I was an Arizona Airspeed fan before I knew their storied history or their record in competition.
In June 2005, I hired Craig Girard and Kirk Verner to host a 30-way camp during Skydive Carolina’s anniversary boogie (which would later morph into CarolinaFest). On the final day of the event, while running past a dirt dive to hot fuel a plane, Craig called me out.
Surrounded by 30 jumpers, Craig stood in his signature style that allows you to pick him out of a group from 500 yards away—bodyweight leaning to one side, hand on his hip with his black and teal jumpsuit tied at the arms around his waist with that cool, surfer-like demeanor.
He said, “Dude, when are you going to stop working and have some fun? Go get your rig and jumpsuit and let’s go.”
I could feel the group mentally roll their eyes. I tried to save them from their despair and told him my paltry jump number. I had 150 jumps and had no business being on a dive that I could potentially screw up for everyone who had been jumping for three long days.
It was as if he never heard me, because his response was immediate and without hesitation. “Perrrrfeeccttt. Grab your stuff, you’re in the base with me. Let’s go.”
I’d pay good money for a picture of that 30-way, taking grips on Craig out of the back of a blue and white Fayard Casa, feeling like a rock star. Looking back, it wasn’t the jump that stands out in my mind, but the goodwill gesture that few others would have extended. Whenever I’ve worked with Craig, Kirk, Eliana and other Airspeed members they’ve always been a class act. I was inspired and became a fan of the Airspeed brand—not because of their amazing record, but because of how they treated me.
If skydiving was more prominent in the national spotlight, Airspeed would have sponsorships with the biggest brands in the world—certainly because of their talent, but also because of the intangibles that resonate with people. If a brand can create a connection beyond the product or service it offers, then customer loyalty is born.
Earning loyalty equates to people who will happily tell others of your greatness. There is no type of advertising more powerful.
Examine these iconic brands with huge consumer-base loyalty: Toms, Zappos, Whole Foods, Amazon, Costco, Southwest, Wegmans, REI and Goodwill. These companies all focus on creating a connection with consumers by exceeding expectations via a higher social purpose or delivering amazing customer service.
As Simon Sinek beautifully put it, these companies understand the ‘why’ of their existence and not just the ‘what’ of their existence. The companies that can inspire are the ones that win.
If five drop zones were in the same marketplace with the same budgets, same aircraft and same price points—all variables being equal—which one would have market share and greater revenues? The answer is the one that inspires and creates a connection with its customers. In the early stages of business, these companies would all be neck and neck because no one would know the difference. With time, a competitive advantage would be gained, because word-of-mouth needs time to spread.
My vision for great marketing is larger in scope than a quick promotion to drive traffic. In addition to advertising, I push for companies to focus on the small details that revolve around every customer point of interaction and making it great. Advertising is important to draw in new customers, but focusing on details designed to exceed customer expectations makes these new customers loyalists who become repeat customers, who happily tell their social networks about why that drop zone is unique. This approach offers long-term sustainability and a well-defined roadmap for a solid marketing plan.
Our industry has a great opportunity to thrive because the product we sell exhilarates and inspires. However, our service (a life-changing skydive) is not enough to build loyalty. Customers already expect to be inspired by making a skydive—that’s why they come to the drop zone in the first place. Exceeding expectations will require more. If our hangars haven’t been cleaned in weeks, jumpsuits not laundered, instructors looking as if they just got of bed, aircraft not washed in weeks, then we won’t make the connection we need to make. Ultimately, the connection lies in the hands of DZ staff and instructors—all of whom must be passionate about what they’re doing. The skydive is just one part of the overall experience.
Our customers only spend about 26 minutes in the air and the rest of the time on the ground. How do we make them feel when they’re on the ground for the hours that they’re with us?
When making presentations both in and out of the skydiving industry, I always ask my audiences this question: “Who wants to be part of something excellent?” To date, I’ve never had anyone not raise their hand and acknowledge that this isn’t a desire. We all do. But what does being excellent actually mean? It means paying attention to the details, especially when we don’t want to. It’s giving a tandem student who checks-in at the end of the day the same level of enthusiasm as the one who checked in at the beginning of the day. It’s cleaning the bathroom at 2 p.m. when it’s not your responsibility or conversing with students on a weather hold. Oftentimes, it’s the details we take for granted that are the most important.
A well-designed website with strong SEO, a polished brand, a good social-media marketing campaign and creating interesting content are all components to good marketing, but their effectiveness will never reach full strength without the focus on connection. Our objective must be more than just making money. The best drop zones in the world are the ones that focus on the entire customer experience—both before and after the skydive. If we can amaze our customers … the money will take care of itself.
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