I recently returned from a wonderful trip to paradise—the island of Kaua’i in Hawaii. As with most resort destinations, Kaua’i offers its visitors plenty to see, do, experience, and of course, spend money on. One of the most competitive activities on the island: aerial tours conducted by helicopter. There are plenty of unique sights and hard-to-access natural wonders only reachable by helicopter, and that brings the tour operators out in force.
So if you’re one of the seven businesses on the island, how do you stand out from the competition?
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How would you position your company to get the most market share? How would you get a tourist to pick up the phone and reserve a seat with your helicopter tour company rather than the other guy across the airfield?
Remember, you don’t have the luxury of time to create awareness for your business (what marketers call mindshare). Your target audience does not live on Kaua’i and is not exposed to your advertising or promotional messages year round. In fact, in most cases, your prospects have only one week to discover that you exist, understand your value proposition, and make a decision about whether to open their wallet to you.
By dissecting their advertising in a Kaua’i visitors guide, here’s how the seven helicopter tour operators on Kaua’i do it. These are some of the same ways you can differentiate and position your business.
1. Royal Hawaiian Airways
“It’s the equipment,” their advertising proclaims, along with gorgeous photos of shiny helicopters and copy that explains that their Astra AS355 jet helicopters are configured like the finest corporate choppers. While you’ve only got a week to build a brand, you must still focus your marketing efforts on owning a word nobody else owns. And in Royal Hawaiian’s case, it’s “equipment.”
2. Safari Helicopters
Safari chose to position themselves against the competition by showcasing the many awards and accolades they’ve won: People’s Choice, Best of the Best, etc. What’s interesting about this approach, and many other differentiating attributes, is that even though other tour operators have also won awards and honors, Safari chose what’s known as a “preemptive move” and claimed it as their own. Folgers coffee made a similar move decades ago when they claimed the position of “mountain grown coffee”. All coffee is grown on mountainsides, but Folgers was the first to put their stake in the ground.
3. Cheap Tours Hawaii
The name says it all and it’s perfectly aligned with their value proposition: a savings guarantee. They will pay you the difference if you can find a cheaper helicopter tour on Kaua’i. Big, bold, colorful type splashes “75% OFF” across their ads further cementing their low-price position. But here’s a “watch-out”: You can’t own the low price position and the high quality position in the prospect’s mind. So rhetorically I’ll ask: Do you really want to be the low-price helicopter operator on the island?
4. Island Helicopters
A bit of a schizophrenic brand, Island Helicopters doesn’t really know what it wants to be when it grows up. They’ve been locally owned and operated for 27 years, which establishes a reasonable credential to hang their hat on, but then they quickly move on to other attributes. And one of the most common branding mistakes is trying to “pile-on” other features. The folly is that while it may make you feel better (“Look at all the stuff my business is about!”), in reality, you’re not giving your prospective customer any real reason to choose your company over another. The most successful brands are those that have a narrow focus.
5. Will Squyers (Sunshine) Helicopter Tours
Sunshine takes the tack of promoting the category, not the brand itself. Their advertising waxes eloquently about the scenic beauty of the island, the unique aerial aspect of a helicopter tour that can only be experienced from above, and with a headline of “Overwhelm Your Senses” seems to try to convince you to simply consider a helicopter tour. Once you’ve made the tour decision, of course, Sunshine certainly hopes you’ll think of them. This is a risky approach and is often used by the category leader—especially if they have high top-of-mind awareness.
6. Blue Hawaiian Helicopters
This is another company that does it right by attempting to own a single word in the mind of their target audience: “Safety.” Like the well-known Michelin Tire campaign, “Because so much is riding on your tires,” Blue Hawaiian’s advertising features a photo of a young family with two small children and the headline: “Because some things really are priceless.” And their ad announces that they have the highest-time pilots on the island and are the only company in Hawaii to have its own factory-authorized and FAA-certified service center and repair station.
7. Jack Harter Helicopters
This operator attempts to offer a smorgasbord—a little of everything. In fact, from their advertising alone, it’s difficult to tell exactly what their business stands for: safety, quality, “the originator” of helicopter tours on the island, your choice of aircraft, and more are all served up to the prospect. But the formula that marketing author Herschel Gordon Lewis espouses is, “E-squared equals zero.” Or, when you emphasize everything you emphasize nothing. And you walk away from the Jack Harter ad wondering what it is they really offer that’s better than their competition.
As you’ve probably picked up by now, there’s no right or wrong way to differentiate (with the exception of a few of the examples who try to be everything to everybody, and as a result are nothing for anyone). The important point is that you do differentiate. Pick a position—one that the competition doesn’t own yet—and make it your own. Let it sing out through all your marketing and communications and your business will stand for something.
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Here’s how to differentiate and position your business
First, brainstorm (on your own or with your staff or your brand team) all the different reasons customers choose your business over your competition. What are those attributes they expect that your business will provide that others can’t (or that others can’t provide as well)?
Next, vote and tally those reasons or attributes that may already be your business’ core competency or you are positioned to deliver in a consistent way.
Now, identify those reasons or attributes that your customers would find relevant (do they care?); authentic (does it make sense that it’s your business that offers this?); and differentiated (your competition doesn’t already “own” the attribute).
Finally, which of the reasons or attributes are compelling, buzzworthy, and are aligned with the character of your business. Which are the attributes that your staff can really rally around and support?