Transit industry could look to an unlikely source for marketing inspiration: automakers

Automakers have always been one of the envies of the marketing world. They sold us on cars over horses. They sold us on how we should think bicycling and walking are abnormal compared to driving.

Mobility Lab is a media sponsor at the 16th Annual TU-Automotive Detroit conference in Novi, Mich., which bills itself as the oldest existing yearly event on autonomous vehicles and starts today.

One of the reasons I’m attending is to see first-hand how the car companies are marketing automated vehicles, even in their earliest stages. And I hope that will lead us to question whether public transportation marketing is anywhere in the same league. Probably more importantly, I hope to run across marketing ideas from the automakers that transit agencies could borrow.

The auto industry is showing itself to be capable of adapting to a new world, and as Jalopnik’s Patrick George recently reported, the traditional auto show model is dying:

The age when automakers would set aside several weeks seven or eight times a year for a huge trade show at a convention center to unveil the Lincoln Continental or Hyundai Tucson or whatever before a scrum of enthralled reporters appears to be on the way out. In fact, the Los Angeles Auto Show is evolving in an interesting way in response to this. 

Automotive News reports that starting this November, the LA Auto Show — the last major show of the year, not to mention the one with the most pleasant weather — will be “rebranded” as AutoMobility LA, a trade show integrated with the related Connected Car Expo to be a huge look at the future of transportation and mobility.

Think more tech, startup and regulatory stuff, and less new car and concept car unveilings.

Much of TU-Automotive will be no different: there will be lots of cars to see and hopefully even some AV test riding. But I’ll be keeping an eye on the panels devoted to mobility. Automakers have talked a good game about how they are now in the business of mobility, such as through partnerships like GM/Lyft and Toyota/Uber, and now it’s time to see how they imagine their vehicles working in a modern setting.

These kinds of arrangements could work out well. Already, Uber says 20 percent of its customers are using UberPool. Ride-hailing efforts are helping people think differently about their transportation options, which is a big step for Americans, about 85 percent of whom automakers have coaxed into driving commutes. Now, if those UberPoolers actually have more than one passenger in the car (you can still pick the UberPool option and not have to share a ride at all), Uber could truly begin to claim it’s making traffic better for everyone.

So, how can transit agencies start to think like automotive marketers? A recent article in EContent Magazine offered a couple of key leads in the realm of digital marketing:

Many marketers tend to focus on consumers only after they reach a point in their customer journey when they’re close to making a purchase. Automotive, on the other hand, nurtures consumers from the beginning of the shoppers’ journeys and creates a personalized experience throughout the customer journey.

For example, a consumer may begin the consideration stage by visiting an automotive website to research a vehicle. Thereafter, that specific model of interest then reappears on their Facebook news feed, is served in a display ad, or included with a special email offer. The automotive industry is focused on connecting a consumer’s experience across all of the digital platforms they use, which in turn helps consumers feel more engaged throughout multiple touch points. Customers have grown to expect that brands deliver messages tailored to their interests, and that’s why personalization is so important.

Now, wouldn’t it be incredible if the bus system or the subway you ride targeted you online with things like coupons for free rides that you could add to your mobile-ticketing app? Any little barriers we can remove – like complicated pass systems and confusing fare machines – through web – and app-based purchasing will make the transit experience that much more pleasant.

Transit marketers, like auto marketers, have access to a lot of customer data, but it’s safe to say they are not using it in ways that are building the long-term vitality of the brand nearly as effectively as automakers. One still finds more people who “want that car” rather than people who “want the experience” of riding transit, which is a shame because studies suggest people, especially millennials, are more interested in buying experiences and lifestyles over “things.”

Speaking of millennials, the auto companies market to them just as aggressively as they do to baby boomers and other generations. Rachel Pierson at EContent continues:

Millennials are widely considered to be the most tech savvy generation, and value things like personalization in their vehicles, brand authenticity, and a seamless digital experience that allows them to bounce from mobile to tablet to laptop and back again. Because the automotive industry already bakes personalization into so many aspects of digital, they are succeeding in much of what millennial consumers desire.

[Likewise], the key to reaching baby boomers lies in understanding their priorities, like the desire for luxury and safety in a vehicle, and architecting a marketing strategy to reach them.

Just glancing at the TV ads of any car company will tell you that they are masters of segmenting for each model they sell. Ford, for example, markets to moms, farmers, adventurers, and any other kind of person who might buy their cars. This kind of targeted breakdown is rare in transit communications, despite the fact that different groups have differing reasons for choosing it. Why not bring those to the forefront? .

The public transportation industry can learn a lot from the leading lights in marketing. Automakers, Silicon Valley, and health and pharmaceutical companies are some of the best. Let’s keep a close eye on them and put more of their ideas to work for our own industry.

Photo: A bus in Kyoto, Japan (Takashi Hososhima, Flickr, Creative Commons).

Share this item

Be the First to Comment