A recent Harvard Business Review blog post targets three social media marketing assumptions regarding what customers want from brands. Many transportation agencies have applied general marketing strategies – including those related to social media – to the interaction between government and its citizens. But I wonder if they “myths” that the Harvard post describe work differently in the public sector?
The blog post considers three marketing assumptions:
- Consumers want to have relationships with brands;
- Interactions build relationships; and
- The more interaction the better.
The authors surveyed consumers and found that just less than a quarter admitting having a “relationship” with a brand. And, those who said they had a relationship with a brand did so because they had a shared interest in the brand’s purpose or philosophy. That’s why, they authors argue, too much interaction (generally in the form of marketing emails) feels like spam and overwhelms the customer.
From a transportation perspective, there is definite food for thought in this research. First, if it is true that most consumers are not interested in a relationship, then we have to ask what exactly is it they want from their transportation agencies?
Is it better service? Is it reliability? Is it timely information? Is it seem-less integration with multiple modes? Perhaps what citizens want is a system so well-managed that they really do not need to worry about what government agencies are behind it.
For the brand lovers out there, the sense of shared purpose and mission is a major motivator. I can point to several examples of this in the transportation world, and for that we have to count ourselves lucky.
Bicyclists are among the most vocal of advocates for their cause. And rail enthusiasts just love trains. The train is coming and they stop what they are doing to go watch it roll by. General aviation? Transit? Pedestrian facilities? I would argue that unlike a new laundry detergent, transportation as a consumer product has a better chance of building a relationship with its customers because what we support and operate is already embedded in the customers’ lives. They literally cannot get to where they want to go with out transportation.
My final thought concerns the argument that even when there is a relationship and a shared passion, marketers tend to overwhelm with messages and information. This indeed is a real concern, especially when one considers the myriad ways in which information could be segmented to meet customers’ perceived needs. Do we send people information by route? Do we send them information by region? Finding the sweet spot between too detailed and too broad is not easy and it probably an area that deserves specific outreach in your local community.
Ultimately, we might need to change the language we use to describe what we are trying to accomplish in communicating with the public about transportation. Instead of “relationship,” we might use the word “conversation.”
In my opinion, it really is a dialogue — a two-way exchange of information — that we seek. It is not quite a relationship, but talking is a great place to start.