By Ryan Kelly
It was not too long ago when all you had to do was contact the local phone company and get your bus company or transit agency’s telephone number listed in the yellow pages. If we were really trying to reach our potential customer, we might place an ad in the yellow pages so we would stick out above our competitors or just call our entity AAA transportation. The alphabet was our friend. Those days are long gone.
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The internet revolution has completely changed the way that we do business and this includes marketing your bus company or transit agency. In this column we are going to focus on one of the most important fundamentals of marketing: establishing your brand.
Establishing a brand is one of the most important things you can do to help your bus or transit organization stand out and capture potential customer’s attention. According to a 2011 article in Forbes by Jerry McLaughlin, a brand is simply the non-generic name for a product that tells us the story of the product. In the simplest terms, the brand is what a potential customer thinks of you when they hear the company name. The name is something that can be seen and is factual, but is created in the imagination of the consumer.
As someone who has a million different ideas every day, and at one time was running five different companies, I was sitting with a client one day and he looked at me and asked, “Who are you?” After that meeting I reflected on our conversation and over the course of the next couple of weeks I contacted my accountant and attorney and consolidated all of my businesses under one company name. It was the best decision that I ever made. What’s my point here? You do not want to confuse the consumer, which brings me to the next important part of branding: keeping things simple.
Choosing your company name is probably the most important step in establishing a quality brand. Your name should be simple and easy to pronounce. You can choose something like I did, using a turtle as my brand identifier. There are so many different ways I can market a turtle in the transportation industry. You want your customer to have some emotion involved around your name. The other day a colleague began our Facebook conversation by calling me “turtle man.” I am okay with that. It is my brand identifier.
The design of a company logo is the next important task that should be completed in the branding process. This is going to be your company’s brand identifier and what the consumer associates you with every time they have the opportunity to receive an impression from print, web, television, or social media advertising. It is critical in today’s world of the consumer being able to openly evaluate you using Yelp and social media outlets. The logo will provide emotional value, which does influence human cognitive evaluation without even knowing anything about you.
Creation of a company logo is where I would spend some time and money. There are many graphic designers around that are more than happy to assist you. I tend to find that sign and t-shirt companies have graphic artists on staff that create logos every day and can quickly create some designs for you to review.
Take the time to review the different logos provided by your graphic designer. Sleep on it and receive input from peers inside your network. Receive input from peers outside of your circle of friends and get their opinion as well. If you perform due diligence during this process, the hard part will be complete and then you will have the brand identifier necessary to inspire positive emotional response from potential customers. Let’s face it, with reality television and countless products being marketed to us on a daily basis, you have to be touching the same senses to be successful in attracting customers.
Once you have decided on the name and logo of your company or transit agency, the fun part begins. Spend some time developing a prospect list. Who are your potential customers going to be and what is the best way to reach them? Do you use direct sales, applying the proven method of cold calling the school district or convention center, or do you rely on social media advertising going after the college student who wants to ride the bus home for Christmas break? Take some time and work on this list. From here you can begin developing a realistic marketing budget around a 12-month strategic plan to reach your target audience.
There is emotion involved in the business of people-moving. Whether it is transporting someone to work on a daily basis, chartering a bus to transport the high school football team to the state championship game, or trying to reduce your carbon footprint by influencing society to ride public transportation, branding is one of the critical tools to achieve those objectives.
Next month: We will begin talking about creating marketing budgets and implementing an annual marketing plan for your bus company or transit agency in today’s digital media environment.