Branding Public Transportation

Branding public transportation

One benefit of a strong brand is that customers will pay more or go out of their way for their preferred brand of product or service. How else do you explain basic items like sunglasses priced at more than $1,000? In marketing the social good, is branding public transportation the answer to getting drivers off of jammed highways and onto public transit?

Public Transit and Brand

Brand is part of the design component of marketing. It’s something that you consciously create and promote. In the end, brand is a promise that resides in the mind of the audience. Your brand is the experience your audience thinks they’ll have if they engage with your organization, buy your product, or use your service.

If brand is a promise, than public transit must be one of the biggest brands among the social goods. What is public transit if not a promise? A promise that if you’re at the bus or train stop on time, you’ll have a ride to where you’re going. You hope that ride is safe, clean, affordable, maybe even pleasant.

If a transit system fails its promise too many times, riders stop showing up.

Many people in the U.S. think public transit is dangerous, dirty, slow, inconvenient, and only for people with no other options.

According to the Pew Center, just 11 percent of U.S. adults use public transit on a regular basis.  Outside the Northeast and urban centers, that percentage quickly drops.

In other words, public transit in the U.S. is losing the brand war to cars. Today, people spend thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours a year on their preference for personal automobiles over public transportation.

(Just a reminder, the visual identity of an organization, product or service is just part of the brand. Visual elements such as logo, typeface, and color stand in for and remind customers of the experience they’ll have. Don’t be like several of the transit official in this trade article. They seem to think the color of a bus equals the transit agency’s brand.)

Steps to improve the brand of public transportation

Branding public transportation is one area where marketing can make a decided difference in our social lives. If more people preferred public transportation, then ridership would rise, pollution would drop, and roads would be less congested.

Improving brand usually means improving the customer experience. This is especially true for transit. Here are some ways to do it:

Market research: Use data to understand what customers would want in your product or service. When was the last time local government asked your preferences in public transportation, other than at the ballot box? I don’t mean just a public hearing, either. People are stuck in traffic after work, because transit doesn’t work, and can’t make it to city hall the school gym on time for the hearing. What about digital surveys, or phone surveys, or mail-in surveys?

Brand strength survey: Ask your existing customers how strongly they prefer your brand, and why. Yes, your current customers aren’t a random sample. However, surveying your current customers helps you pinpoint strengths and weakness in your brand. You can also identify customers who are super users and evangelists for your product. Activate them to help build your brand awareness.

Technology: It’s 2017–customers expect everything to be digital, personalize, and mobile. Mobile goes double for transit. I should be able to look up routes and fares, store my favorite routes, receive real-time updates, and even pay my fares with my smart phone. Citizens have that convenience in the rest of their life; why should social goods be any different?

Examples of Branding Public Transportation

What does it mean to care about the customer experience of public transit?

One recent example is a Tokyo transit company publicly apologizing after a train left the station 20 seconds early. No one complained or missed their train. Still, the company felt they had not lived up to their brand promise to customers.

Enrique Penalosa, former mayor of Bogota, Columbia, worked to deliver a superior transit experience to all citizens. “An advanced city is not one where even the poor use cars,” says Penalosa, “but rather one where even the rich use public transportation.”

Tourists who visit London often come home with souvenirs from the Underground, like system maps on tote bags and mugs that say “Mind the gap.” London Underground has a strong visual identity that no doubt contributes to citizens’ brand preference. I haven’t visited London (yet), but neither have I heard complaints from residents or tourists about getting around on the Underground.

In the end, branding public transportation comes down to one factor: convenience. For many potential customers, public transportation is far less convenient than a car. Without transit-oriented development, most of our communities are not designed for convenient public transit.

 

(Image courtesy of Pixabay)

Using Social ROI for Market Entry Decisions

Social ROI

 

If you’re reading this, it’s likely that you are looking for ways to increase your impact. Social return on investment, or social ROI, lets you objectively define and measure your impact. Once you can define and measure impact, use that ability to identify communities to serve. Decisions about who and where you choose to serve–what the private sector calls market entry decisions–have a huge influence on the impact that you have.

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Don’t Start Yet Another Nonprofit

start a nonprofit

“If you’re the kind of person who tends to succeed in what you start, changing what you start could be the most extraordinary thing you do.”

I previously featured this quote in a post about why society needs great marketers. If you’re a marketer interested in or working in the public and social sectors, maybe you’ve wanted to start a nonprofit of your own. As someone who has started his own business and worked at startups and nonprofits, I advise you to think long and hard before you start a nonprofit. It might not be the best way to have the impact you desire.

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If Giving Money Directly To Poor People Works Best, Then What Are Non-Profits to Do?

impact on nonprofits of giving cash to poor people

People in poverty lack money. It seems obvious that the best way to end their poverty is to give them money. Increasingly, studies support this obvious approach to reducing poverty. Yet the vast majority of poverty-reduction organizations and agencies offer goods and services, not cash. What is the impact on nonprofits of giving cash to poor people?

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Free download! Data visualizations from U.S. Census Bureau

Median Household Income

[Source: U.S. Census Bureau]

The U.S. Census Bureau generates so much credible, useful data that it can sometimes be difficult to locate relevant data and format it for easy presentation to your audience. To help with the distribution and promotion of their data, the Census Bureau offers free data visualizations that you can download and add to PowerPoint slides, proposals, reports and other documents.

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The power of promotion: advertising healthy eating to kids

vegetable-characters

Kids don’t often eat healthy foods. The temptations of snacks and sweets is powerful. The tactics major food companies use to promote their products exacerbates the problem. What if those same tactics were employed on behalf of vegetables?

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Scale: What’s the difference between growth and sustainability?

assemble-line-cooking

As I examined in a previous post, Harvard Business School professor Michael Porter thinks that profit is the key to scale, even for nonprofit organizations. Lack of profit might be what keeps social enterprises from reaching the scale necessary to make a difference in the world.

A recent Stanford Social Innovation Review article, “Four Approaches to Nonprofit Sustainability,” discusses ways to scale a social or public organization:

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The Social Progress Index: Measuring the quality of our social nature

Marketers often benchmark their goods and services against the competition. For countries, the main benchmark for nearly a century has been Gross Domestic Product, or GDP. The United States rules in GDP. While increasing GDP does correlate with some improvement in social conditions, it is purely an economic measure. As the measure of a country, a society, it’s narrow and incomplete.

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The power of promotion: marketing same-sex marriage

marriage equality

Regardless of whether you support same-sex marriage or not, have you wondered how the movement went from losing 30 state-wide votes by 2009 to winning approval in 37 states and a Supreme court ruling by 2015? It really was a stunning reversal for the movement.

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Free download! Free state-level data on economy, equity, income, government and more

Compare50

Which states currently rank highest in median household income? Which states have the highest foreclosure rates? Which states are benefiting from domestic migration?

Compare50 gives you access to free state-level data across a wide range of topics.

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