A Strong Triad: Mobility Management, Design Thinking and Social Marketing

  • Author: Amy Conrick
  • Date: January 8, 2014

Picture of Amy Conrick

In the spirit of the New Year and new initiatives, I'd like to look at how mobility management practitioners can benefit from the expertise developed in the social marketing and design thinking fields to better understand and serve transportation customer groups.

The strongest commonality among mobility management, design thinking, and social marketing is the fact that the customer is at the beginning, middle, and end of each of these approaches. Mobility managers are keenly attuned to the needs of their customers, and have knowledge of the many transportation modalities that could be applied in responding to those needs. Design thinking is an equally human-centered process, as a problem-solving approach that designs and tests multiple iterations of solutions based on what has been learned about the customer. When applied to transportation challenges, design thinking can guide mobility managers in learning customer needs and behaviors and then using those insights as a springboard for creating responsive transportation offerings, ensuring any new services are aligned with those insights.

Once you have a well-designed, responsive transportation offering, how do you convincingly unfold the benefits of that new offering for potential customers? Enter social marketing. Social marketing is an approach developed in the 1970s, with the primary aim of influencing behaviors that will contribute to societal gain, unlike traditional marketing, whose primary aim is financial gain (see Social Marketing: Influencing Behaviors for Good, by Nancy R. Lee and Philip Kotler.). It applies traditional marketing principles and techniques to influencing behaviors that will benefit both the individual and society. Social marketing dovetails neatly into design thinking, and indeed uses many of the same tools, such as the in-depth interviewing and observation of the target audience, and synthesizing these observations into customer journey maps and other tools.

Here's an example of how social marketing might be applied to transportation. I recently attended a training at the Center for Urban Transportation Research (University of South Florida), where I worked with a group of fellow students on increasing carpool usage among our defined "target audience”—female employees in their early 20s working the third shift in a suburban call center. In just two days, we came up with some creative ideas for what carpooling could offer this subgroup of employees, based on what was revealed about them through our customer journey map activity and other exercises. We suggested promoting carpooling in at least three ways: as an opportunity for these recent college grads to make new social connections, as a way to increase personal safety by traveling with others to nighttime shifts, and as a means to earn extra money to pay down college debt.

I can think of many examples of how one might want to use social marketing techniques to promote transportation services to customers. For example, a mobility manager may want to promote increased use of fixed-route transit instead of paratransit, when the former is appropriate for the customer and is also the most independent, cost-effective choice for them. To do so, one would research the potential impediments (including customer fears) and benefits to transferring from paratransit to fixed route and design a targeted "campaign" that respond to those factors.

Looking at your organization’s transportation offerings, ask yourself: Are your services designed with the customer in mind? Are there key segments of the population for whom you think your service would be beneficial but whom you have not been able to reach? Is one of your New Year’s resolutions to try something new to shake things up, as scary as that might be?

I leave you with a quote from the humorist James Thurber (with my parenthetical addition): “You might as well fall flat on your face (and get up and try again) as lean over too far backward.”






We’d love to hear from you!

Have more mobility news that we should be reading and sharing? Let us know! Reach out to Sage Kashner (kashner@ctaa.org).

Skip to toolbar