All aboard for public transport’s top marketing tactics – for localised and seasonal bus routes

One of the early 20th Century pioneers of marketing (J Wanamaker) famously said “Half of the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half!” For most bus route operators, it’s a common issue as their ability to reach new potential passengers for their geographically limited bus routes is hampered by outdated methods of media selection.

In an industry that is often catching up with the latest marketing trends, here are a few shining examples of highly targeted promotional campaigns that are both easy to implement and afford:


Q1 of each year is an ideal time to influence behavioural change and swapping a daily commutes from motoring to public transport is an easily achievable goal, with only a modest amount of well targeted encouragement. With advances in bus travel tech, many professionals would be keen to swap their grid locked car journies for stress free wifi enabled web browsing, live updated bus time arrival,  and traffic free bus lanes.

Commuter Case Study: Rotherham Bus Partnership deployed teams of brand ambassadors into the region’s top 20 largest employers. The teams greeted people on arrival in the foyers each morning and around the cafeterias at lunch times. They provided individualised route information, showing each person what their localised bus service options were, working out optimsied travel plans – and showing how much they would save each year! The impressed professionals were then given a free trial bus pass for that week, to get them started on their journey.


As bus routes follow a pre-defined path, most media options come with a huge amount of wastage. Even the Royal Mail’s own door to door targeting service is limited to postcode selection, resulting in many houses being way out of the catchment for a specific service. By narrowing the sites to hot spots along the suburban bus route – everyone who comes into contact with them has the potential to use the service.

Localised Case Study: For the launch of the new higher frequency bus service in Leeds, teams of First Bus brand ambassadors were deployed across a targeted array of suburban area high streets, busy supermarkets, outside schools and to businesses along the route. The people the teams engaged with in these areas were genuinely delighted to hear about the improvements being made to the services in their area and were grateful that they had made the effort to come out and chat with them face to face.


It’s not just the shops and bars that should be packed out at Christmas time: Both bargain hunters and late night revellers all need transport to and from the city centre. Engaging with shoppers while they are out and about on the high streets during the day or around the busy bar areas at night, guarantees a huge audience reach to recipients who often have an immediate need to get home.

High Street Case Study: People who travel into Sheffield city centre for shopping were a key target for a Sustrans initiative, aiming to tempt ‘occasional leisure travellers’ out of their cars and onto the buses. Their high profile campaign positioned some modern buses on high footfall retail areas to engage with shoppers on the high streets. Motorists were approached outside of expensive car parks and on high streets – to ask if they’d arrived by car today?  If they could show them they had car keys, they would receive a free travel pass to tempt them out of their car and on to a bus for their next visit into town.


Most car drivers remember what bus travel used to be like from their younger years – often with some distain! The majority are blissfully unaware that most modern services now come with free wifi, live location tracking and all types of interactive apps and website interfaces for making usage better than ever.

Tech case study: To show off the latest in smart phone apps, cashless ticketing and service information updates, South Yorkshire Passenger Transport Executive deployed iPad equipped promotional teams across office areas, high streets, bus stations and car parks. Each interaction demonstrated the functionality of the new technology, gave user specific advice and left each recipient with an incentive to download the app on their own phone. The volume of app downloads and new users successfully generated a significant reduction in the ongoing operating costs by increasing self-service efficiency across all their sites.


Many brands really struggle for creating relevant and interesting content for their social media feeds. Who else groans when they see that photo of the child with the mini fist pump celebrating the arrival of yet another weekend or a cute cat doing the same!? Your brand’s social media feed should be a reflection of what the brand is about and how it is interacting with its customers across the region. As well as encouraging new passengers, your promotional campaigns should be able to generate content that you post as a brand – and also that encourage positive sharing amongst your customers.

Social media case study: To support the launch of the new state of the art ‘guided bus’ service in east Manchester, the Vantage event team showed off their buses in static event areas along the route. Customers were invited on to be wow’d by the new luxury leather seating, USB chargers and train style tables. Then in exchange for a positive tweet, they were rewarded with a free trail pass and a tasty Tweet to Eat temptation in the form of a colour coded cake! Positive posts were generated by both the event team and by potential passengers who were keen to share the new innovations that the fleet promised to deliver.


Let’s face it: providing information about a new bus services, new timetables or passenger technologies can easily be classed as quite dull, if not handled correctly. To launch your promotional messages you need to make sure they have the right mix of high impact, attention grabbing displays, wow factor and fun.

Event Case Study: To launch the new Stagecoach Gold bus service in Cheltenham, a gift wrapped bus was positioned on the high street, alongside a wow factor event area. Potential passengers watched a team of gold branded acrobats who performed daring flips and tricks to Gold themed songs, children plays on a customised bus driving challenge and people tried their luck on a spin to win game of fortune for the adults. Thousands of local residents stopped to engage with the promotional activity, passed over their contact data and helped to rapidly grow the usage of the new service.



Link Communication is a specialist promotional agency that operates across the entire UK. All of the case studies above have been created and implemented by the team here (alongside thousands of others!). For new promotional ideas for your own routes and services – please get in touch for a friendly chat. You’ll receive some loads of great ideas and scalable costed plans to suit your budget.


Call: 0113 278 7808