Just what are we selling in the flight training business, anyway? And how can we better attract new customers, then meet their expectations so they’ll stay with us for the long term?
If you’ve been following recent flight training industry studies like those conducted by AOPA, you know that our target audience is looking for adventure and enjoyment. The true importance of offering and delivering fun to our customers was driven home to me as never before through a fascinating article in an old issue of Wired magazine, titled, “The Pleasure Binge: In the Entertainment Economy All the World is a Play Station.”
Author Michael J. Wolf, employed by the well-known consulting firm Booz-Allen & Hamilton, presents persuasive evidence of the importance of entertainment to today’s consumers. Americans spend more than $480 billion per year on entertainment, more than they do on clothing! “We have come to look for the “e-factor” in every aspect of life,” says Wolf. “Products ... that deliver on this expectation succeed. Products that do not, disappear... We have become a world of fun-focused consumers.”
What a telling message this sends to us in the flight training business. If flying doesn’t strike our customers as entertainment, they’ll put their money into some other activity that does, like rock-climbing, sports cars, boats, or skiing. In fact, if you think about it, that’s exactly what they’ve been doing in years past, some of them the most prosperous in the history of the world.
While GA flying languished and has only recently begun its turnaround, other entertainment and sports activities have been thriving and growing. Even now we are only beginning to again persuade a few prospects that flying is a legitimate investment for fun and adventure. Just how tough is the competition for our customers?
“A battle is being waged for our attention,” says Wolf. We all know what’s been happening with sales of entertainment and adventure products and services in recent years.
To really get on the bandwagon, we must convince prospective customers that flying offers more entertainment than other pursuits. Every pilot knows that’s true, but do our advertising, our facilities, and our people convey the real adventure of aviation to the uninitiated?
Just how important is the sale of entertainment to business success of our flight schools? Well, not only does Wolf imply that our success will be enhanced by selling entertainment, but he argues convincingly that failure to deliver entertainment sets modern businesses on a course to failure.
“The apparent scarcity of free time and the necessity to plan for it has the effect of upping the ante for each entertainment decision,” he says. “In a time-obsessed economy, a bad movie is more than a waste of time--it also represents a major opportunity cost in terms of other fun you might have had.”
How do we convince prospects that flying is the entertainment they’re looking for? By touting all the fun to be had doing it. Back in the early ‘80s and again in the last decade, our industry went through periods of promoting practical advantages of flying—cost justification and all that. Well, times have changed, and now we must refocus on adventure activities that got shifted to the fringes of aviation marketing during that period.
Travel, adventure, taildraggers flown from grass strips, seaplanes, aerobatics, warbirds, parachuting, soaring, balloons—when you think about it, hardly another activity offers more fun and adventure to a broader audience than general aviation. Those are no longer fringe activities to the success of our business. Now’s the time we must bring the entertainment of flying back to the forefront in every aspect of marketing and customer contact.
Nobody sums it up better than Wolf in his article: “[Today’s] changed perceptions and uses of time have provoked adults into treating fun not just as a reward, but as an entitlement. They expect it to be part of the package, and feel shortchanged if they don’t get it.”
Right on, Mr. Wolf, for reminding us of what our customers are looking to buy. Now let’s see if we have what it takes as an industry to hear what you’ve said, and do something about it to reap our fair cut of that $480 billion. If we in aviation can’t promise and deliver fun to our customers, who can?
Former Flight Instructor of the Year Greg Brown is the author of The Savvy Flight Instructor. This story originally appeared in the second April issue of 1999.