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Why marketing sustainable travel never stops

April 2014
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Amy Boyle
22nd April 2014

To successfully increase levels of sustainable travel and reduce car journeys, there are two key aspects to consider: ensuring there’s sufficient suitable infrastructure to facilitate sustainable modal shifts, and persuading car drivers to change their travel behaviour and switch to more sustainable travel modes. It’s not simply a case of ‘build it and they will come’.

Changing behaviours and creating new ‘norms’ is always challenging. In terms of sustainable travel, we’re working against people’s habits, irrational choices – “I’ll drive to work even though it’s more expensive than the bus that stops two minutes from my house, I nearly always get stuck in traffic and have to drive around for 20 minutes to find a parking space…”) and outdated ideas of what public transport is actually like these days.

It really is a matter of selling sustainable travel, not just providing the means to travel sustainably, and we need to start thinking about how this will be done as early as possible. We need to persuade people to change how they travel, and that takes a great deal of insight, understanding, creativity and – most importantly – persistence.

The selling starts with the thinking

A successful marketing campaign always starts with understanding where people are at and where we need them to be. That’s true of any campaign, but when it comes to travel behaviour, it’s particularly important to understand and consider how and why people change their travel choices. As behavioural change specialists, we have adapted the internationally recognised transtheoretical stages of change model (Prochaska and DiClemente, 1983) to demonstrate the process of modal behaviour change that people go through.

The key ingredients of a travel behaviour change marketing campaign

As with most things, the recipe for success is multifaceted! Here’s a checklist produced from our experience in sustainable travel and behaviour change marketing:

  • Raise awareness – ensure as many of the target audience know about the sustainable travel options as possible while selling the benefits that will appeal to each target audience segment.
  • Motivate and educate – motivate the target audience to want to use sustainable travel and educate them on the specific benefits of using it. This should be delivered with targeted communications that resonate with people and tap into their emotions.
  • Trigger action – get those who are considering using sustainable travel to take action. This could be achieved through promotions such as one-day free trials, competitions and discount rates.
  • Meet expectations – once your target audience segments have started using sustainable travel modes, ensure that the services available meet their expectations and that they have a positive experience.
  • Develop customer relationships and loyalty – investing in customer relationships will ensure their loyalty and make them less likely to use a competitor (in this instance, the car). Current sustainable travellers can also act as advocates, especially if referral reward schemes are in place.

This is a process, so if only part of the marketing mix is delivered then it will have a limited impact; you could successfully raise awareness of alternative modes and motivate change by selling the benefits, but then provide insufficient information to enable people to change their behaviour. Alternatively, you could provide excellent information to enable people to plan alternative sustainable ways to travel, but not raise awareness of this or motivate people enough to actually consider them, thus limiting potential modal shifts.

The future

Just because an initiative is doing well now does not mean it will continue to. This is why sustained marketing activities are so important throughout the lifespan of Local Sustainable Transport Fund (LSTF) programmes.

We only have to look at the corporate marketing sector to see this. Big brands like East Midlands Trains and CrossCountry continue marketing themselves year on year because it is a necessity to sustain sales – they cannot rely on people remembering they exist just because they ran a campaign a year ago.

It is the same with sustainable travel, especially at this very early stage when we are just succeeding in influencing the early converts. It would be a shame to stop now before we approach the tipping point at which sustainable travel options become the ‘norm’ for some journey types.

This is why sustained marketing activities are so important throughout the lifespan of LSTF programmes.

When sustainable travel truly becomes part of the mainstream we will have succeeded, but until then we need to sustain our marketing activities.

Then we can be assured that the investments made in sustainable travel infrastructure are cost effective and that the LSTF programme will leave a positive legacy for the future.

By Amy Boyle

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