Let’s start with Col. Harland Sanders, the late, white-haired gentleman whose likeness has appeared on every bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken for decades. Did you notice when his former enterprise shortened its name to KFC? Did you catch the change from “fries” to “potato wedges”?
In the 1980s, Tony the Tiger, the mascot for Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes, went from being a cuddly-looking character to a buffed fellow with muscular arms and a tight waist. Did you notice his more athletic appearance coincided with Kellogg dropping the word “sugar” from the proper name of the cereal? The company also added that the cereal was “part of a complete breakfast.”
Those changes were made for one main reason: survival in the marketplace.
KFC’s market share was under attack by an army of nutrition experts decrying the ills of foods fried in saturated fats. So the world’s premier purveyor of yard bird banked hard to the right and distanced itself from the word “fried,” becoming simply KFC. It also started selling grilled chicken and bought lots of airtime to let the world know about the changes.
As for Tony and his corporate brothers, they shifted to telling parents that cereal isn’t all bad if you balance it with some fruit and a glass of orange juice. (After all, that got Tony looking like a body builder.) Kellogg also started pushing its bran and whole grain products harder.
Ladies and gentlemen, now more than ever, it’s time we paid attention to what the colonel and Tony can teach us. Failing to change one’s appearance, message or product to fit changing public opinion, needs and outside competition could leave your operation starved for capital, or lead to it closing down completely.
Consider the realm of public safety as a retail market, providing a service to a customer for a price. In the case of police aviation, the service is airborne law enforcement, the customers are the citizens and the price is paid with the tax dollar. Just like most service providers, we have competition for the customers’ dollars. Our customers, by way of their elected officials, have the ability to spend their money elsewhere. And yes, there is an “elsewhere.”
Your aviation unit’s competition for tax dollars are unmanned aerial vehicles, body cameras, more patrol officers and non-lethal weapons. But before you say that I’m making this an “aviation vs. the rest of the police department” thing, hear me out. That isn’t what I’m suggesting. I feel that all of those things are important, but there has to be an intelligent balance, and we need to be one of the voices that gets heard in striking that balance.
Law enforcement helicopters are a vital part of the full public-safety picture, along with many other things. We all know that. But do we understand that we need to make our customers aware of it? Are we forgetting that, along with changing times, funding levels and technologies, our “product” may need more exposure and some alterations to better compete for tax dollars?
This year’s Airborne Law Enforcement Association (ALEA) conference in Houston July 13-18 is offering a free workshop entitled, Marketing Your Aviation Unit, which will be taught by Sgt. Eric Weidner of the Ontario (Calif.) Police Department Aviation Unit. Weidner has a formal education in marketing. He believes that the future of police aviation rests in its ability to advertise and adjust its services to remain effective. He includes in that philosophy the need to consider when and how to embrace the technologies that we currently might feel are a threat to the police helicopter.
I think Weidner is on the right track, which is why I’m going to make a point of stopping in to hear his presentation on the morning of July 17 while I’m at ALEA. I think police aviation can do well if we take a lesson or two from the business world and learn how to brag about our special brand of police product. This would help our customers understand what our true value is, which would help keep us funded and flying.