Charles Porteous is president and founder of Seefeld Group, a consultancy helping aviation companies improve decision-making and grow revenues by better understanding their markets and customers
How did you come to business aviation?
After completing an MBA, I started marketing research with a subsidiary of British Amercan Tobacco, where we regularly used the latest techniques to gather market feedback and derive insights. However, I always loved aviation and doing business internationally – it was simply much sexier than cigarettes.
In the 1990s, Bombardier upgraded its marketing and market analysis activity. The opportunity to apply more sophisticated and proven marketing research tools to a dynamic, growing and internationally oriented industry was irresistible. I was particularly interested in the commercial aspect of business aviation because few high-value, global industries have its depth and breadth, so I embraced the opportunity to work with the OEM. Back in the early 2000s, I could see many businesses were missing out on opportunities or were unprepared for the future because they didn’t have the necessary market information on which to build commercial strategies, so I set up Seefeld Group in 2006 to fill the gap.
Where does a marketing and research company fit into business aviation?
Business aviation encompasses so much more than just pilots, engineers and OEMs. It is a vibrant, dynamic sector, as well as being very competitive. Establishing the "voice of the customer" and discovering what customers really think is vital to success. Essentially, research helps clients grow revenue and reduce risk by delivering unbiased customer and market perspective. You can only gather that valuable information by working with an independent third party that can analyse responses objectively and remove inbuilt bias. We bring important insights that assist international companies in making better-informed decisions.
What does your working week consist of?
Through the hundreds of executive interviews or survey questionnaires in the field each year, I feel lucky to get the chance to speak privately with people every week about a variety of topics spanning the full business aviation spectrum. Significant time is spent designing the questionnaires and discussion guides for upcoming marketing research projects, and even more time is spent analysing the results from more data than one could ever imagine. It is always really inspiring to visit Seefeld Group's clients on site and present research results by letting the data "tell a story". The management discussion that results from our "customer truths" and seeing how their teams come together to move forward is by far the most revealing and fascinating aspect of my role.
Regularly attending business aviation shows and conferences is critical. It allows me to see first hand how business aviation is evolving and what are the emerging topics or clients that are likely to become future projects for Seefeld. Seeing our work directly applied at shows, such as ABACE, EBACE, or NBAA through product launches, rebranding or investment announcements is very satisfying and demonstrates that what we do is hugely valuable.
What are the challenges in your role?
Since we have clients from around the world and multiple projects happening simultaneously, we need to manage time zones, language and cultural differences. What is acceptable in one region may not be in another. We also need to be diplomats as findings sometimes tell "hard truths"! We are always on the hunt for the right people to interview and we need to make sure participation rates remain at sustainable levels. "Survey fatigue" means we always have to think smartly about demonstrating our interviews are influential, and participation contributes to a better aviation industry.
What will be the impact of Big Data on business aviation?
There is a common misconception that Big Data will reduce the need to conduct "voice of the customer" research as answers will now exclusively lie in the data. Yes, Big Data enables us to better understand trends in customer behaviour, but it cannot tell us how customers feel or what they perceive – both are critical aspects for product development and presentation.
However, better understanding of mission/passenger/maintenance profiles using Big Data is enabling business to better segment clients and move away from a one-size-fits-all approach to a new level of competitive advantage. As new buyer segments are uncovered, there will be a need to interview them to discover what they desire. Ironically, this leads to targeted marketing.
What does the future hold for business aviation marketing research?
I believe the use of marketing research will evolve and become more sophisticated. The collecting of objective and quantifiable customer data means expectations from results, and demands on research tools, are continuously elevating. Research is now considered strategic and results are being applied more widely in business decision making. For example, we are now seeing clients wanting to conduct repeated annual surveys, as opposed to "one-offs", so they can benchmark their performance over time and tie results to business performance objectives.
In addition, simple in-house do-it-yourself surveys are not providing the depth of insight clients seek in order to customise selling messages. Going forward, I believe we will see a lot more marketing research integrated with customer relationship management tools, with a focus on asking professionally generated questions.
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