Wheels Up's Lee Applbaum desires to democratize non-public aviation
Lee Applbaum spent his career as a marketing tequila at Patrón, navigated retail at Target, and more recently has devoted himself to the chaos of the unknown cannabis industry. After years of experience, he set out to disrupt and redefine a new field: aviation.
Last week, Applbaum began his tenure as CMO of Wheels Up, a private jet charter company with access to over 1,500 aircraft.
"I've been blessed to work with brands that are both iconic and disruptive, and those are two words I would absolutely use to describe Wheels Up," he said. "It established itself very quickly as a real disruptor and innovator in space and as a brand that has a real boast."
As CMO, he said he would democratize the industry through much-needed digitization in travel space.
"What we do is technologically complex, but the customer experience is deeply analog," he said. "We are in a digital world and the shift from analog to digital business is a key driver of democratization. Wheels Up is about disruptions in a market that has become somewhat predictable."
Prior to joining the company's C-suite, Applbaum was a customer and board member at Wheels Up. CEO Kenny Dichter, who founded the company in 2013, is confident that Applbaum will continue to develop his company at an already crucial time defined by a partnership with Delta and initiatives to diversify the historically exclusive industry.
“I've known and respected Lee for many years. Everyone who has worked with him knows that he is a marketing guru, a branding expert and a true master of his field, ”said Dichter.
Applbaum received an Adweek Brand Genius Award in 2015 for its digital-first marketing approach at Patrón. This latest digital first plan includes the development of the Wheels Up app and the use of member-created content on social media. Dichter wants to shape the aviation industry the way Uber shaped transportation.
"We want to open up the industry and create a space for how Uber and Amazon have taken an idea and woven it into the fabric of our society," he said. "Getting a private plane should be as easy as ordering a Domino's pizza or an Airbnb."
Applbaum's new role is very different from his job as CMO at Parallel, where writing the rules of the cannabis industry took precedence over developing his own brand. According to Applbaum, by creating brand loyalty, Wheels Up can make trusted recommendations, from lodging to dining suggestions, that enhance a customer's overall travel experience.
"Brands are very important in this area because the nature of our business requires trust," he said. "This creates loyalty that goes beyond any product or transactional relationship."
Dichter predicts that young people will spend a larger percentage of their disposable income on travel, which opens up a unique opportunity for companies like Wheels Up – and aims to make travel more affordable too.
"We're moving away from the economy of things and towards the economy of experience," he said.