process.
  3. I said above that this brand diagnosis and prescription process is a systematic one, and while the person you entrust with this process will have their own toolkit, in my opinion there are absolutely critical steps that anyone who knows what they are doing will follow:
    • The person you engage will, via appropriate market research, find out what your customers currently think of you, your products, your service, your people, your everything.
    • This will give you a clear-eyed view of where your company sits today in the customer’s mind, and then this consultant (or employee) will help you figure out where you want your brand to be in a specified time frame (for example, 1, 3, or 5 years out).
    • A clear-eyed view of how your brand, now, is different than your competitors’ brands, and an exploration of aspirational differentiation in the future.
    • A clear-eyed view of the level and quality of resources your top competitor commits to their business; this is key – what level of resources will you need to bring to bear to have a legitimate chance of competing effectively?
  4. I cannot emphasize enough the importance of getting this kind of insight about your business.  What follows – the part about building, strengthening, or refurbishing your brand – is dependent on this insight.
  5. With this critical insight, your consultant/employee can help you:
    • Define the nature of your (new/strengthened/reinforced) future brand objective.
    • Construct the correct positioning for your brand that will enable you to meet the brand objective in your (previously) specified time frame.
    • Put together a marketing/customer communication plan with competitive levels of quality and resources (people, tools, monetary).
    • Present to the board for buy-in and support.

That’s the process – put the right person in charge, support them, make it happen.

What if you want more than the “minimum” for a competitive brand? What if you want to challenge the leader in your product category, to in turn become the leading brand? Read on.

So You Want to Challenge the Leader in Your Category.

Thus far we’ve covered the good things that happen when you have a strong brand; why some companies have weak brands; and what’s minimally necessary to do to put a competitive brand in place.

What if you want to be not just a competitive brand, but one strong enough to challenge the leader in your market? Let’s discuss.

First, please recognize why a leader brand sits in first place: it has invested the necessary time, people, and resources to get there. Because of that, it will likely benefit from significant advantages in market awareness, market share, revenue, products, distribution, an installed customer base, perhaps even cultural or political clout.

For the purposes of this discussion, what all this really means is that a market leader has set the argument for what is important in the category, and has defined the playing field in terms that fit its advantages.

This is huge. For you to challenge this leader, you need to figure out how to change the argument of what’s important to fit your strengths. Meanwhile, the leader isn’t going to sit back and idly watch you do this. There will be war.

But you decide to go ahead with the challenge:

  1. First, your company needs to have the clearly stated ambition to go after the leader; everyone in the company has to know what the marching orders are.
  2. Second, you need the energy, and aggressiveness, needed to get the market’s attention. Think of it this way: most everyone knows what the highest mountain in the world is; many fewer know what the second highest is. The leader is Mount Everest; the challenger (you) is K2. You will only climb steep (business) hills with energy and aggression (sorry for the pun).
  3. Third, necessary commitment to resources: time, people, money. You will expend more resources in catching up to the leader than the leader itself is currently expending. Don’t underestimate the commitment required.
  4. Critically, a product/service with clearly better quality/value/innovation. The best tool you’ll ever have in your challenge to the leader is a superior offering – do you have it?
  5. Then, with the right message – which comes from the correct positioning for your “new” brand – you can begin to change the argument in the marketplace that will lead to new attention, interest, desire and purchase for your product or service.

Not an easy road, to be sure, but we suggest Embraer is an example of a successful challenger brand – attacking the status quo, most notably the dominant Cessna Citation products, with ambition and focus; energy and commitment of resources; with a product with demonstrable innovation and value.

Despite the inopportune timing of starting deliveries of its Phenom 100 in 2009 as the Great Recession was in full roar, Embraer’s line of clean sheet products was exactly what the market was looking for accompanied by the backing of excellent customer support. Embraer’s market share continues to grow with the introduction of additional models. Its product support rankings quickly went from nothing in 2010 to reach the top tier of OEMs a mere three years later – indicative of a dedication to quality products and customer support.

Leaders can fall, challengers do rise – it happens all the time. 

If you are currently a leader brand, congratulations – don’t get complacent.

If you are an aspiring challenger brand, good luck – prepare well, with eyes wide open.

Next, final thoughts on making sure your brand is working as hard for your company as you want it to.

Ensuring Your Brand is Everything You Want (Need!) It to Be.

Ten questions for you:

  1. Are you a Leader, Challenger or “Other” brand?
  2. Depending on which, do you have the appropriate marketing objectives in place?
  3. Do you know what your best customers think of your company, its products, service, personnel?
  4. Can you describe your current brand position, as it would make sense, and be believable, to your customers?
  5. Do you know what you want your future brand position to be 2, 3, or 5 years from now?
  6. If the future position is different from the current position, do you have a coherent road map to get there?
  7. Do you know how the value propositions for your products compare to that of key competitors?
  8. Do you know where future customers will come from?
  9. Do you feel you have an effective marketing communications program in place?
  10. Do you know the return you’re getting on your marketing programs?

If you answered some variation of “not sure” or “no” to more than half these questions I’ll suggest that you get a competent diagnosis of your brand and marketing programs. (Just like you’ll schedule a doctor’s appointment if you start to feel that “something’s just not right.”)

First a diagnosis, and only then a prescription: “here’s the results of our examination, and this is our recommendation of a course of action.”

Engage with a consulting firm that has an established process for this kind of analysis and insight gathering, with successful experience with companies that sell products or services similar to yours.

We offer such a process – you can read the detail of our Marketing Diagnostic here – and have much experience with companies like yours – read about us here.

We can help ensure your brand – and marketing – is everything you want it to be. Get in touch with us to begin the conversation.

Mark Ryan

March, 2020