don't wait until you need customers to start advertising

The front cover of last week's Passenger Transport showed a brief overview of the magazine's 'State of UK Public Transport' survey.

And it was the fourth bullet point that caught my attention. 

The respondents were asked 'What's the most important thing your government could do to help your business/organisation?' and, from a list of supplied options, nearly half of all people said the most important thing they could do to encourage people back on public transport was a 'vigorous campaign'. 

If 'campaign' means an advertising campaign aimed at getting people to shift their current habits and try the bus or train then, with all the will in the world, that ship should have been sailing a long time ago.

Three things.

1. You don't start advertising when you need customers, you start advertising when you've got them. If you wait until they've dried up, your revenue streams are likely to quickly follow suit.

2. Why is it the government's responsibility to get people on your buses?

3. Even if it was their responsibility, do you think a one-off generic 'Get the bus, it's really great' campaign is going to be effective?

Operators doing long-term brand/product awareness advertising all the time should be an ongoing exercise - linked to their long-term marketing objectives.

And one criticism I'd have of bus operators, is, in general, they seem reluctant to do it. 

They all do price/route/ticket/product promotions, but few seem to do advertising that utilises several strategic, traffic-heavy sites and uses them to raise awareness of bus travel day in, and day out. Most people who see it will have no immediate need to use the bus, but most people who see any form of advertising have no immediate need for the product in question.

Creating a need is not the objective of long-term advertising. Raising and building awareness that your product exists and then maintaining that awareness is the job of long-term advertising.

So, when people finally get fed up with driving, escalating petrol prices or trying to find a parking spot the bus is top of mind as a viable alternative.

Advertise throughout the year, not just when you need customers.