Insider Exclusive: Five Budget-Conscious Marketing Tools for Operators

Insider Exclusive: Five Budget-Conscious Marketing Tools for Operators

Motorcoach Marketing Council offers hundreds of online marketing tools

By George Spencer

“Help operators sell more charters to more people for more money.”

That was the goal of a seminar led by Chris Riddell, executive director of the Motorcoach Marketing Council. He spoke to delegates at the regional meeting of the Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina motorcoach associations held in Roanoke, Va., on Sept. 16–20. 

“This is an industry that is plagued by an aging population of traditional customers,” Riddell warned operators. “If we do not replace them at the same rate (or greater) that they are aging out, our industry will continue to shrink. We must find new ways to access new and younger buyers who will help us find the bright future we all want to have. In order to do that, we must look beyond the baby boomers and begin to look at the generations who have come after—all the way up to and including the millennials.”

He urged operators to learn how to target and appeal to these generations by finding new ways to talk to them and even new ways of giving them access to book our buses. “Uber is basically a taxi company that found an easier way to book its product. Click a button and, boom, someone shows up. Click and done,” said Riddell. “We must find ways that we can make using motor coaches easier and quicker for these generations who are looking for ‘click-and-go’ relationships with their transportation needs.”

Riddell discussed the importance of marketing in the motorcoach industry and recounted his days as the director of sales and marketing for an operation in Oregon. “Marketing isn’t regulated,” he said. “It will never break down or get a flat tire; it will never no-show for a dispatch. Because of this, it is easy to prioritize it behind all of those items that are regulated.”

Riddell stressed the importance of making marketing a priority and setting aside the time and resources necessary to give it the attention that will generate the results operators want. Part of that entails setting aside a budget for marketing. In Riddell’s experience—in addition to data from many 20 Groups—motorcoach operators currently spend as little as 1 percent of their gross revenue on marketing. While this may be an industry norm, in most any other businesses this would be far below what is needed for sustainability. He also asked operators at the seminar to go back to their companies and commit to marketing differently.

“Our industry’s culture accepts the fact that we just answer the phone,” he said. “We’re not doing enough. We are good operationally. We know how to keep buses on the road. We understand compliance and regulations.”

Riddell reminded operators that we have seen a resurgence in the market when it comes to brokers and many traditional limo companies deciding to compete in the motorcoach market. When it comes to the broker market, marketing is essentially its only focus. “They don’t have to worry about equipment, employees, or a DOT audit. They just market and sell,” he said.

While brokers are able to outpace motorcoach operators in the marketing game, Riddell indicated that it is also important not to look past the limo operators. Limo operators are presenting traditional motorcoach operations with many challenges, too. “Limo companies have long understood that they are not selling a seat/ride from point A to point B—they are selling experience,” Riddell said. “This means that they have spent a lot of time and money on the marketing side of their business. They are very good at it and that is now spilling over into the motorcoach market.”

Here are Riddell’s five budget-conscious tools operators can use to grow their businesses:

Email

Inexpensive email marketing programs using software such as Constant Contact, Campaign Monitor, and Mail Chimp are almost 40 times better at acquiring new customers than Facebook and Twitter, according to him. In addition, the Motorcoach Marketing Council offers a library of email templates that can be customized for 26 different vertical markets.

These programs can tell users who opened an email, how long they spent on it, how many links they clicked on, who they forwarded your email to, and more. Using these technologies, along with the development of marketing that focuses on the specific needs of a buying group, has proven to be very successful. For example, if you have a list of people who are interested in wedding transportation and you send emails to them about how you are “the wedding people,” the return can be expected to be many times that of a campaign that is designed to be “general” and tries to speak to everyone. “If people don’t believe you’re talking to them, they don’t want to do business with you,” Riddell said.

Social Media

Forty-seven percent of all online time is spent on social media, according to Riddell. “Social media is like going to a cocktail party,” he said. “It’s made up of micro-communities.”

Studies show that operators planning to use Facebook should make between five to 11 posts a week, and those posts should be about what readers are interested in. Don’t post things such as “Look at our great bus” or “Look at our driver of the week” because they don’t tie into conversations that are happening among customers. In other words, if you want more wedding business, post about weddings you have assisted with or offer transportation-related wedding planning advice to prove you are as excited about weddings as your potential customers.

For reference, the Motorcoach Marketing Council’s social media library has hundreds of posts that are broken down into specific vertical markets designed to make participation in the social landscape as easy as copy and paste.

Websites

Companies that have more than 40 landing pages get 12 times more leads than companies that have five or fewer landing pages, according to his research. If you have a list of bullet points detailing your services, take each bullet point and turn it into a webpage.       

Consider creating URLs for segments for which you have the greatest expertise. “If I’m talking to someone about collegiate sports transportation and I send him to my website, and he has to navigate to find my page on sports, he’s going to think I don’t care,” said Riddell.

Instead, create a home page about sports travel, turning your expertise into a unique selling advantage.

Phone

Nearly 25 percent of cold calls will result in the opportunity for an appointment, according to Riddell. Use calls to other business to find out if there is a mutually advantageous fit for both companies. “The mission is to set up win-win relationships,” Riddell said. “Other businesses care about one thing—they want to grow, they care about money.”

Meetings

Ninety-five percent of professionals believe face-to-face meetings are key to successful business relationships. When you meet with potential clients, be specific about your reason for calling, and leave them with something that tells them why you’re the best fit. If you need it, the Motorcoach Marketing Council has a library of leave-behind sales pieces that any operator can easily tailor to fit their needs.

For more on the Motorcoach Marketing Council, visit www.motorcoachmarketing.org or contact Riddell at chris@gomotorcoach.org.

George Spencer is a Chapel Hill, N.C.-based freelance writer and frequent contributor to ABA media.

About the American Bus Association

The American Bus Association (ABA) is the trade organization of the intercity bus industry, with more than 1,000 motorcoach and tour company members in the United States and Canada. Its members operate charter, tour, regular route, airport express, special operations and contract services. Another 2,800 members are travel and tourism organizations and suppliers of bus products and services who work in partnership with the North American motorcoach industry.

Contact

Melanie Hinton, Director of Communications & Media Relations, ABA
Office: (202) 218-7220
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