Guest Blog: Selling The Fun, Not The Gewgaws

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Life as a full-time news editor and marketing dude can get a bit boring. Did you know that company XYZ has developed product A, or expanded service to now include B and manager Joe Little and CEO Frank Big both think it’s the most amazing thing since dinosaurs walked on earth? Oh, and don’t forget to read the About Us tab. It’s been the same for nine years. Yawn.

Missing the audience and failing to convey a message that departs the norm and veers off the beaten path seems to have become the norm. People like me now make a living telling aviation companies that canned news releases and newsletters as well as Facebook and Twitter hashtags and other social media storms are short-lived vehicles to convey what we do with those we wish to reach. 

Pictures are great, videos are great, but they don't make people jump up and drive to their local airport to take flying lessons. Maybe we have to be more human in how we communicate, so that we reach more humans with what we have to offer. Language is powerful and—seriously folks—people on the outside just get blurry vision and then click on something that "gets them." 

Even those who exchange ideas, concepts or thoughts among their fellow pilots through forums and discussion groups appear to be a bit tired at times. Discussions have turned stale and repetitive. There's always one person who can one-up the other, either financially or with the number of toys owned. The tone often turns negative towards the very future of what we love and wish to sustain for future generations to come. 

Our fraternity feels discriminated against by regulators who don't understand what general aviation is all about, mistreated by the press and media, which often shows its bias and lack of knowledge, and bugged down by politicians who can't tell an airplane from a hole in the wall. Senator Schumer could have just zipped it, rather than involving himself in the tiresome helicopter debate. Rah, rah.

We live and operate in a complicated and highly technical environment that has mastered unique and tremendous challenges in its past. No question, we have huge challenges in front of us. Over the last two years, my own thinking has changed and these days I wonder if our focus for selling general aviation should be shifting to how we communicate about general aviation. I believe that how we communicate has much more impact than what we communicate. What is general aviation? First and foremost, it’s fun. It’s the freedom to discover and explore and experience truly endless beauty. 

So here we are, 10-plus years into the LSA and Sport Pilot movement with the heavily relaxed BasicMed process to get people back into the mix and yet our growth appears relatively stagnant. Again. Nothing seems to catch on. The old guys don't think it's worth jumping back in and the youngsters are so involved and focused on Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram and staring at their smartphones, that having a conversation at the dinner table isn't possible without functional Wi-Fi. We middle-aged people are no better, mind you. When was the last time you completely unplugged?

My new Bose A20 reads me my messages and emails on demand and I can watch my favorite movie right on my SVT HUD while clipping along at 210 IAS on the new S-TEC AP with the A/C on. Ever since I got that STC'd STOL kit and the 2850 XLs, her Vx and Vy is like ... Can someone from the general populace follow us when we talk about ADS-B, XPDRs, 14 CFR Part 91, certification standards, G1000XLi, EFBs, SBs and ADs? You get the point.

Having gotten nearly all the fancy badges on my own FAA certificate listing, I distinctly recall an examiner who stated that there are two kinds of pilots out there. There are those who chase bigger metal and more technology and those who chase adventure and fun and the flying contraption they use is simply a tool to experience and share just that. 

I always enjoyed and embraced the small airplane stuff much more than the information about Boeing's newest wide-body or Branson's plans to shoot people across the globe at warp speed for close to a trillion dollars per seat. I do appreciate the development in technology and all the crazy gadgets, really, but what I really want is stick-and-rudder, low-and-slow VFR flying fun.

Frequently, I hear that general aviation is competing with other, easier-to-learn and finance leisure activities like boats, Jet Skis, ATVs and motorcycles. And even RVs. Just like sport flying, all these things bond families together and provide endless fun. They all convey just that message in their marketing and advertising. Are we really competing? Can you fly a boat, Jet Ski, ATV or depart planet earth and climb above the clouds on a motorcycle without a notarized will? None of our competitors is free of risk, liability or cheap to insure. Each come with challenges of their own. 

We may need to relax on the mundane numbers and abbreviations based on highly technical BS nobody needs or wants to see and focus on what makes sport and general aviation flying unique and priceless. And why anyone not involved or caught by the virus is missing out on a lifestyle and passion that is simply impossible to match. Please don't let it be an autopilot. 

Is there hope for radical change in how we portray sport and general aviation to the public and among our peers? Would doing so change things? Hope springs eternal and we have to start somewhere.

Jason Baker is a marketing consultant and editor. He lives in Germany and edits