Making Parking Sexy
Marketers in the parking industry are faced with unique challenges as they try to push products or services that aren’t viewed as favorably as a new pair of shoes or a cold glass of milk by the general public because most people don’t desire to pay for parking.
Rather, as a result of poor public education, drivers often view paid parking as an unnecessary evil. As such, marketers strive to differentiate themselves from the competition, but first must overcome the negative reputation of paid parking.
The public and their ability to influence decision-making has driven marketing departments to become proactive educators on changes made to not only current infrastructure and policy, but to the motivations behind them. And to get the attention of those whose voices are most readily heard through blogs, websites and social media – parking had to become sexier.
Traditionally, vendors have played a minimal role in the marketing of parking equipment to the public. They provided their customers with a basic package of the necessary signage and instructional information needed for motorists to understand how to operate the equipment. This may have included customized signage and graphics on revenue control equipment, basic public relations support, or providing information or documentation for press releases. Beyond the basics, cities have been left to their own devices to establish an effective public education/outreach campaign, which is often minimally executed due to limited resources.
As the information landscape has grown to include web-based forums, so has the role of marketing for public sector campaigns. Although standard marketing pieces remain an important cornerstone of a successful transition in equipment or policy, cities are now faced with the challenge of making information readily accessible and in an attractive format.
Due to information overload, we need clear and concise messaging through videos, social media and “progressive distribution channels” focused on delivery to those most likely to pose public relations challenges. The dissemination of information must now be not only strategic, it needs to be creative. This may not be a parking department’s forte, but when partnered with a vendor’s marketing and communications team, the result can be true marketing synergy.
City of Sacramento Case Study
The city of Sacramento began upgrading its on-street parking meters this year, starting with a deployment of I smart-parking meters. To inform the public about the new meters and set expectations appropriately, the city, in collaboration with their supplier, developed a comprehensive marketing and communications campaign, using online resources, print and broadcast media, and printed materials to publicize the new meters and policy changes.
Informing the public of the new smart-parking meter installation began well before the upgrade began on the streets. This helped establish a consistent message over an extended period of time to drive home the who, what, where and why.
In addition to PR, the IPS-Sacramento team worked together to blitz the public with information in traditional and creative formats, including:
Print: The two teams collaborated on design and delivery strategy of printed materials, including small posters that could be displayed on bulletin boards and in merchants’ windows and tri-fold pocket-sized instruction brochures to be distributed to drivers by downtown guides and parking enforcement officers (helping
build a positive association with PEOs is never a bad idea!).
Internet: IPS Group designed and hosted a city-branded website that provided written instructions on processing a transaction; a short video on how-to-use the meters; a “Frequently Asked Questions” document; a survey to gauge public acceptance; and maps showing deployment locations, both completed and future.
Social Media: In order to engage the public through social media, the city opened a Twitter account to allow users to receive direct updates about smartmeter deployment activities. This account is used regularly to tweet about upcoming installations, reminders about changes in policy, and tips about smartmeter usage.
Interactive: The city placed a demonstration meter in its Customer Service counter to allow the public to experiment with the new product before installation started. This allowed motorists to become familiar with the new meters and ask questions.
The campaign has been regarded as a success by the city and IPS because of enhanced compliance (aided by additional payment options and increased meter uptime), as well as fewer customer complaints and improved operational uptime. Furthermore, the partnership between the city and IPS and the proactive and innovative approach to the introduction of the new parking meters fostered greater public acceptance.
In short, when parking industry vendors and customers have fun, are creative, and work collaboratively on marketing campaigns, another layer of the negative stigma associated with paid parking is stripped away and parking becomes a little sexier.
Lisa Bahr, Marketing Manager of IPS Group, spearheads the company’s global marketing and public relations efforts and provides sales support to senior management. Since joining the company in 2010, she has grown the company’s branding initiatives through diverse multimedia channels, and in doing so has garnered IPS recognition in both the parking and telecommunications industries. Contact Bahr, a Member of the Women In Parking Leadership Board, at firstname.lastname@example.org.