Talking Transportation Change Through Focus, Research & Creativity

Photo courtesy AASHTO Faces of Transportation

Sometimes I’m just impressed with how true people are to their cause. That’s exactly what I felt when I read this blog post from the League of American Bicyclists, which profiled how Cycles for Change is making a difference in Minneapolis, Minn.

While Cycles for Change and its outreach program is a great story, there are lessons that can be gleaned from that story by those of us working in transportation communications.

Focus: Cycles for Change has a clear mission. In transportation communications, we really need to understand to whom we are targeting our message. I am often amazed at a communication plan that lists “general public” as a primary audience. Really? General public? Next time you are tempted to write down “general public” as a primary audience ask yourself – “what does she eat? Where does he shop? What kind of car/bus/bike does she ride?” Drilling further into “general public” might actually reveal your true audience is “afternoon transit riders who enjoy listening to Spotify on their trip to the gym.” Or, “general public” might actually be a euphemism for “the media,” which I often categorize as its own audience. If you must use “general public” because that’s what your boss tells you to put down, at least keep your own list that is specific and realistic.

Research: It is not clear from the blog post what kind of research was done by Cycles for Change. But it is clear that Cycles for Change understands a few key pieces of information about its customers. First, low-income populations often find the cost of cycling equipment is a barrier to adoption. Second, immigrant women often do not know how to ride a bike. Those are amazing insights and very helpful to know. I am a huge advocate for research — any kind of research — that can suggest insights into your customers.  Research does not have to be expensive. There are census data that points to demographic trends. There are white papers and other resources available online. And, generally, I have found it is OK to check in with your colleagues and peers about where they look for information.

Also, do not forget Slideshare.net as a resource. I strongly condemn stealing someone else’s work. But many of the presentations have sourced citations that you can follow back for your own study.

Creativity: Once you have a target audience, and once you have some research about your target audience, it becomes much easier to creatively address your communication challenges. I remember years ago reading a case study about a public health campaign directed at increasing breast exams in low-income, Spanish-speaking areas of Los Angeles. With a clear target audience — Latina mothers — and some solid research, the campaign chose to educate hair dressers in the at-risk communities about the importance of breast exams. A few days after the outreach to the stylists, a mobile mammogram bus rolled through the nearby neighborhoods.  The result was an increase in screening.

That is exactly the kind of insight and execution that is discussed in the Cycles for Change blog post. And, that is exactly the kind of creativity that can make a difference in your next outreach effort. Make sure your next communication plan features focus, research and creativity.

About Lloyd Brown

I am the director of communications for the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials. I enjoy running marathons and triathlons, playing guitar and spending time with family. My professional interest is in how social media and new technology shapes the communication relationship between government and the general public. I have a Master’s degree in Communications and Leadership from Gonzaga University in Spokane and a bachelor’s degree in Communications from Washington State University.
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