April 2011

Motorcoach Operators Balance High and Low-Tech Methods for Marketing

by Alex Roman, Managing Editor

Escot's Brian Scott explains if you're not invested in the communities you serve, opportunities will simply pass you by.

Escot's Brian Scott explains if you're not invested in the communities you serve, opportunities will simply pass you by.
In terms of marketing, what works for one motorcoach operator may not necessarily work for all. Keeping your mind open and learning about all possible avenues is probably the best possible marketing plan.

But, before figuring out how you want to market your operation, you have to decide upon a well-developed positioning statement — it can be a simple sentence or two — then understand what image you want to portray to prospective customers when marketing your services, says Jim McCann of Spader Business Management.

"It's about identifying which market segments you are really going after and developing a plan to penetrate those markets," McCann says. "You need to know what the needs of those segments are, then address those needs through your business."

For example, Largo, Fla.-based Escot Bus Lines President Brian Scott says that his operation's business was once totally charter until realizing their market would only support so much growth in that area, and the competition never got easier. So, Escot expanded into contract work and scheduled service.

"We got tired of always fighting over the same piece of pie with our competitor where, often, the only thing that separates you from them is a lower price and it becomes a constant game of 'lowering the bar' on price," he says. "We have been effective at creating the need for our own equipment."

Outside of the usual advertising avenues — TV/radio, press releases, Yellow Pages ads — there seems to be a push as of late toward Internet marketing; however, one industry professional is imploring operators to not forget the past successes that were gained by developing relationships through community involvement. 

Once you decide what your market segments are, deciding how you will attract customers, explains McCann, is really the decision of the business, depending on what fits their model and what they are comfortable with. And, both the Web and community involvement will have great benefits when trying to grow your business.

"Clearly, social media and the Internet is gaining popularity, but the forming of relationships is still very important," says McCann. "The best thing to do may be finding a happy medium between the two."

The Internet is your friend

At last January's United Motorcoach Association Expo 2011 in Tampa, Fla., a key message for operators was increasing your operations' exposure on the Web, via your site and social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

For the more seasoned operators, embracing the Internet is a huge leap forward, since many long-time industry veterans are usually pretty green when it comes to technology, in general, and how to make the best use of it, specifically.

Younger operators who have grown up with the technology, however, are embracing the Web and finding ways to make it work for them to grow their businesses.

"I use Facebook and that sort of thing almost exclusively," explains Ray Land III, president of Fabulous Coach Lines in Branford, Fla. "You'll find something about Fabulous on Facebook quicker than any other way. As far as marketing goes, I use it heavily and it works."

Fabulous' focus on the Web has led Land to trying out many new things, including posting videos on YouTube and writing blogs for his site. 

One successful YouTube video featured the relationship with Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University's (FAMU) "Marching 100" band.

"We tried to make the FAMU video 50 percent about the band and 50 percent about our company, so that it would hold people's attention but, also, have a certain amount of pride for them as a customer," says Land, who adds that he is currently building up content to begin doing video blogs, or vlogs, because he thinks it's a "cool way to connect with people."

The idea for both the blogs and vlogs is to focus on some of the places Fabulous goes as well as on some of the groups they serve, which Land says includes many non-profit organizations.


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