Cherry Blossom Festival, goDCgo Partnership Raises Awareness of Transportation Options

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The big auto companies spend about $21 billion annually on marketing.

I’m always thrown off by how much the public-transportation industry takes its potential customers for granted. It has long been assumed that people simply will or won’t use transit.

But that’s a mistake. While some may argue that riding the bus, a bike, or the train is not brain surgery, the truth is: this is a huge growth industry that needs to directly educate potential customers. Transportation agencies must start treating public transportation as a good rather than a service.

goDCgo’s recent partnership with the National Cherry Blossom Festival serves as an excellent example of public-transportation marketing done right.

goDCgo, an initiative of the Washington D.C. Department of Transportation (DDOT), seeks to educate and assist employees, residents, and visitors in making more informed choices about traveling in D.C. goDCgo has a key focus on Capital Bikeshare and the Circulator bus system.

So, how did the organization get tourists and locals to one of D.C.’s biggest events of the year and keep it from becoming a traffic-gridlocked nightmare?

It used a little-known concept in the U.S. called transportation demand management that requires a relatively small budget and can provide a big economic return on investment.

BlossomAd_48x69_small6To increase brand awareness of DDOT-owned transit options and programs during the festival, goDCgo implemented a campaign called “Bike in Bloom,” playing off the festival’s “City in Bloom” theme.

“Our goal was to strengthen awareness of transportation options to the festival,” said Kim Lucas, Capital Bikeshare program manager. “By developing a social media contest around the creation of a one-of-a-kind pink bike with the hashtag ‘bikeinbloom,’ we successfully generated demand around bikesharing through this coveted bike during the three-week campaign.”

The TDM “tricks of the trade” for the City in Bloom campaign included:

  • A festival-specific web page featuring transit directions to the festival site at the Tidal Basin
  • Transit tips for the festival and employer email newsletters
  • A mailing to hotel contacts promoting bulk sales of Capital Bikeshare and Circulator passes
  • An ad using DDOT PSA space in bus shelters promoting
  • A cherry-blossom logo that highlighted the Tidal Basin on the goDCgo interactive map
  • A transportation training guide for the Destination DC call center, and
  • Branded goDCgo social media channels with festival-themed artwork.

For Capital Bikeshare in particular, the campaign included:

  • A #bikeinbloom social media contest featuring prizes from area businesses. More than 160 entrants took their photos when finding the bike in service during the festival dates
  • Special bike corrals were publicized at the Capital Bikeshare and festival websites to promote ridership, and
  • Official festival-themed blossom stickers on all Capital Bikeshare bikes.

The Circulator had a parallel campaign called Explore DC Beyond the Blossoms, which included:  

  • A festival-specific web page highlighting neighborhoods served by the Circulator to promote great different parts of D.C. to tourists
  • An in-bus rack card promoting D.C. neighborhoods served by the Circulator
  • Official festival-themed blossom stickers on all buses
  • Branded Circulator social media channels with festival-themed artwork, and
  • Promotion of “Petal Pass” and “Cherry Picks” festival partners through social media channels.

Along with garnering numerous mentions from media in news posts about the festival, Capital Bikeshare ridership increased 15 percent from the previous year and broke single-day trip records during all three days of the final festival weekend with Saturday, April 12 reaching the highest in history at 15,746 rides.

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