This week, we spotlight Lee Applbaum. He’s the Chief Marketing Officer at Wheels Up.
We’d like to congratulate Lee Applbaum and the Wheels Up team for outstanding Q1 2022 results. Among the highlights:
- Revenue jumped 24% to more than $325 million
- Membership increased 26% to over 12,000
- Live Flight Legs increased 15% to over 17,000
Additionally, the company’s block sales jumped by over 150%.
“The record first-quarter revenue is a testament to the company’s unique market position and iconic brand as an innovator in a supply-constrained market,” said Chairman & CEO Kenny Dichter. “Over the past several months, we have made meaningful improvements to address operational challenges and expect to realize the benefit in the coming quarters. We are ahead of plan on pilot hiring and continue to add to our maintenance capabilities while also delivering on several key strategic and technology initiatives.”
Lee Applbaum helped contribute to that success.
If you’re unfamiliar with Wheels Up, it’s part of the emerging (and disruptive) private jet industry. You can think of it as Uber for folks who want to fly.
Flying private is no longer a privilege enjoyed only by billionaires and actors. Instead. It’s now affordable to people with five- and six-figure bank accounts.
And, if the history of the technical revolution has taught us anything, it will probably get even more affordable.
What attracts people to private flying? They can get where they want to go without the hassle of being crammed into the cabin of a major airline that flies hundreds of people at once.
People who’ve got money can fly first class or business class. But there’s still the hassle of the wait in the terminal. Not to mention that march through the cattle chute, sometimes called a jetway.
And then there’s COVID. Or Monkeypox.
Every major airport, at any given time, can become a superspreader event.
Those pain points lead people to look elsewhere for flying opportunities. And Wheels Up is where they often land (no pun intended).
A Fresh Face
Applbaum is reasonably new to Wheels Up. He joined the company less than two years ago.
According to the press release announcing his appointment as CMO, Applbaum has over 25 years of experience leading marketing teams and building brands.
Just before joining Wheels Up, he served as CMO of Surterra Wellness. That’s one of the country’s fastest-growing wellness lifestyle companies.
Before that, he worked for Bacardi Global Brands. While there, he managed international marketing efforts across over 160 countries.
And Applebaum can be accredited for part of the reason Patron is one of the largest best-selling super-premium tequila brands.
Under his leadership, Patron led marketing innovation with a voice-powered cocktail system through Amazon Alexa. This innovation pushed AR tools further to the forefront of product marketing.
He led marketing initiatives for Australia, the Coca-Cola Company, and Federated Department Stores.
In fact, he has been in the world of marketing since 1998. So, it’s no wonder he knows his way around building brands.
Applbaum earned the much-coveted Adweek Brand Genius Award and was named Business Insider’s Most Innovative CMO in 2017.
Part of the Disruption
As you can see from the previous section, Applbaum enjoyed a long history with numerous well-known brands that don’t necessarily cater to the rich and famous.
So why join a company with a customer base that’s more… elite?
That was part of the attraction.
“A brand that has real swagger and embraces disruption has always been a sweet spot for me,” he told Forbes.
And Applbaum injects that disruption into his marketing efforts as well.
A Joint Venture With the Big Box Store
In case you missed the news, one way Wheels Up promoted its service is by partnering with Costco.
Now you might think: “How many people who shop at Costco are interested in private jet memberships?”
It’s an understandable question. But you may be shocked to learn that it was a successful campaign.
“That unexpected partnership generated considerable earned media and showed measurable growth in sales,” Applbaum says. “That was the intention. It wasn’t just a clever PR play. Doing that kind of disruptive work, that change in perceptions, is a big part of what I am aiming to do in my role.”
So he’s doing disruptive marketing in a disruptive industry. And it’s working.
Wrapping It Up
Applbaum also realizes there’s room to grow. He cites a McKinsey study (done pre-COVID) showing that 90% of consumers and businesses who can afford to fly private, don’t.
That’s a lot of market share up for grabs.
As a result, a big part of his marketing efforts will focus on “opening the aperture, being transparent, accessible, and inclusive.”
He knows it’s still a luxury brand.
“We have to be cognizant of the challenges facing Americans and the world,” he says. “We’ve got to be careful not to be tone deaf, just like all other brands.”
It’s a balancing act.
And, given his history, Applbaum seems to be the perfect person for the job.