9 Reasons Why Business Aviation Needs to Understand the Customer Better

9 Reasons Why Business Aviation Needs to Understand the Customer Better

WOI interviews Charles Porteous, President, Seefeld Group

Tell us about Seefeld Group and its "voice of the customer" approach

We are a ‘voice of the customer’ consultancy that objectively gathers and interprets first-hand market feedback to enable our clients to make better, less risky, and more informed commercial decisions. Seefeld Group frequently helps clients sharpen their value propositions, focus product development initiatives, craft more differentiated marketing and sales messages, and strengthen customer satisfaction. 

We are highly experienced in business aviation, and we are working with the industry’s leading OEMs, MRO providers, finance, and other service providers including charter/aircraft management companies. Over the 15 years since our inception, we have interviewed/surveyed approximately 1000 business jet operators per year, using specifically tailored marketing research methodologies for each client’s situation. Consequently, we have a notable capability to provide superior insights into analyzing the unique drivers of brand perception and customer needs for a particular business.

We are frequently told that “data is important” in business aviation. What is your take on this?

Data is important, and I cannot stress this enough. However, it is critical to distinguish between obtaining data and using it to derive insight.  Often, many companies place significant emphasis on collecting data, feeling that it is an obligation to do so without giving much thought to how they intend to use it. 

At Seefeld Group, our goal is to enable our clients to not only leverage their data to explain what is going on but also to analyze the customer dynamics and motivations behind what is measured. 

Essentially, data without insight is not very actionable.  Insight enables businesses to make better decisions, reduce risk, and more effectively plan their business for the future.  The collection of traditional data such as aircraft movements, flying hours, routes, passenger info, sales, and pricing data can help explain the ‘what is going on’, but first-hand marketing research acquired via interviewing customers is essential to explain the perceptions and the needs that are driving behavior.

Business aviation is a global, but small industry, what do you love about it?

While aircraft sales and the business of managing flights is always exciting, there is much more to it.  Our industry operates on so many levels and has a sophisticated supply chain. There are so many sub-sectors and market segments that are interesting and exciting to be part of.

Business aviation is sufficiently big enough and mature enough that we can successfully offer a scientific and rigorous approach to marketing research for our clients, while at the same time, still being accessible on an individual level. For example, at shows and industry events, I am randomly introduced to people I recalled we interviewed and surveyed. 

Professionals who work in and use business aviation love their industry, are passionate about it, and are generous with their feedback. This makes our job easier and it is a lot of fun.

What frustrates you (and customers) about the business aviation industry?

As someone who is passionate about helping businesses make informed decisions, I continually see assumptions being made about what customers want and what the industry needs based on incomplete information or feedback from an exceedingly small sample of sales transactions.  I believe this is because there remains a general feeling that those who make decisions for their businesses already have a rigorous and objective understanding of their customer’s needs because they involve themselves directly in sales transactions.

That is not to say that they are out of touch, but often they may end up evaluating and perceiving the market as homogenous, whereas in fact, customer needs and important selling objectives are much more nuanced.  This can lead to potential missed opportunities and added sales risks. 

9 Reasons Why Business Aviation Needs to Understand the Customer Better Understanding the Customer in Business Aviation

How will OEMs need to evolve over the next 20 years to understand and meet the needs of the customer?

The business aviation market is maturing quickly, and, as a result, there will likely be relatively less growth going forward than we have seen in the past.  Competition among OEMs will therefore further intensify, thus requiring marketing and sales efforts to be simultaneously more efficient and more effective in reaching and winning aircraft buyers.

There is also a generational shift underway with millennials now becoming increasingly important as a customer group. Research we have carried out for our clients often shows that this cohort has different values when it comes to aircraft use and ownership, relative to previous generations.  As generational change is gradual but ever constant, OEMs will need to increasingly appeal to the preferences of younger cohorts, while not alienating their long-standing loyal customers.    

How much room is there for disruption in the industry? E.g. shared ownership / new models etc.

There is still plenty of room for disruption, as we know that private aviation is something many aspire to use but are not able to access due to a long list of reasons, including cost, social stigma, lack of knowledge, impact on the environment, etc.  Disruptors who can further reduce barriers to entry or further mitigate perceived downsides of using private aircraft will inevitably succeed.

Also, I believe there is still lots of potential for innovators to make the operation, management, and acquisition of aircraft easier, more customer-friendly, and less expensive.  I would encourage all entrepreneurs in our industry to systematically uncover, understand, and address unmet market needs as many remain.

How different is the business aviation industry outside of the US in places like Europe, the Middle East, Asia, etc.?

At the risk of reinforcing stereotypes, I will attempt to answer this. The US is business aviation’s largest and most mature market.  It is moving quickly towards more automation and less reliance on personal relationships to procure products/services and manage day to day aircraft operations.

Essentially, many US customers believe that the fewer touchpoints, the better. Business aviation is more widely perceived and accepted as a “transportation business expense” than in other markets. However, this creates added pressure for accountability, cost management, and efficiency. 

Outside of the US, ownership and use is often more typically wealthy individuals who, to varying degrees, desire to keep details surrounding their jet ownership and use hidden. Often, as first-time owners, they place high trust in key advisors who are close to them rather than relying on third-party management tools. 

Extra emphasis is placed on delivering a highly tailored service with luxury fitting the prestige of aircraft ownership. International flying is also more complex and less standardized because travel usually involves planning across multiple countries.  For example, greater manual intervention and oversight is required to arrange flight plans, ground handling, or even aircraft transactions.

You come from a long marketing background, what are the top 3 lessons you learned that could be applied to any industry?

The most important lesson is to not assume that just because your product or service is expensive or highly prestigious (such as in business aviation), the rules of marketing don’t apply.  Disciplined marketing is as equally effective for jet sales as it is for selling beer or other household items.  Another key lesson is to avoid falling into the trap of “commoditization”. 

Often, we see in research that for even some of the most exclusive products and services offered in business aviation, customers can’t see any difference between providers or why one is better than the other. Over time a lack of differentiation eventually erodes a company’s brand equity and will create conditions for adverse price competition.

 Lastly, it is essential to proactively, measure, monitor, and manage your company’s reputation in the market.  Customers always form opinions about who they currently or potentially want to do business with, and if you don’t objectively know how or why that reputation has been created, it will always be at risk of it being undermined suddenly or shaped negatively by your competitors.

As someone with a finger on the pulse of the business aviation industry, and the customer voice, what should we all be watching out for in terms of trends?

As I mentioned before, there is a generational transformation taking place in our industry, with younger cohorts increasingly involved in purchase decisions and becoming industry opinion leaders.  They bring a different perspective and will have new priorities around business aviation. For example, they tend to have less desire for outright ownership of assets, rather placing more emphasis on accessing the “experience of a private jet”. Younger cohorts will be particularly noticing and supporting companies who believe in greater social responsibility and a commitment to environmental sustainability.  Business aviation is no exception! 

Lastly, I would watch for even greater automation and a reduction in the desire for day to day personal contact in the ongoing management, booking, and even acquisition of a business aircraft.  Often, I now hear, “Why lose time speaking on the phone or sending emails – text or an app is easier”.

The message here is, be prepared to evolve or fall behind.

Connect with Seefeld Group

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