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Stand out from the crowdStand out from the crowd

A key component of business is rising above the pack. This concept is defined in a term called “unique selling proposition.” A unique selling proposition (USP) is a component of your business’ identity that defines something in your offering, culture, or product lineup that differentiates you from the rest of the pack.

In my opinion, many flight schools often overlook the development of a really effective USP because they believe flight training is in and of itself patently unique. While I completely agree that flying is special, and those of us who offer it to the public are doing something extraordinary, it’s still not a good reason to omit coming up with a set of creative differentiators to make your school stand out from its competition. And by competition, I mean any other business in your community that appeals to the same kinds of demographic groups for their discretionary income.

Before we take a closer look at the development of a specific USP for your flight school, let’s look at three common differentiators that flight schools try to use and how they can be improved.

“We have the newest fleet.” You’ve made the investment in new aircraft that can operate reliably for your customers. A new fleet gives good eyewash, which is important. Also, if you have the newest fleet in your area, you will likely have the highest overall rental prices. Maybe this is unique for your area, and maybe it isn’t.

“We have the best instructors.” I hear this a lot. Simply saying this doesn't really make an impact on me. How do you qualify “the best?” Highest PIC time? Highest first-time pass rate? Best level of completion of a private pilot certificate with fewer than 65 hours?

“We’re a Part 141 school.” For customers coming to you for avocational-based flight training, I think this credential is often overstated. While it is certainly a mark of attainment in certain areas, I believe it often doesn’t mean a whole lot to the average customer. Why? Unless you are completing students for a given 141 rating or program in less than the industry mean time, it ultimately won’t mean much to them. Another flight school who is training under Part 61 may also teach to a strict curriculum with self-imposed stage checks, have more effective instructors, and get the same (or better) results than you.

I suspect that many schools say these things because they simply don’t know what else to say. They're not bad things to say. But in my opinion, they’re far from unique or truly defining of who you are as a business.

With these things in mind, let's take a fresh look at crafting a USP for your flight school with some examples that go above and beyond in showing the real value of your school.

“Our school’s students have a 93 percent first-time pass rate for the private pilot certificate.” Offering this statement as a USP differentiates you as a school that can get things done and can perform as promised. I would estimate that half of the schools out there don’t know their student’s true first-time pass rate for each rating, and most don’t offer it in the sales process.

“More than 20 percent of our students who graduate from a rating or program are female.” If you can truthfully make a claim like this, you’d do well to headline it anywhere you can. The subscript below the headline should read something like, “and this is three times the industry average,” or a similar statistically accurate statement. Female customers are a great, largely unrepresented demographic in our industry.

“We only hire instructors who are experts at teaching you how to fly.” In our industry, I've often seen CFI pay scales that are a direct function of total PIC and total dual given. In these schools, if you’re an instructor who has high loggable hours in either column, you’re automatically afforded a higher per hour wage. In far too many schools, not enough thought or energy is put into hiring instructors who are good at teaching, irrespective of their hours. Offering performance-based pay for getting students done in an efficient way can help drive this.

“The average tenure of a CFI at our school is four years.” Obviously, this is a difficult one to pull off, but if you can say something along these lines that is truthful, I would put it ahead of anything like, “We have the newest fleet.”

“Our school offers training in a relaxed but professional atmosphere. We strive very hard to make your training both effective and fun.” There is so much quasi-military mindset out there in our industry. Linear logic seems to dictate that “relaxed” and “professional” can't work well together. I completely disagree. It is my experience that most people who are over 30 and seeking flight training for avocational purposes don’t care so much about the quasi-military culture in your flight school. They have enough of it in their professional life. If you haven’t already, find ways to increase the level of fun in the flight training you offer without compromising safety, legality, and effectiveness. I really like this USP because every school can offer it, irrespective of their size or time in business.

These sample USPs are but a few you can use to increase the level of enticement offered by your staff, your website, and any campaigns you engage.

I encourage you to come up with your own USPs. Consider what’s important to you and what pleases you when you go into a restaurant, a retail store, or your doctor's office. Put yourself in your customer’s shoes and think carefully about what your school does that is truly special and unique.

In many segments of the business world, it’s about who tells the best story and is most tenacious when it comes to earning and keeping customers. You don't have to be the newest, the biggest, or the best funded flight school to improve your situation. By highlighting your strengths as they relate specifically to customer needs and wants, you can work effectively toward getting and keeping more business.

P. Jerry Lee is president and founder of aviation marketing and sales training firm Mach1 Consultants.

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