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Boeing’s Marketing Problem

When we published a survey on the MAX among pilots of the 737 model, most journalists and industry experts we contacted were surprised that we did not believe the MAX brand would ever take to the air again.

Most journalists were taking for granted that a recertified, improved MAX would soon be flying again. It is now clear it may never do so.

Even if it passed muster with the Federal Aviation Authority, how many passengers—and at what price—would board a MAX again? Yes, you guessed.

Wild as it may sound, the MAX may now be as good as scrap metal. And there is no easy solution:

  • If the MAX is deemed unworthy, the cascading costs of such a catastrophic scenario are beyond this author’s imagination, involving indemnity for airlines and massive losses for Boeing.
  • Yet Boeing is “too big to fail”. Sounds familiar? What do you do when, roughly, half the commercial air traffic in the world runs on the airplanes made by Boeing?

These are surely extreme scenarios with no ready-made solutions to address them.

One of the most enduring mysteries of this year is why, and how, did the just-fired Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg managed to hold on to his position. The aircraft maker has suffered the worst crisis in the 103-year-old company following two crashes caused by the MCAS stability device on Boeing 737 MAX aircraft that left 346 dead.

It was high time for Muilenburg to go. Yet Chairman Dave Calhoun has the unenviable task of figuring what to do with a clearly unreliable airplane, or one not many passengers will want to fly, and restoring confidence in the company.

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If information is worth something, pay for it

At Verb.company we are trying something new. We are running a test of selling digital news reports by the copy. We have set a low price per copy and made our first report available at our online store. Like the character in the Futurama TV show who always says “Good news, everyone” before sending the crew on another suicidal mission, we are taking a sunny view on the face of horrible odds.

We believe that people will pay for certain news on the Internet. Most of the news industry disagrees and we are hoping to prove them wrong. Our core tenet is: the value of information is inversely proportional to the number of people who have the information. For example, the fewer the people who know where to dig for gold, the more valuable that piece of information is: if you are the only who knows it, then its value is huge. Our business is creating valuable information from scratch.  

The hardest thing in our model is to split news from advertising. For newspapers, low traffic is “bad news”: for two hundred years, they got paid on the number of readers. That business model is now in crumbles. But that is only true if you are selling advertising. If you are buying advertising, you want the least possible reach that will maximize your sales: more bang for the buck. That is what Google and Facebook are offering advertisers to lure them away from news media. For example, instead of buying an ad that will reach 100,000 people hoping to reach the two thousand potential customers willing to buy your gold watches, you can now buy an advertisement in Instagram to target people who have shown an interest in gold jewelry and walk near your store every day.

In our model, we are no longer sellers of advertising but customers of advertising. We are using the same technology that is wreaking havoc on the news industry, very accurate and affordable online segmentation, to find the customers willing to pay for the information we are creating. Google and Facebook dominate the advertising industry but have had a hard time telling the truth from lies. In their model, it may be impossible.

Yet their audience segmentation is a valuable aid to sell our reports. And we at Verb.company can separate the wheat from the chaff. The news industry has time-tested methods to approach the truth. We have adopted the toolbox of classic journalism to do it. That’s why we have created a newsroom modelled after the newspaper ones. In other words, we use Google and Facebook to sell our editorial products. We are not their partners, nor beneficiaries, but customers. The famous business principle applies: the customer is always right.