Operations

Promote Your Motorcoach Business With More Flair

Jim Luff
Posted on February 10, 2019
People crave change and specifically improvement. What have you implemented that differs from what everyone else is doing? (LCT file photo)

People crave change and specifically improvement. What have you implemented that differs from what everyone else is doing? (LCT file photo)

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. — In a crowded, competitive ground transportation industry, how do you find powerful marketing pitches that stand out and influence prospective clients?

Christian Riddell offered some answers in a marketing session Nov. 6 during LCT-NLA Show East. Riddell, president of United Bus Technology, a provider for the motorcoach industry, started as a bus driver and sales representative. His experience, along with a career in marketing, led him to his position as executive director of the Motorcoach Marketing Council, an organization that helps provide tools, training, and support to operators.

Why You Need a Marketing Plan

For operators new to running buses, you must realize you are a disruptor to the motorcoach industry as it has existed for years. We are changing the way this sector operates, and Riddell said large group travel is done the same way today as it was 30-40 years ago.

“The world, the requirements, and the way the consuming public wants to consume our products is changing,” Riddell said. “As a result, we must change the way we market to move forward.”

Quote Follow-Ups

One of the most important ideas Riddell shared is the importance of following up on price quotes. A request for a quote — whether it arrives by email, a website landing page, or a phone call — means someone is shopping for a bus and likely will charter one.

Most companies will complete the quote based on information provided and move along without further contact. A simple follow-up call could set you apart from competitors. In the sales process of any industry, asking for the sale is one differentiator among companies. Providing marketing material with the quote helps your prospect visualize the service. Following up on a quote and asking for the order is more likely to result in a booking as opposed to doing nothing. Riddell recommends tracking why you lost out during follow-up calls.

Did you lose it because of price, service, or availability? Why did you lose that deal? If you lose a deal, “why not ask, ‘What could we do better next time that we might have the opportunity to serve you?’ They are likely to tell you they went with XYZ Company because they were 20% cheaper.’ You at least have the chance to price match or you can say, ‘Okay, this one went to somebody for 20% cheaper and I don’t want to do it for 20% cheaper.’”

Christian Riddell, executive director of the Motorcoach Marketing Council, says operators must change the way they market to move forward.

Christian Riddell, executive director of the Motorcoach Marketing Council, says operators must change the way they market to move forward.

Where Are Leads Coming From?

It should be standard procedure to ask callers how they learned of your business. This is important in determining where to spend your marketing dollars in the future. Calls today can be generated by Facebook ads, Google searches, review sites, or direct referrals. They can come from travel agents specializing in group travel, or destination management companies (DMCs). It’s important to know where to invest your marketing dollars.

An often overlooked lead source is passengers on your buses. Do you have brochures or other marketing materials in your vehicles? Chances are passengers traveling with you today travel with other motorcoach groups. The person who placed the order is one out of perhaps 50 or more passengers who could become customers. Passengers very likely don’t even know your company name unless you market to them while you have a captive audience.

Harnessing Technology

Riddell elaborated on a concept borrowed from the airline industry: Your passengers are captive. Depending on the duration of the trip, they might want to watch a movie or use the internet without chewing up their data plan. You can offer free Wi-Fi or even movie streaming, but you make the passenger complete a form with their email address to gain access to the Wi-Fi. This allows you to add them to your database for future marketing. Riddell places great value in drip marketing. “There is power in staying in touch with the people who have experienced our product,” Riddell said.

One-Time Customers

Riddell cautioned against believing you have created a lifelong customer simply because they used you one time and all went well. Instead, you must continue to market to previous passengers. If you think about a company such as Nike, you know they spend billions advertising and have created such popularity it’s considered trendy to have a Nike “swoosh” logo on your shoes or apparel, so they keep advertising. Compare that to a company we barely remember, Novell, which had the computer networking market cornered until it rested upon its laurels and was bypassed. Marketing to previous customers on a forever basis keeps your company name in what is called “top-of-mind awareness.” When the clients hear your company name, they feel they know you.

Memory Matters

Technology has changed the way we retain information. Back in the day, you could store hundreds of phone numbers in your head. Today, you might remember your spouse and mother, but you probably don’t know the number of your five closest friends. You probably throw most of your snail mail away because you know anything you are looking for is available online. This is why drip marketing is so important to keep your name in front of potential clients so they think of you when they have a need.

Slow And Steady Targets

Marketing is much different than advertising. A typical ad campaign might offer a special offer for a limited time, and the goal is to get plenty of sales in that period. That’s a tiny component of an overall marketing plan. The key to successful marketing is to keep potential clients exposed to your company name. Those would include retirees looking for casino trips, schools, weddings, churches, sports fans, concertgoers, conventions, and businesses. The marketing message can’t be the same for all groups. Businesses looking for exciting employee outings would likely toss out marketing material targeted towards wedding transportation and assume you cater to the wedding industry and not corporate group travel. They will likely ignore all your future messages.

Email Campaigns

Email marketing is perfectly legal as often as you want within some guidelines. Those guidelines include having a physical address and people must be able to opt-out with the click of a button or a reply with a phrase such as “Leave out” or “Unsubscribe.” If you use a program like Constant Contact or MailChimp, they will force you into compliance. You can segregate your targets so they receive only marketing material relative to their unique group, or you can send out a cross marketing piece to your entire database.

Take note if you buy a list of email addresses (commonly available for sale) and you have an excessive amount of bounce-backs (undeliverable) or opt-outs, your account will be frozen for sending spam. These programs also allow you to track who opened your emails and who clicked on links within your email, which indicates a level of interest in the piece. These statistics can help you refine your targets and specific marketing messages.

What Is Your Message?

Let’s face it: To the average person, a bus is a bus. They don’t know if it’s new or old. It’s a commodity to consumers. But it’s really not, and you need to clarify that in your marketing messages. People don’t know why they should choose one company over another. Service is where we differentiate ourselves. The experience we provide is the way to distinguish your company and your marketing must convey that message, not a message that you have buses. People crave change and specifically improvement. What have you implemented that differs from what everyone else is doing? Do you offer online quotes? Do you offer Wi-Fi with individual choices of movies? Those are potential marketing points. Paint a picture of your service quality with your marketing.

Message Consistency

Marketing is not something you do. It’s something you are. Marketing is a culture. It requires the buy-in of everyone on your staff. It’s about telling the story and conveying an image. It’s about being something different than your competitor. Good marketing requires a consistent message delivered by your drivers, salespeople, and even your wash crew. The overall thrust should be: “This is what we deliver and this is who we are.” You want satisfied customers in photos and testimonials on your social media and websites. That will be your lasting image.

Related Topics: advertising, building your clientele, client markets, How To, industry education, innovative marketing, LCT-NLA Show East, lead generation, marketing/promotions, motorcoach operators, motorcoaches, Sales & Marketing, social media marketing

Jim Luff Contributing Editor
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