Malcom Gladwell, the well known author who possesses both an almost cartoonishly frizzy hair-style and a razor sharp mind, first came to my attention with his blockbuster hit “The Tipping Point.” Released in 2002, Amazon still ranks it high on its best sellers ranking. It held down the position of 533 on that literary hit parade as this week opened, nearly 13 years after its initial publication.
I wish my books sold as well.
In The Tipping Point, Gladwell observes that a magic moment exists in the life of a product or service that suddenly catapults it to the top of the sales charts. There are a variety of reasons for this phenomenon taking place, but in each of the cases he studies, there is a moment, an incident, an occurrence that causes an otherwise pedestrian object to become the instant darling of the consumer.
In short, masses of people suddenly become convinced they must have that product. They must subscribe to that service. Not one more day will pass without that thing, whatever it is, being in their home, their car, or on their feet. The possession of it becomes a social imperative. In other words, the nation cries as one, “I must have it,” and so they buy.
Not for nuthin’, as my New York area friends might say, but have you seen the price of avgas lately?
I flew out of Bartow earlier today and found self-serve 100LL going for a bargain basement $4.15 per gallon. However, a little snooping around revealed this once almost unimaginably low rate is nowhere near the bottom of the pricing scale. Palatka is pumping for $3.95 and you can fill your tanks in Punta Gorda for $3.75 per gallon. Zephyrhills has pilots flying in from far and wide to take advantage of its highly attractive rate of $3.55 per self-serve gallon.
I guess Black Friday for pilots has been extended right into 2015.
If we all were to figuratively put on our Malcolm Gladwell hats right now; first, we’d look silly, because a Malcolm Gladwell hat would look very much like a fright wig that you might find in a cut-rate novelty shop. Secondly, we would start thinking deep, serious thoughts about whether this fuel price anomaly might just provide the sort of kick in the economic pants the general aviation industry needs – right when we need it most.
Price is a factor in everything. Everything. There is nothing that escapes the inherent limitations of cashflow and available credit. Nothing. But there is opportunity to be had when rates can be cut substantially, even if that cut is for a limited time.
Consider the cable company or satellite providers. They often publicize rates that are as little as half what their actual rates are – and when they do they bring in untold numbers of new customers who want to cash in on the savings of the reduced rates. These customers do this even with the knowledge that their monthly bill will, absolutely will, go up by as much as 100% in the coming year.
That’s inspirational information. It’s not conjecture. It’s not a theory. That is a description of an actual pricing structure that really works in the marketplace.
Have you seen an advertisement for a car lately? Whether it’s in print, on the radio, buried into the corner of a page on your web browser, or cutting into your favorite program during prime time, the odds are good that ad tells you nothing about the actual cost of the car it’s promoting. Nope, they’re talking about what’s great, not what’s unavoidable.
Those ads are consistent, and they work. They’re telling you what kind of a discount you can get, they’re heralding the cash-back incentives offered by the manufacturer or the dealer. Those ads trumpet the low, low finance rates that will allow you to make tiny little payments that fit your budget and allow you to tuck that otherwise unaffordable dream machine into your garage. But you probably won’t see an actual price for the product you want to buy included in those ads. That might turn people off. They wouldn’t buy. They’d hunker down and wait for a better deal to come along.
Perhaps it’s time general aviation took a page from our more ubiquitously successful capitalist brethren, and recognized a tipping point now that it’s been presented to us. Fuel prices are down. Way down. A sharp businessperson bolstered with the power of a good marketing plan can present that information to prospective clients and turn the surprise of lower cost for the product or service into sales and new customers.
Now that’s an attractive magic trick.
There is a reason products and services that have penetrated the public consciousness more thoroughly than aviation use action-oriented verbiage in their ads like, “Prices haven’t been this low in years,” or, “Buy now and take advantage of historic low rates.” And that reason is simple. It works.
Let’s do that, shall we?