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Flight training is a niche market. Embrace it.Flight training is a niche market. Embrace it.

Do you ever feel like you could walk in to a room with a TV on and guess the channel or the show by only watching commercials? There’s a reason CNN has denture commercials at 1 p.m. and you can learn everything you’ve ever wanted to know about the Easy-Bake Oven from Nickelodeon at 4 p.m. Smart companies know how to reach their target audience.

The target audience for flight training is obviously much smaller than it is for the Easy-Bake Oven. But that doesn’t mean the same tactics can’t work. In fact, it’s so much smaller that flight training is considered a niche market. Basically that means the product speaks to a small group or type of people.

To be successful in marketing within a niche market it’s important to follow a few guidelines.

1. Identify the audience. Clearly identifying the audience is the first step in any marketing campaign, but especially so in niche marketing. Defining the audience doesn’t mean, “people who want to start flight training.” Depending on your campaign it could mean, “men between the ages of 25 and 45 who make $150,000 a year or more who own two cars, and engage in outdoor sporting activities.” Or if you’re going after a new subset of students it could mean, “medical doctors between the ages of 30 and 55 who live within 50 miles.” Tailor the definition to the type of student you want to attract, not necessarily those are already enrolled in your school.

2. Find the audience. Car nuts love watching the Speed Channel, a small spot on the cable spectrum reserved for racing, car restoration, and everything mechanical. At least that’s what you’d expect by watching the commercials. Where else do you see a car wax commercial, followed by a tire commercial, followed by an oil commercial? Those companies have found the car nuts on TV. Now you have to find the potential student pilot. There’s no silver bullet here. Ask current students how they found you and see if you can capitalize. Finding subsets is easier. Doctors hang out at hospitals and office complexes, for example.

3. Tell them what they want to hear. Once you define the audience you can define the lifestyle and messaging that would fit. Hasbro would never think of marketing its Easy-Bake Oven with blue colors and skateboards. Likewise, marketing flight training as extreme or thrilling to doctors probably isn’t the way to go. But describing it as a challenge, higher learning, and enabling a certain lifestyle and status will.

4. Test the waters. Not every strategy is going to work, but that doesn’t mean the entire campaign was a failure. Take what you learned and tweak as necessary. Maybe the audience was right but the message was wrong. Or the message was right but the venue was wrong. Think like a scientist and pick apart your campaign to make it as strong as possible.

Ian J. Twombly

Ian J. Twombly

Ian J. Twombly is senior content producer for AOPA Media.

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