It is a public transport design and marketing blog with news, views and features on design and marketing issues for UK bus, train, ferry, tram and airline operators. We are specialists in design and communication solutions for public transport operators, associated industries and businesses that really want to move people.
A lot of advertising selling bus travel is done so with a very specific message in comparison to most advertising selling train travel, which uses a very generic message.
Your bus company is likely to communicate the benefits of a certain route, ticket, or type of purchase and any effectiveness can be measured very easily in the short term. Figures will go up or they won't.
Train advertising tends to concentrate on building awareness of the places a particular operator serves. Effectiveness of this type of advertising is much harder to gauge, with brand/campaign awareness often used a metric. This is no doubt to the frustration of the finance director who wants to know where the ROI is.
To be truly effective, both industries need to learn from each other's approach. The bus also needs long-term brand/product building campaigns and the train could be helped by short-term, easy to measure wins.
There's a theory in the marketing world (theory, because the reality is hardly anybody, does it) that 60% of your marketing budget should be spent with long-term objectives in mind, with the remaining 40% focused on short-term goals.
When was the last time you saw a 96 sheet advertising a bus operator like Arriva, executed in their branding with a simple message along the lines of 'operating 364 days of the year, in every type of weather you could imagine'. Or a targeted door drop from GWR offering discounted travel to Bristol for a group of four? Me neither. Here if you need us, folks.
Creating a great advertising campaign encouraging people to use the bus certainly isn't easy.
Many people would agree bus travel suffers from an image problem based on the product itself alongside the type of people perceived to use it. As such, it's the responsibility of the client marketing team and their agency to do all they can to change this - producing work that is engaging, exciting and appealing. Changing opinion one campaign at a time.
One thing that lets the industry down is the over-reliance on poorly chosen stock imagery. The '2.4 kids family out shopping with colourful bags, sharply dressed men in suits commuting, groups of young women clinking champagne glasses' type of thing that have a very dated feel to them. It's the 1990s in a jpeg.
Unfortunately, it's cheap and quick for the agency to do and ultimately stops them having to come up with a genuinely creative idea. The type of idea that their standing and fee should return. The type of idea that challenges people's behaviour and ultimately their attitude. The type of idea and execution that makes people sit up and think 'That's from a bus company?'
But if you are going to use imagery as a key feature of your campaign, at least do it properly. Pick three or four shots that do the work justice and execute them as if your brand's reputation depends on it. Because it does.
Just steer away from the cliched, cheesy lifestyle images that do nothing to alter the long-standing misconceptions currently tainting the industry.
Earlier this week I read a piece in Marketing Week discussing Halifax's decision to rebrand and alter its advertising approach. In response to the success of banking upstarts like Monzo and Atom, Halifax has simplified the X in its logo (so it fits in a digital world), introduced a new strapline (Halifax makes it happen) and changed strategy with their creative approach so that it aims to position Halifax as a 'can-do brand'.
Here's one of the ads it hopes ties those three elements together.
Halifax | That New Home Feeling - YouTube
Up until a few years ago, your banking choices were the same as everybody else irrespective of whether you were an early adopter of new technologies or not. Now the likes of Monzo and Atom are having success by offering a product that is fundamentally different from the banking establishment, that choice becomes a real one. And their communication highlights that. As far as I can tell, Halifax seems to be changing lots of things communication-wise but nothing fundamentally product-wise.
Rebrands are effective in the long run when a company doing the changing, changes elements of their core offering to coincide with the visual tweaks - signalling changes on the outside are representative of changes on the inside.
If nothing changes internally, you're just trying to hoodwink the public.
Fribourg is 'one Switzerland's the best-maintained cites and sits on a small rocky hill above the valley of the Sarine'. The bus network there is currently operated by the Transports Publics Fribourgeois, who have just introduced night services on a number of their routes. Three of the ads to promote that fact can be seen below.
A strong, single message and one logo to say who it's from. Simple, clean, memorable and effective communication.
Such a shame that examples of that approach are few and far between in the UK bus industry.
A government-funded trial is set to be launched in Coventry, where drivers are given up to £3k in cash credits to ditch their car in exchange for public transport, electric vehicle car hire and bike-sharing schemes.
According to reports in the several newspapers the project, which is the first of its kind in the UK, was approved by the West Midlands Combined Authority and will see credit added to smart cards with the aim of encouraging motorists to give up their private vehicles in exchange for a limited time period of support. It will test the amount of money needed to trigger a long-term change in travel habits.
John Seddon, head of transport and innovation at Coventry City Council, told the Independent around 100 people would initially take part in the trial, funded by a £20m Department for Transport award.
“We see it as a variant of scrappage schemes of the past but rather than trading in an old car for a newer one, it is trading in the car for the ability to use other modes of transport,” he said. “For it to be fully effective we would want people to make the commitment where the car was at least surrendered for a particular time.”
On the face of it, going from using a car every day to ditching it totally, is, for most people, a massive step. I've no idea how those initial 100 people will be chosen but you'd like to think there would be some narrow focus to ensure the best chance of a behavioural shift. Looking for certain criteria and target those for whom public transport could really work every day, the becomes a little more optimistic.
A tick against an old, polluting car, being childfree (whilst kids undoubtedly love going by bus, it's so much easier for the parent to go by car for many journeys), travel no more than three miles for either social use or commuting, alongside being au fait with technology and you've got someone to whom those travel vouchers seem quite appealing. They're the campaign's ideal candidate.
Outside of my agency life, I have the random pastime of watching videos and listening to podcasts about the building industry - having project managed the renovation of two houses, I find it somewhat therapeutic.
One recent video covered the subject of 'on the books' employees starting their own companies, looking at how they can position themselves and how to price work.
The presenter recalled when he first went self-employed, over time, he found himself a busy fool. He was winning jobs by being the cheapest quote subsequently working seven days a week and only just covering his wages. But being a clever chap, he realised that was the sacrifice he had to make to increase his skill levels and build his reputation as a good, honest tradesman at the same time.
Two years later he decided to double his hourly rate - a decision that some told him was commercial suicide. The result was slightly different as he ended up working half the number of days but earning the same money, with the added benefit of knowing that all new projects would be charged at the improved figure.
Whilst winning business on price had its advantages as a fledgeling company, it was no way to compete as an established operator (no company wants to bring in new clients by being the cheapest). That came down to his positioning.
He had started off doing all sorts of carpentry just to keep money coming in but over time found he could do roof work particularly well, and importantly, very efficiently. Not only was his reputation growing through workload but also his positioning as a roofing specialist was being born. He was becoming the go-to man in the area for larger to companies who subcontracted and private clients alike.
So within two years, he had gone from working all hours to achieve the bare minimum of paying his own wages and covering his costs to running a successful, well-positioned business that made a decent profit and gave him a good work/life balance.
The parallels to agency life are plain to see. Many small agencies are born when one or two senior people leave an established company in the belief they can do things better. They will often have no 'business' knowledge as such and things become very a much a case of trial and error to get right (many would say this is the best way).
You will start doing logos that take five concepts, five revisions and five client visits to get signed off, and charge the grand sum of £300. Like the carpenter example, this approach won't make you rich but it will grow your reputation, grow your skill base and grow your confidence in running a business.
Over time, you may find yourself doing more and more work in one particular industry or in one particular discipline (ie. direct marketing, corporate identity). Either can establish your positioning in a crowded market place- helping to alter your pricing model and increase profit.
It might not seem so on the face of it but many agencies have plenty in common with Bob the Builder!
With most ad campaigns you are either looking at a market share or market growth approach.
If you're the dominant player you want to grow the market as a whole (as you'll benefit the most from any increase) but if you're not you'll want to get a bigger piece of the overall pie. In basic terms, you have to pinch business from a competitor by saying why your product is better.
With the majority of train operators having a monopoly on their route, competition doesn't necessarily come from another operator but from other modes of transport alongside an unwillingness to travel in the first place.
It's ironic that LNER runs on one of the few routes where, for some of it at least, customers have a choice of operator who they can make their journey with.
So has the ad gone for market share or market growth? I actually think it's somewhere in the middle, which probably isn't where the operator wants to be.
LNER March TV Ad - Journey Home - YouTube
It's well produced, and the voiceover reveal is a tidy little touch. It's well styled with a 'nice' execution but it lacks a bit of ooompphh for me. Impact-wise, if you remember it (the second objective after making it interesting enough to watch in the first place), I think you'd remember it as 'the train ad' rather than 'the LNER ad' - siding with the market growth impact.
Overall I think it could benefit from something a bit more concrete to encourage train travel/modal shift or perhaps a stronger brand presence to make it more LNER. A solid six travelcards out of 10.
The things we write about in relation to public transport are the things we tend to know about or have an interest in. Professionally that means advertising, branding and marketing, whereas personally, we're talking customer experience and potential improvements to transport services.
We're a team of design professionals who have worked with some of the UK's most well-known brands in a number of sectors for over 20 years - so I'd say that makes us pretty well qualified to comment on the pretty pictures front. And that is 'comment' on why something works/doesn't work rather than whether we like it or not. As Dave Trott says "Liking something is the domain of an amateur".
But we're also customers of public transport. And like many, we've got opinions on its shortcomings and where things could be improved for both us individually and collectively to make it a more attractive sell as a transport solution.
What we know about and where our interests lie directly impacts what we write and how we write it.
On the flip side, there are plenty of transport industry issues we know very little about, and certainly, nowhere near enough to make an intelligent comment on.
We're shrewd enough to know we're better off keeping quiet on the likes of route planning, engineering, improving fuel efficiency, trade union relations etc - unless they directly impact our areas of expertise and interest. Seems fair enough don't you think?
Last week, one of Toronto’s bus companies teased a radical, futuristic mode of transportation on Twitter.
They then released a dramatic video full of lightning strikes and movie trailer music, where GO Transit asked viewers to imagine this scenario: you hop in a vehicle, slide into a comfortable seat, and surf the web until you arrive at your destination.
Best of all, you never even need to input where you’re going. The vehicle just gets you there.
The video, although funny and ironic makes a decent point. Buses already offer some of the benefits we’re trying to get from technologies like self-driving cars. Yes, there are problems with even the best bus systems around the world. But when it works, it works really well!
Here's the video...
It’s like the self-driving car is already here. Read, sleep, watch and text.
I wrote this article a number of months ago (so the figures may be slightly out by now) but forgot to post it, so here goes... Back in April 2015, First launched the Vantage service on the Leigh to Manchester busway, and it's fair to say that opinion on the livery was somewhat one-sided. Most industry people had a negative opinion on it - too bland, too boring, not exciting enough to entice passengers on board.
So let's look at some figures flying around the internet to see how much impact the lack of design had. Within six weeks the service had just over 4,000 passengers a day, and within six months this figure had increased to over 6,000.
Five more Vantage vehicles were planned for introduction in January, and one can only assume this was due to an increase in demand.
And an increase in demand, especially after two years, usually indicates things are going pretty well.
So how important was the livery to customers when tempting them on board?
I've no doubt there are some potential bus customers who can be influenced by the aesthetics of a branding exercise, especially on routes where tourists/visitors are a key market - the Purbeck Breezer around Poole and Swanage being a prime example. But people who choose a new service as a transport solution based on what it looks like are, for me, the minority.
The majority try it because of the promises made in the (great) advertising and continue to use it after realising those promises can be delivered. The first users of Vantage would have been those who used the services it replaced. After a while, they would have noticed the journey was quicker - thanks to the new infrastructure, the ride was smoother - thanks to the new buses, and the overall experience was better than they are used to - thanks to the significant financial investment.
And subsequently, they tell work colleagues, neighbours and friends, so word spreads about the service's performance (not forgetting the power of social media to get that praise across a little quicker), and the passenger growth begins.
As much as we like to think a livery can have a real influence on a service's success, consistently delivering on promises is likely to be more important to the average man on the street.