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While the experience economy is nothing new, there is a reason why it’s trending; people want to invest their time and money in immersive and unique experiences now that pandemic restrictions are lifting, and the heartbeat of culture is changing. Today brands are being asked to provide a new level of accessibility and inclusivity, but do the results outweigh the repercussions?

At first glance, Wheels Up, a platform connecting flyers to private aircraft, and NTWRK, an app for live-stream shopping, may seem like two entirely different entities; however, these two brands are at the heart of the experience economy. Lee Applbaum, CMO of Wheels Up, and Jason Brown, CMO of NTWRK, are two Visionaries leading never-seen-before experiences and are focused on providing accessibility and inclusivity for all.

See how their brands are navigating the experience economy below. We hope it provides ideas and inspiration for you and your teams as you navigate the future.

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  • The Experience Economy: Wheels Up and NTWRK
  • Accessibility: Technology, Creativity, and Necessary Disruption
  • Incorporating Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
  • What are the Repercussions and Results of D&I?
  • How To Lead Teams and Talent as Relevant Culture Connectors

The Experience Economy: Wheels Up and NTWRK

Lee Applbaum: When I first started working with luxury brands, as Global CMO of Patrón, I recognized that the purchase of super-premium Tequila was both irrational and discretionary; but flying private is even more so and is entirely discretionary and totally irrational. But the experience economy has taught everyone to value things differently. Even though flying private remains elusive for many, consumers in the experience economy demand not just to be well-traveled but to travel well; in other words, the priority is the quality of the experience versus the quantity. Creating moments that matter is the epicenter of our brand ethos and commitment to the customer.

Jason Brown: NTWRK is not a regular website where you click a product and add it to a cart. It is an interactive space that allows consumers to hear directly from the creators who put their heart and soul into their exclusive product. It essentially provides a level of social currency; consumers can ask the creator questions and interact in the chat with other users about the same category, whether that’s coveted sneakers, fashion apparel, home goods, art, NFTs, and more. A lot of the products that we drop on NTWRK end up being on the secondary market selling for double or triple what we initially dropped them for. The root of what we’re doing every day is creating experiences that passionate consumers want to see by tapping into the culture and delivering daily experiences for consumers with thousands of episodes per month.

Here is a great example of how we show up:

Accessibility: Technology, Creativity, and Necessary Disruption 

Jason Brown: Our mantra has always been to connect to specific passion points. Without referencing our competition by name where anyone can create an account and sell something, the biggest difference about what we do is curation, and we spend much of our time doing that. Curating comes to life by ensuring that every single person and product that graces our platform has been deemed credible and relevant to our audience as something they would want.

Lee Applbaum: In this experience economy, we are leveraging technology to connect all the supply with the demand in a way that is frictionless, trustworthy, and safe. Private aviation is nothing new; there are thousands of private aircraft and arguably millions of potential consumers in the addressable market. By utilizing technology, we can connect the two and create a safe and accessible marketplace, lowering the cost, yet maintaining a unique and memorable experience. When you deliver a technology-enabled marketplace, you open the addressable market and make it accessible to far more consumers.

Incorporating Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

Lee Applbaum: Every organization has a responsibility to focus on diversity and inclusion, and private aviation is certainly no exception, and arguably maybe even more accountable. In the past, the industry focused on a very specific, stereotypical consumer profile. However, that isn’t representative of what economically enabled, diverse consumers really look like today. Why are we not talking to female CEOs and leaders, African Americans, Latinos, and the LBGTQ+ community, for example? These communities are flying private but don’t have brands connecting with them authentically.

We recently launched an initiative to showcase our focus on inclusivity by producing our first diverse photoshoot and arguably the first-ever done in our industry, which is shocking but true.

Wheels Up releases the first diverse photoshoot in private aviation.

Incorporating diversity, equity, and inclusion doesn’t stop there; we have to look at what is happening inside our business. When you board the aircraft, do the employees look like the individuals that we want to be on our flights? We invest our resources and attention to diversity in the cockpit, on the maintenance line, and of course the marketing team and broader corporate organization at Wheels Up.

Traditionally, private aviation was very binary; there are stereotypical private and commercial fliers, but we are committed to changing the outside perception. We are working with partners like Women Aviation International, The National Gay Pilot Association, The Organization of Black Aerospace Professionals, and the Red Tail Flight Academy to create upstream interest that eventually flows downstream, opening the aperture for all.

Jason Brown: Not only is Lee’s point the right thing to do, but it is also what will grow his business at the end of the day; that’s true for private aviation and NTWRK. Diversity and inclusion are good for society and business. Look at the entire ecosystem internally and externally to ensure that diversity exists so that your message remains authentic and credible because of your proper representation.

Internally, NTWRK’s foundation is the creative community; they are creating all these exclusive coveted products, and they all come from various backgrounds, whether from a geographical standpoint or ethnicity. One of my favorite components of leading a team is that I get to celebrate who they are, and how their differences are what make them valuable.

What are the Repercussions and Results of DEI?

Lee Applbaum: You can satisfy and create substantial value for your shareholders and do the right thing; the two aren’t at odds. Yes, there can be repercussions, and no, we don’t care. There is a seat for everyone on our plane, and that’s okay if not everyone ascribes to that. There are other private aviation solutions out there. The one nuance to that is that these changes are a journey, so we are very thoughtful about inviting people who are uninformed to learn with us. There’s a difference between shoving diversity and inclusion down people’s throats and being mindful that it’s a process.

The most rewarding thing has been the associations that have welcomed us with open arms because our industry has not traditionally reached out to them. Partnering with them has been our way of saying you’re welcome here. The response has been terrific. 

Jason Brown: Lee and I are on the same page. I try to align myself with companies with the same core values and principles. As a marketer, you will inspire some people while others might be offended, but if you stick to your core values at the end of the day, it should translate to great marketing. For the most part, we get overwhelmingly positive support from our customers, employees, and the creative community when we are true to our core values and celebrate the diversity that exists in the country.

How To Lead Teams and Talent as Relevant Culture Connectors

Jason Brown: Culture is a broad term, but I am talking about youth culture; involving fashion apparel and music when I reference it. Experience, as it relates to consumption and an authentic appetite to understand, ends up giving you the best way to connect with whatever that culture is. The vast majority of the NTWRK team have previously worked in the culture space or contributed in some way, shape, or form over the past 30 years. Not only does experience with culture give us a very distinct advantage that you can’t find in the books, but we are well-networked, and this organization is a blank canvas; we get to explore that space to create things that no one would have ever imagined.

Lee Applbaum:  I am a huge advocate of leveraging world-class talent both internally and externally.  External gives you agility and the ability to pivot as the business may need very specific capabilities, for example, AI or other rapidly evolving technologies.  Internal, however, provides an unparalleled understanding of the brand and the consumer longitudinally. Having a mix of a tenured core team and outside diverse partners creates a model ensuring you can tap into relevant talent and have the best thoroughbreds at all times. There is still a massive opportunity to tap into a number of our growth markets, but I am so proud that the team has supported our approach.


Visionaries, hosted by Nadine Dietz, airs every Tuesday at 9AM PT and is brought to you in partnership with The Wall Street Journal. Each week, two new visionaries share their game plans and how that impacts today’s teams, talent, and hybrid work environment. 

Jason Brown, NTWRK, CMO bio:  Jason Brown has proudly stood at the intersection of pop culture and marketing throughout his entire career. He began his career as one of the youngest interns at Def Jam Records, and he has led in various roles at Fox Sports, NBC Sports, and PepsiCo. During his time with Pepsi, he earned the Charles ‘Professor X’ Xavier Collaboration award in 2017 and oversaw the NBA partnership. Before his work as Chief Marketing Officer at NTWRK, Jason was the head of marketing at Foot Locker. His passion for mentorship, serving, and uplifting younger generations shines through in all he does. 

Lee Applbaum, Wheels Up, CMO bio: Lee Applbaum has a robust background in leading marketing and sales across many blue-chip companies for over 25 years. His experience leading global marketing teams across a wide range of consumer goods and services in CPG, retail and luxury brands has made him a trusted marketing expert. He began his career with Coca-Cola and retail brands like Foot Action and Target Australia. Applbaum was Global CMO for Patrón Tequila and is now the Chief Marketing Officer for Wheels Up, one of the world’s largest private aviation companies.

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