Branding, marketing and publicity
Publicising a transport service is vital to its success. You do not have to spend large amounts of money; well thought out leaflets and posters can be very effective at a local level, and if you have access to someone with computer skills, a web page would spread the message further afield.
Marketing is firstly about finding out what your customers want and then designing a service to meet their needs. The next stage is publicity and branding – getting the message out to your customers. Publicity is especially important for services that rely on volunteers:
- To keep your service 'visible' so that people are aware of it – and to encourage a sense of local 'ownership' of the scheme in the community.
- To encourage people to become volunteers, whether drivers or organisers.
- To make your volunteers feel valued by being part of a service that is well known and successful.
- Printed promotional material
Designing a simple leaflet, flyer or poster which clearly explains the transport service is a good method of publicising a service. There are three main elements to this: design, printing and distribution. It is relatively straightforward to design leaflets or posters. Ideally, your design should:
- Put the message across simply and clearly
- Look distinctive – have a recognisable logo or colour, common to all publicity that you produce
- Be legible – older people may struggle with small print or designs which look too busy or cluttered
- Include a date when the information was correct.
Before starting something of your own investigate whether any organisations provide promotional materials that you can use. For example, Hampshire County Council supplies generic posters and leaflets for voluntary car schemes both for advertising their services and for volunteers. You could perhaps design your own generic publicity – for example, if the organisation's contact details vary from year to year, leave a space for details to be filled in by hand, or an updated label to be added. This can make your publicity more cost-effective.
Printing doesn't have to be done by a professional printer but if you are running off copies at home, bear in mind that inkjet printers are expensive to run and large blocks of colour or photographs on a leaflet will use up ink cartridges quickly – so it's best to keep the design simple, with modest use of colour. Laser printers are cheaper per copy so better for larger quantities. Commercial printing companies are useful if you want to print thousands of leaflets.
Distribution is the final challenge – you may have some very attractive leaflets and posters but if they don't reach the right people, your service may fail simply because not enough people are aware of it. Posters should be displayed at key local locations (parish notice boards, shops, public house, library, churches) on a regular basis to help raise the profile of the service. Use a laminator to weather-proof your posters.
Distributing leaflets is important but can be expensive if done by commercial companies. In a relatively small community you and a group of helpers may be able to do this over a few evenings and you will know it has been done well. If your service is targeted at a particular section of the community, such as older people or mothers with toddlers, it may be wasteful to distribute to everybody – and in a small community it may be easy to decide who needs to receive leaflets. Always keep a small supply in a number of locations – shop, public house, church, library etc. Make sure that you check from time to time that each location still has a stock – and that your poster is still on display.
If your community has its own parish or town website, you should be able to get your service included on this. Alternatively, you could set up a separate website for your service. This would give people on-demand access to information about your service at any time. Your leaflet could be added as a download that people can print off at home. If your service is aimed specifically at young people, you may want to consider a presence on Facebook, too.
- Word of mouth
Personal recommendations from friends or family are often the most compelling form of publicity; ask your users to "Tell your friends if you have had a good experience, tell us if you have not.' Feedback will help you improve the service.
- Community events
You can use a stall at a local fete or attend a coffee morning to make sure that potential users know about your service – and as a means to recruit volunteers to help run it.
- Local press
It is expensive to advertise but you can give your local paper (or local radio station) good news stories about your service. When used, these are useful (and free) publicity for your service. You can easily think of reasons to send in a story:
- Launch of the scheme or first anniversary celebration
- 500th passenger trip – "Doris has travelled since the service started…"
- How your service has made a real difference to someone's quality of life – "Edna, 85, visited her sister for the first time in two years."
Always mention that your scheme welcomes new users – and new volunteers, too.
- Launch events
If you are launching or changing a service – tell people about it. This is an achievement and should be celebrated. A launch event can promote the service to potential users, encourage more volunteers and be opportunity to thank all those who have contributed to the scheme so far. Do a short press release and invite the local papers to the launch. If they don't turn up, take a digital photo and send it to them afterwards, with the press release.
- Ongoing publicity
Don't see publicity as a one-off when you launch your service; it is also important when the service changes, and from time to time to ensure that people are still aware of the service – and to maintain your scheme's momentum.
Don't forget to let your local District/Borough Council and Hampshire County Council know about your new service. They may be able to help to promote it via an event or publication they are working on or add a link to their website.
- Branding your service
For any new product or service, the name and 'image' are important – in other words, the brand. A name should be easily recognisable, distinctive, memorable and have a local identity. In addition to a name, you may also want a logo. You may surprise yourself by what you can achieve just using Microsoft Word or other similar packages. Remember, try to keep it to one or two colours and a simple design so that it is easy to reproduce on all your printed materials – and your vehicle, if you own one. Further information on branding and marketing can be found at the KnowHow NonProfit website.
- Record your publicity successes
Keep a copy of all publicity that you have produced and articles in the local press. It is often helpful to see what has been done before, and a great resource when applying for funding, when you can show positive publicity and good news stories about your service and the difference it has made to local people's lives.