Do you know your customers? Does your company’s marketing chime with the target audience?

Claire Johnson, JR Buzz

Marketing is often treated subjectively and on certain occasions, with people who really know their customers inside out, it is the right thing to do. But often – it isn’t – decisions are taken on imagery and messaging because of a personal like and not because it would be the right thing for the target audience – who are quite often very different to the people making the final decisions. We rely on agencies to understand the markets and know the best way to target them and they have the ability to carry out testing and research to ensure something is on the right road (or track!). Despite all of this, all too often the decisions taken are not objectively considered and what comes out is … not quite right.

Sometimes we need to start by getting back to basics with marketing – starting with a consistently applied brand and identity (on the vehicles too) and building upon that. Vehicles are such an important part of the brand recognition so without them looking right and relating to the marketing, we’ve got a missing link already.

At JR Buzz, what we like to do is spend time with the people working in the business, get inside their world so we can become part of a team and support them as team members not us versus ‘the agency’. In fact, we rarely describe ourselves as an agency but as marketing support for our client. We even know some of the finer details; Karen at Chalkwell has an electric blue Harley called Little Miss Attitude and Malcolm at Ipswich owns a cow in the Lakes!

What I’m saying is that who you work with on your marketing should be an extension of the business but with the distance to allow them to still be objective. Knowing that different markets need a different image, message and tone of voice if the marketing to them is to be the most effective it can be. We like to get the basics right with the teams, consistency and right tone of voice and then we can start to market wider and having worked with the team and their customers we can be objective.

It’s not easy to be objective. All of our clients are passionate about their business and their customers – that is clear to see – so convincing them to step back and to listen and look at alternatives to what they’ve always done is tough. It comes down to trust. Knowing that we do what we do based on facts – testing marketing, names, images with target audiences and using experience from previous campaigns, seeing what gave good results and what didn’t quite make it.

I remember a conversation with Moir Lockhead when he was chief executive of FirstGroup and I was a junior marketing executive at First Manchester. I had proposed a completely different image and tone of voice to communicate with kids aged 12-16. It was radically different; it used self-deprecating humour but still tied back to the brand in the colours. Basically, I wanted to ‘pimp a bus’! You can imagine the reaction. I did have moments of doubt, but we had tested the materials with a number of kids across the country and they loved it, they ‘got it’, it engaged them. I battled with the facts, ended up having to present to the UK Bus commercial director at the fresh age of 22! We got to do everything with the marketing apart from actually pimping the bus in real life. It was one of the most successful kids campaigns they ever did and until recently still hung on the walls of their head office. I met Moir at a Passenger Transport Management Awards event a few years later – he remembered me as the one who wanted to ‘Pimp his buses’ and said that he was glad I had argued the case and presented the facts as it had worked really well. Phew!

You care about your business, your brand, your staff, and your customers so sometimes you have to think objectively. You might not be the target audience after all.


About the author

Claire Johnson is Director and Proprietor of JR Buzz, a marketing and commercial support business for public transport operators, aiming to change how public transport is viewed by customers, stakeholders and from the inside out, with fresh, fun and interesting communications. Email


This article appears in the latest issue of Passenger Transport.
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