Marketing is a communications “big picture.” It is a process of communicating about goods or services, using a variety of tools that may include branding, advertising, public relations efforts, posts on social media, and many other activities, but it is larger than any one of these.
Basically, marketing establishes a context to help people understand a product. It gives that product a place in people’s minds.
Success in marketing begins with an understanding of the consumer and his or her needs and wants. Through successfully implemented marketing strategies, consumers become aware of what a product is, how it works, and what it can do for them. Only with this information can the consumer make an informed decision about purchasing or using that product.
What is Transit Marketing?
Transit marketing is everything that a transit agency does to communicate with its riders, potential riders, and other important stakeholders within the community it serves. Unlike consumer products, such as tissue or soft drinks, which are strictly focused on sales, transit marketing seeks to accomplish a variety of objectives:
- Build visibility for transit and the important role it plays in a community
- Build support for the system among decision makers and tax payers
- Educate potential riders about what the system has to offer
- Generate ridership among those groups with transportation needs that the transit system can meet.
Transit marketing also addresses diverse target markets, from community leaders to the individuals who ride the bus. A key principle of transit marketing is to understand the needs and concerns of each of these groups and how public transportation can benefit them. This allows you to communicate in a way that will have an impact.
Because of the public funding of transit, there is a special obligation to communicate effectively with those likely to be transportation disadvantaged. Accessibility needs of individuals with disabilities and accommodations for non-English speaking populations are among the factors we must consider in planning and implementing our communication programs. Click here for some tips about ADA and Title VI communications requirements.
Another key principal of transit marketing is that it is an ongoing effort. It is the “ongoingness” that makes it effective. A newspaper ad might announce a change in service. A cross-promotion with another organization, such as the community food bank, may heighten visibility for a time. Free rides on one route may increase ridership that day. But it is the consistent, ongoing communication with riders, potential riders, and the community at large that builds long-term awareness, support, and ridership.
Why Market Your System?
An ongoing marketing program can bring great results to a public transit system. It can:
- Raise awareness of public transit in the community
- Dispel misconceptions
- Increase ridership
- Influence the community to support public transit
- Satisfy funding requirements
These outcomes are interrelated, with each one building on the other, but the first step is making sure that people know your system exists – raising awareness.
Marketing cannot fix poor or inadequate service
If service falls short — buses break down, schedules are unreliable — or it simply does not meet the needs of the target user, marketing will only make matters worse by offering a promise that the service cannot fulfill.
Consistent communication with riders, potential riders, and the community your system serves builds and sustains visibility and establishes trust in the system. Providing a true understanding of the system can increase ridership and community support. Instead of a “best-kept secret,” even the smallest transit system can be a familiar, useful, and popular part of its community.
Raising awareness begins with the fundamental communications of branding and passenger information. These are essential marketing strategies that provide an identity and image for the system and directions for how to use it.
In raising awareness of what a system actually offers, marketing can correct misconceptions. For instance, where there may appear to be an unmet transportation need, service may already exist but has not been adequately communicated. In many communities, transit is mistakenly thought of as a service only for the elderly, people with disabilities, or low-income riders. If that misconception persists, would-be riders from outside of those groups will have no reason to try the service; they believe it is restricted and, therefore, cannot meet their needs. Ongoing, thoughtful communications can clear up confusion and open the doors to new riders.
The City of Durango involved community members in developing a new brand for the transit system. The result was immediate buy-in and increased visibility for the system.
Ridership is a transit system’s reason for being. Marketing offers an opportunity to educate the community and increase ridership by letting potential riders know the service has something to offer them. It can provide a clear picture of the service – where buses go, when they go, how easy it is to ride, or how economical traveling by transit can be – and can explain who transit is for. Marketing communications can encourage potential riders to try the service and existing riders to use it more often.
Developing community partners
An attractive, reliable transit system is a positive reflection on the community it serves. Marketing the system can establish it as an essential part of the community, an economic asset and a point of pride. This builds strong support and a positive environment for developing partners in expanding ridership and raising awareness further. In short, increasing ridership is easier if the community supports your efforts and is willing to work with you.
Satisfying funding requirements
Many states tie their Section 5311 or other transit funding to ridership. Effective marketing generates the ridership that justifies grant expenditures and creates support for local match funding.