Monday, January 31, 2011

Updated Taco Bueno in Moore, Oklahoma

I wanted to share a little of what the new Taco Bueno interior looks like.  Please note that the free wifi will be available at this location around the second week of February.  Please enjoy!

Friday, January 28, 2011

MDT - Harrisburg International Airport - An Airport with You In Mind

The Sky Bridge Welcomes All Who Travel Here

It's not often I leave an airport and think, So, when do I get to go back?  As I watched MDT disappear out of the window of the United Airlines (Operated by Trans States Airlines) Embraer 145, I was wishing that my time at Harrisburg International would have been longer.  HIA is an airport that was designed with You in mind. 

On January 21st, 2011, I was fortunate enough to travel to MDT and spend the afternoon with the Marketing Manager, Stephanie Gehman, and the Marketing Intern, Nancy.  They took me on a tour of the facility and answered several questions about the airport.

An Airport For First-Time Travelers
Visit HIA Online
On Twitter
On Facebook
On YouTube
HIA Blog

Harrisburg International Airport is actually located in Middletown, PA.  The FAA airport code MDT comes from the city name where the airport is located: MiDdleTown.  So don’t be confused when you see the MDT airport code.

Stephanie also shared with me a handy way to remember MDT.  HIA is located in an area that would have otherwise been served by BWI (Baltimore Washington International) or PHL (Philadelphia).  But for people in Dauphin, Perry, Lebanon, and surrounding counties, those airports are farther away, cost more to drive to and park at, and are more time consuming because of longer lines.  So, by traveling through MDT you save Money, Distance, and Time.

Inside the parking garage
When you arrive at the airport, you will find two parking options (garage parking, and Long-Term).  The long-term parking is located on the east side of the airport, with the other parking options located at the MMTF (Multi-Modal Transportation Facility), which is also known as the parking garage. 

If you park at the garage, you can take the sky bridge from the second level of the garage to the second level of the terminal building. One of the great things about the MMTF is that every spot is a good spot.  Located on the east and west sides of the garage are heated and air conditioned walkways that make your journey to the terminal building more pleasant.

Check-in Desks

Rocking Chairs Make Waiting A Bit Easier
All airline check-in desks are located on the west side of the first floor of the terminal.  One of the extra pleasures of departing from MDT is the many rocking chairs spread out on the public side of the terminal.  Note: the public side is referred to as the pre-security side of the airports.

Once you’ve got your boarding pass in hand, it’s back up stairs to the second floor to pass through Security. But if you’re not quite ready to send little Johnny off to his first semester at college, you can grab a bite to eat at the food court or swing over to Varsity Grill and enjoy a sit-down meal with memorabilia from many local sports teams. 

"Air Force Two"
If you love to watch planes come and go, you can also take the elevator up to the third floor to hang out at the observation deck. On a normal day, you’ll see many airliners coming and go, and you stand a good chance of seeing a C-130 practicing touch and gos, and if you arrive on a lucky day, you might get to see Air Force One or other presidential aircraft practicing landing procedures.

Once you’re ready to pass through Security, it’s important to note that the TSA in Harrisburg is equipped with both standard metal detectors and full-body scanners.

After you’ve made it through Security, the fun of local Harrisburg attractions doesn’t end. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, it’s Hershey. There is a Hershey-themed newsstand with all the chocolates and goodies you may need to take to your friends back home or wherever you are going. You can also visit Perfectly Pennsylvania for all your last-minute Pennsylvania gifts. If you’re hungry MDT offers Subway and Starbucks along with the Capitol CafĂ© for all your food and beverage needs.

Often, airports provide soft, luxurious leather vibrating chairs. The idea is you pay a few bucks, and you get a five-minute, soothing massage. As always, MDT goes a step beyond. If you’ve got an extra ten, fifteen, thirty minutes, take a trip to Gate B2 and visit my good friend Joyce. Joyce runs Get Grounded, a therapeutic getaway for your body, mind, and spirit. Joyce has skillful hands and extensive knowledge of great pressure points and how to work out those traveling blues. An added bonus: if you’re active military, Joyce will give you a complimentary massage. Tell her Mike sent you.

The final bonus is that, unlike the many money-hungry airports, HIA offers complimentary wifi to all of its visitors, so you’re never disconnected from the rest of the world.

For the Frequent Visitor to HIA
For those who spend most of life on the road, MDT didn’t forget about you. There are two key advantages to flying out of HIA over any other local airports. The first is the rewards program. How many airports do you go to on a regular basis that have a rewards program? It’s a big, whopping zero for me. There are multiple facets of the rewards program. The first is that membership in the rewards program gives you priority access to Security lines. If you’re running late and the line is long, you can flash your thick, plastic rewards card with your unique rewards member number, and you can use the pilot and airport staff Security entrance. (And, hey, when was the last time Delta or Continental sent you a thick, plastic rewards card?)

The second perk is entrance to the Susquehanna Club. For business travelers our companies often book us on whatever flight is the cheapest; therefore, it becomes difficult to achieve a status high enough for entry into an airline club. The Susquehanna Club doesn’t discriminate. Even if you don’t join the rewards program because you’re just passing through, if you have accrued 25,000 miles on one airline, you have gained entry into the quiet, peaceful, relaxing Susquehanna Club. (Did I mention it comes with free chocolate?)

One final amenity I would like to share about the Susquehanna Club is the conference room. If you’re traveling with a crew and you need to have a meeting before you board the airplane, you can reserve the conference room by calling the airport in advance.

But the rewards don’t stop there. Every time you check in a the Susquehanna Club, you are asked to fill out a trip data sheet. By providing this information, you earn points. At the end of each points accrual period, awards are given out for the amount of points you earned. Maybe you’ll get a travel voucher or a free cup of coffee. Either way, earning points is awesome, and this airport is letting you do it.  To learn more, visit:  It is important to note that the rewards accrual periods are occasional and not all year long.

MDT Is More than Just and Airport
Local artists' work is on display throughout the airport
For me to just look at the public face of an airport would be worse than Boeing going out of business. One of the extras I want to look at is how Stephanie and her team are building a brand out of an FAA airport code. From time to time, I search Twitter. One of my more recent searches was for “MDT.” One of the first results I found was from @HHRVB (The Hershey Harrisburg Regional Visitors Bureau), which stated that you should fly out of Harrisburg to save money, distance, and time! In my mind airports most often simply exist; they see their primary customer as the airlines. Harrisburg realizes that without the airlines there would be no customers and without the customers there would be no airlines.

Stephanie also commented that people treasure airports in their towns and that airports exemplify the ability to escape. With all that in mind, HIA has put a lot of emphasis into reaching the consumer. To do so they have worked tirelessly to create a solid brand.

So Much More than a Brand
While Stephanie and I were talking, she paused and then made an astounding remark: “This is a culture.” The people of MDT don’t just have a job at an airport; they live for flight, and, to that end, they will stop at nothing.

While we were talking about branding, I asked Stephanie why they use Social Media. “How many travelers do you see that don’t have a smart phone?” she asked. She continued on to say that Social Media is a vehicle to answer questions.

When the first HIA Facebook group was created in 2007, it only took two weeks to grow to 200 members. Facebook opened the door to communicate with travelers. Stephanie pointed out that you don’t always know what to expect when traveling. She said, “I wanted to take the what-if out the experience.” Social Media has led to a rough average of twenty in-person interactions per week with people whom @HIAairport visit with online.

The airport has gone out of its way to engage people online on Facebook, Twitter, their blog, and even foursquare. On your third check in to the airport, you will have earned yourself an HIA luggage tag. Pretty cool, I think.

But wait, Mike, weren’t you talking about branding? Of course I was. “Social Media has removed some of the mystery of what MDT is,” quoth Stephanie. As any #avgeek or #prophead would know, airport codes often don’t made sense to the not-so-frequent traveler. Take Orlando’s MCO, for example. People around the airport refer as OIA (Orlando International Airport), but the airlines refer to it as MCO.

MDT faces the same problem. Stephanie described this issue as a branding nightmare, but she has found Social Media also to be a vehicle of influence. When AirTran started service from Harrisburg to Fort Lauderdale, Stephanie found that Social Media allowed her to explain what MDT and FLL stand for.

People would read tweets posted by @HIAairport about FLL.  They knew FLL was somewhere in Florida and would ask Stephanie where it was.  These questions opened the door for explanation and conversation.  Stephanie finished off by saying Social Media allowed HIA to shape the message they wanted to send.

For the #avgeek in Us All
F-16 - Photo by Stephanie Gehman
MDT also provides some fantastic planespotting. During my six-hour visit, I got to see 90003 or “Air Force 2” practicing touch and gos. The airport is also host to an Air National Guard base. I was able to watch two C-130s come and go. At the end of my visit, I did get to hear a loud roar, and I rushed to the window only to see a glimpse of what I believe to be an F-16.  Stephanie was kind enough to confirm that and even provided a photo of the F-16.

If you’re taking a quick trip to MDT for a little planespotting, I might suggest the cell phone parking lot, the fourth floor of the parking garage, and, of course, the observation deck (which, it outside of Security) as great planespotting locations.

For those of you looking to take interesting pictures, it is important to note that MDT is the closest airport in the world to a nuclear power plant. If you’re on the fourth floor of the garage, aircraft taking off or departing from runway 31 will have a fantastic background—two smoke stacks risking up beyond the distant hills.

General Aviation Information
For those of you who own your own aircraft, MDT has one FBO. AVFlight is located northwest of the terminal building and provides standard amenities for pilots and owners alike. Information about the FBO can be found at their website (Unicom: 122.95).  

There are also three other local GA airports available: Capital City Airport, Franklin County Regional Airport, and Gettysburg Regional Airport.

Looking Back
United Express And US Airways
Harrisburg International Airport truly was built with the traveler in mind. Its state-of-the-art baggage system was the first of its kind to be installed, and the concept has now made its way to many large international airports. From rocking chairs to a one-of-a-kind rewards program, MDT is also always looking for ways to make the travel experience better. If you’re flying to southeastern Pennsylvania, I strongly recommend that you find your way to Harrisburg; it’s the airport that sets the bar for all other airports.

If you are interested in me visiting a certain airport, please leave me a message.  If you work at an airport and would like to show off your place, send me an e-mail and I would be more than glad to work with you!  My goal is to visit one airport a month.  I would like to thank Stephanie, Nancy, and the entire staff at MDT for their time and willingness to work with me!

But, hey, I'm just some guy who likes to look at airplanes, so what do I know?

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

A Failed Social Media Strategy

It's often hard to say what a company's goal is when using Social Media. We can assume all day long that the underlying goal is to make money. However, their actual goal may be to increase product awareness or find out what people really think about their business.

But in one case, I'd like to assume that an auto dealership in Tucson, Arizona, thought it was their last chance at survival.

I don't quite remember the day when this dealer started following me, but I decided it would be wise to follow them back.  I kept a close eye on what they were doing and saying.  The all too often tweet  looked like this:
If you own a Suzuki Equator in Benson, <company name> wants to be your one stop automotive destination.  Visit our FB page. 
And that was it.  In fact, minus the occasional video post, there was nothing but that same format tweet.  And the video posts were only URLs.  There was no information.  This is all I saw for months...

...and then:
The dealership was in trouble.  They announced that they would be closing their doors.  A week of tweets proclaiming the last chance to get 33% off of all new inventory was all that remained.

One thing that I would like to point out is that I have no idea why they were closing their store.  The owner could have had a medical reason, or just wanted to retire.  But as I have seen many times, Auto Dealers tend to have this notion that Social Media is a over night fix to their declining sales.

How You Fail With Social Media
Let's assume for a moment that Social Media was the owner's plan to save his dealership.  Where did he go wrong?

The key problem people face with Social Media is that they forget that it is Social.  You have to connect and talk with people.  Imagine you are at a party.  Everyone is mingling and chatting about life.  There are conversations about business going on, but that's not the main focus.  And then Steve shows up.  Steve stands in the middle of the room and starts shouting, "Now in stock at Steve's Auto Sales: a new Ford Taurus only $23,995!"

The room stops.  Everyone looks at Steve for a moment.  But nobody has anything to say in response.  The masses go back to their conversations.  Steve thinks he made an impact.  So, he waits a few minutes and then screams it again.  This time everyone just ignores it.  And so it continues for the rest of the party.

If you were attending that party, would Steve have annoyed you?  You bet he would have driven me nuts.  There's a good chance I would have left the party.  So, when this dealership continued to keep posting the same thing over and over, I began to ignore them.  And therefore their Social Media Strategy failed them.

Social Media Shouldn't be a Strategy.
When kings and queens ruled the world, their children were married for strategic reasons.  Every relationship was part of a strategy.  As business owners, we tend to think of relationships the same way.  "I'll play golf at certain country club so that I can meet the right people."  "I go to a specific church so that I can visit with people who can afford the cars I sell."

We do it all the time.  But people can see through that.  Social Media shouldn't be a strategy, it should be a meeting place to learn about your customers, find out how you can help them, and build a transparent business that people can trust.

Please understand that if you build a "Social Media Strategy" you're only building a "how to talk with people" strategy.  Social Media is an overnight fix, it's a way to grow relationships.

Don't believe me?  KLM (the dutch airline owned by Air France-KLM Group) decided that they needed to take a different approach with Social Media.  They wanted to get Social.  So, at their hub, the Amsterdam Airport Schiphol, they started searching for people who were tweeting about flying on KLM and being at the airport.  They would research the person using Facebook.  And then they would buy a gift that matched the person, and hand deliver it.

Now that's being Social.  That's a strategy that will actually help create repeat customers.  If KLM had just constantly tweeted about how great their flights were, nothing would have ever happened.  Oh, and the impact that had?  They generated more than 1,000,000 impressions.

Lesson Learned: Social Media requires conversations with people, not your normal marketing hoopla.

But, hey, I'm just some guy who likes to look at airplanes, so what do I know?

Saturday, January 15, 2011

If I Were W. James McNerney, Jr. (Boeing)

What a week for the #avgeeks out there.  IndiGo places the largest jet order ever, and Delta announces an RFP for 200 narrow body aircraft.

So, the question of the day, if you could be anyone working for Boeing, Airbus, Delta, Bombardier, United, or any other airline or manufacturer, who would it be, and what would you do?

Today, if I were W. James McNerney, Jr., the CEO of Boeing, this is what I would do.

I would take advantage of a quiet Saturday, and call my top engineers together.  We would sit around in a large meeting room at the Boeing headquarters in Chicago.  This what I would say:
Never before have we had such an opportunity as this.  Airlines are growing tired of our delays, and we are getting more and more frustrated.  Our plan is not falling into place as we would have hoped.  But today, we can change that.  What we have learned from the 787 program is great.  Although the aircraft hasn't made it first profit flight, we have gained vast knowledge from it
Today, we work hard, and Monday, we make a statement.
You see, if I were James, I would realize that the time to act is now.  The 737 has run its course.  The 747, 757, 767, and even (to some extent) the 777 are growing old.  The 787 has opened the doors to create stronger, lighter, faster, and cleaner aircraft.

A busy weekend would ensue.  On Monday, a calm would come before the storm.

Let me step out of my day dream for a moment to expand on a theory I have.  Boeing isn't stupid.  The A320neo is a bandaid to a larger problem, and Boeing knows it.  Remember, they didn't seem to excited over the IndiGo order, and why should they?  IndiGo wasn't going to buy any 737s anyway.  Moreover, Boeing knows something we don't.

My theory is simple: Boeing is going to start replacing their entire line with new, carbon fiber models.  They're just waiting for the right time to start announcing it.

Cue Delta.  

Boeing needs a large launch customer for their 737 replacement.  They need an impact to be left on Airbus for making a rash decision to re-engine the A320.  Delta wants 200 new narrow-bodies.  What are the options: The CSeries, the A320NEO, and the 737NexGen.

Bombardier needs to sell their CSeries, so they have a lot to lose.  Airbus is cocky, and probably thinks they have nothing to lose.  But Boeing has been waiting for the right time.  What about a 797 with three key variants.

797-200: 100-120 pax
797-400:  130-160 pax
797-600: 180-210 pax

And then give them a great range (you know to become ETOPS 180 rated).  The 797 could quickly become the most desired new aircraft.  And, if you really want insult Bombardier and Embraer, you make a -100 version designed to carry 70-100 pax.

So, back to my daydream.  I would make my announcement on Monday.  Land a sale with Delta, and then work with United (and its regional carriers) to also sign an MOU.

Knowing Boeing, I wouldn't be the least bit surprised.  So, what's your fantasy?  Let me know what you think should/will happen.  I'll continue to support Boeing for the rest of my life.  It's a better aircraft, it's a better flight.

But, hey, I'm just some guy who likes to look at airplanes, so what do I know?

Friday, January 14, 2011

How Taco Bueno is Becoming More Bueno.

Right.  This is supposed to be an aviation blog.  Sorry, but I'm always thinking about Marketing and Branding.  Many of my readers know of my love for Boeing and United (and my brand love for Southwest), but only some of you know of my love for Taco Bueno.  In fact, I would often be referred to as a Bueno Head.

Taco Bueno is a company that was born out of a desire to make great Tex-Mex food. It has gone through a series of changes over the past ten years.

This is the CKE version of Bueno

The first change came after the Taco Bueno was purchased by CKE Restaurants.  CKE was responsible for creating the first new look of Taco Bueno.  With that change came a new POS system and a brand that liked to scream "It's More Bueno!" 

It was during this time that I first worked for Taco Bueno.  I want to make it clear that working there was one of the greatest things in my life.  I enjoyed the process of cooking high-quality food and serving customers fast.  

The second change came after Taco Bueno became an independent company once again.  Bueno realized that to grow quickly they had to open up to franchising.  So they did.  Bueno spread the midwest quickly.  They also unleashed a new look for their store.

The new Bueno was a little classier and came with some new food options.  Bueno was determined to grow their business and create a restaurant that could compete with Taco Bell (and, Lord willing, destroy the bell).  

A few weeks ago I was sent an email from the Bueno Offices in Texas telling me about a redone store here in the Oklahoma City area.  At first look, I was underwhelmed.  I wrote a long email to the marketing department sharing with them about my thoughts and concerns about where Bueno was headed.  But to be fair, I had not yet been to the new Bueno.  

Welcome to the new Bueno.
The New Taco Bueno Mexican Grille
When I first arrived at the new Bueno I was very impressed with the  building itself.  The new structure looks classy and well designed.  But the inside is what really impressed me.

At the old Taco Bueno you would order and then wait for your name or number to be called.  You would bus your own table.  It was very normal for a fast food joint.  But the new Bueno was so much better.

The menu is much cleaner looking, and includes a digital display for new and limited time only options.  Instead of telling you your order number, they give you a table number so that your food can be delivered to you.    The salsa bar looks much nicer.  And the staff will even pick up your dirty dishes for you.  Oh, yeah, I forgot to mention that.  You get real plates, not just something that you throw away.  So Bueno is also becoming greener.

Bueno's New Menu
There are a few other things that you should know about the new Bueno.  It includes free wifi.  It has TVs around to enjoy the game or watch the news.  The interior is laid out to allow for more privacy from other patrons.

The new Bueno is the kind of place that I would spend hours just hanging out at (and scarfing down as many tacos as I can).

But I did have one complaint.  For those familiar with the Bueno menu, I ordered a Beef Nacho Salad.  The salad came in a basket (with many holes) which would have allowed my queso, chili sauce, and original red salsa to spill all over the table.  So, maybe Bueno should rethink that.

Overall, Bueno is becoming a hip, clean, and welcoming place to spend a real family dinner without feeling like you're being rushed through a fast food joint.  Great Job Bueno!

The new Salsa Bar
Notice the TVs and the new signage

But, hey, I'm just some guy who likes to look at airplanes, so what do I know?

Sunday, January 2, 2011

What Happened To The Love Of Flight? (A Marketing Question)

Several weeks ago I read a tweet that said something like, "Southwest and Jet Blue are brands, all the others are just airline names."  I don't know who to credit for this, but it sparked my thought process.

When did airlines stop branding themselves, and start marketing themselves?  I realize that to some this question doesn't make any sense, so let's break it down.

A brand for a company is like a reputation for a person. You earn reputation by trying to do hard things well.
- Jeff Bezos,

Stephen Lovekin/WireImage

What is a Brand?
Anyone who knows me knows that I love branding.  I love the concept that a company can take on an entire persona, if they choose.  Looking back to the tweet that started all of this, Southwest is a strong brand.  They are identifiable by their Canyon Blue planes, their bag cops, but mostly, their "luv".  Shoot, for years I thought that LUV was the FAA code for DAL.  They branded it so well, that the consumer believes it.

But, really, what is a brand?  I'm mostly preaching to the choir here, so I'll skip the "it's not just a logo" crap.  I am a firm believer that the brand of a company is its personality.  One thing I love about Southwest is the safety announcements.  I'm sure at corporate there is a script that the FAA foolishly believes Southwest follows.  But every time I fly Southwest I get a different take on safety.

This is a direct reflection of the personality of Southwest.  Even though they are following guidelines, they have fun.  They've got the "LUV" spirit.  Look to their website, their commercials, their people, their policies... everything points back to a fun, exciting, energetic personality.

I wanted to include this Southwest commercial just because it really pushes the concept that their brand is much more about who they are than the money the CEO makes.

Now, let's look at my favorite airline.  United.  I live for United.  But based on what we've already said about Southwest, does United have a "LUV" equal?  No.  In fact, look to what people are talking about when it comes to United: the merger, the union fights, and the outsourcing.  I've even seen a pin that crew are wearing that says "United Against Outsourcing."

Let's go back a bit to February 12th, 2004.  This was a good time for United as they unleashed Ted, a part of United.  The United brand was still strong, and they wanted to feed off of it.  So they created Ted, a low cost carrier that would ultimately fail.

United began spreading themselves too thin.  They became a corporation, and lost their uniqueness.  American did it, Delta did it, and many others have too.  Think back, what was the last branding campaign you can really think of outside of Southwest?

The last one that comes to my mind was in 2008 when Delta tried to create a buzz with their hot new red-headed safety spokesperson.  There was a little bit of viral marketing, and some news stories, but overall the brand wasn't changed much.

So what did happen to the love of flight?
I would have loved to been alive during the 1950's.  Flying then was a treat.  Now...

Are we trying to blow up the notion that flying is some kind of orgasmic experience rather than a glorified bus service? Yes, we are. An airplane is nothing more than a bus with wings on.
- Michael O'Leary, Ryanair

Irish Central

Now most people seem to think of flying as a glorified bus service.  As fees pile up, and security becomes harder to pass, people will continue to lose a passion for flight.

Think back before 9/11; bags were free, snacks were free, everything (it seemed) was a service of the airline.  Now as a patron, I am carrying the weight of the airline on my shoulders.  Jeff Smisek, who made $4,320,867.00 (according to Forbes), feels that the company needs to make even more cuts.  Outsourcing, more fees, who knows what else.  But he sure doesn't really feel the burden of air travel.

Being a true avgeek, I know and understand that flying is expensive.  I also understand that fuel prices have gone up, and will continue to go up.  But the problem is the way that the airlines are handeling it.  I realize that I have left branding behind, but I'm just following the same path as the airlines.

As long as airlines focus on these silly little fees, they won't ever be able to remember who they are.  Unless...

"But now," says the Once-ler,"Now that you're here, the word of the Lorax seems perfectly clear. UNLESS someone like you
cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It's not.

- From The Lorax, By Dr. Seuss

The Lorax

Yes, I did just quote Dr. Seuss.  This is my call to the Airlines.  It is time to remember that only the airlines can save the airline industry.  A big portion of that should be devoted to remembering who you are.  It is time to bring your brands back to life... or the Michael O'Leary's of the world will turn classic air travel into nothing more than a trip on MegaBus.

So, airlines need to shape up, or true brands like Southwest, or those yet to come, will destroy them.

But let's see, I'm just a guy who likes to look at airplanes, so what do I know?