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Broadening Your Customer Base

Part one of Rene Armas Maes' three-part series on business strategies for premiere charter operators.


September 27, 2007
By Rene Armas Maes

Topics

Today, premium charter operators worldwide are spending a lot of time
and energy developing and testing new tailor-made products and services
for their customers. There is a constant search to discover new market
niches and other ways to broaden the customer base.

Over
the past five years, a number of premium aviation products such as
travel cards, one-way pricing and round trip same-day segment pricing
have been introduced. Some of these have been successful, while others
have failed for a variety of reasons – poor economic conditions,
inadequate market research or a lack of understanding of customers’
needs.

In general, premium aviation operators can develop
products and services in one of the following ways: They can create a
new-to-market idea/product; they can copy an existing product
(‘marketfollower approach’) or they can develop a hybrid product based
on customers’ needs, market conditions and business realities.

In
other cases, especially in saturated markets where launching a product
that everybody else already offers makes no sense, companies may decide
to brainstorm and devote time and resources to researching markets and
their competitors’ products.

There are a number of effective
tools for defining and developing business opportunities. These
include: reviewing your product-and-service mix, staying close to your
customers’ changing needs, constantly evaluating your business
environment, conducting continuous market and competitors’ intelligence
exercises.

CUSTOMERS, COMPETENCES AND PRODUCTS
The
starting point is to evaluate and understand how effectively your
products-and-services mix satisfies your premium clients’ needs.
Staying close to your customers and understanding their needs, changing
patterns and perceived unmet necessities will provide you with a solid
foundation to review at a later stage your organization’s
products-and-services offering. Periodic customer reviews and measuring
customer satisfaction should be a normal business practice. You need to
know how happy your customers are and if they are willing to recommend
your brand. These customer reviews build trust and set the framework
for mutually beneficial relationships.

It is fundamentally
important to identify and/or anticipate shifts in what your customers
need. This information will allow you to reevaluate your
products-and-services mix and to develop new products that satisfy
those identified unmet needs. These days, the goal for any quality
focused organization is to provide customers with superb products and
services that surpass their expectations. Understanding your
organization’s strengths, its products and services, and its ability to
anticipate customers’ needs are important tools for improving or
developing products.

MARKET AND COMPETITORS’ INTELLIGENCE
Managers
need to understand domestic market conditions, their company’s target
market(s) and their competitors’ products and market strategies. It is
also important for managers stay current on products and services being
developed and marketed abroad. By monitoring trends and strategies
employed by companies in international markets, a company may become
the first to offer the latest ‘must-have’ service or product in its
area.

Large corporations have departments that exclusively track
what their competitors are doing, how they are developing their
products, and what market-entry strategies they are employing. Premium
aviation operators generally lack the financial and human resources for
this.

Hiring a manager or other employees with international
experience may be one way of acquiring this information. Rewriting job
descriptions for business development, marketing and sales positions
that include, as a part of the job, continuous international market and
product research is another approach. An incentive program for those
employees able to successfully identify new products and services may
also be effective.

If your employees know what’s happening in
other premium aviation markets, you will be in a better position to
brainstorm, identify needs and potentially develop products that will
give your organization a real competitive advantage.

We know
that every market has its own economics, and customers’ needs are
different. Therefore, first consider conducting regular market
intelligence exercises in the regional and domestic arena. Second, do
the same thing in the international arena; seriously consider
conducting regular product development, trends and product-andservice-
mix intelligence exercises. The idea is to brainstorm with your
employees with the goal of developing new and/or hybrid products.

PRODUCT-SERVICE-MIX REVIEW AND OPPORTUNITIES ANALYSES
After
completing your internal capabilities evaluation, ascertaining your
customers’ needs and evaluating your products-and-services mix and
markets at local, regional and international levels, you will have a
better strategy to review your offerings.

Following these
exercises, develop a ranking mechanism to grade opportunities and
conduct market-sizing analyses to estimate dollar value and your
expected market share. Evaluate what are the most lucrative venues over
a timeline based on your business environment and current and potential
clients’ needs.

Some organizations are more willing to test,
market and introduce new products and services because of their
entrepreneurial spirit. Leaders who encourage entrepreneurial thinking
and value research and development are often able to identify future
needs and necessary capital resources. Other organizations are more
conservative. They are basically market followers and are usually
averse to risktaking. They will either develop a hybrid or sometimes
simply copy the competition.

There are also a number of less
risky strategies that premium aviation operators can use to enhance
their revenues, increase fleet utilization and expand their customer
base. High-end brand partnerships, bottom up-top down market analyses,
government airlift outsourcing, aircraft management opportunities and
high impact targeting campaigns are among a number of potential
opportunities worth evaluating.