Bus and Motor Coach Library

The Art of Sales Promotion

Author – Brian Niddery (2002)

In this issue we talk about "Sales Promotion".  Sales promotion at first blush may seem somewhat the same thing as marketing and promoting your corporate name.  A sales promotional campaign has a very different objective than building corporate visibility and awareness.  Sales promotion, as it would relate to a passenger transportation service, involves limited time discounted pricing or the concept of offering additional benefits or advantages in the form of a package or special offer.

Particularly the use of a “sales promotional” package to introduce new customers to your service is an excellent way to use empty seat inventory that otherwise normally can go unfilled.           

The philosophy behind sales promotion is that people are generally creatures of habit.  Habits are important, as they enable every individual to go about their daily lives in the most efficient and predictable manner possible.  We get up in the morning, dress, eat, and then we go into the world of work or play without having to put a great deal of thought into it.  In a way, much of our daily life runs on "autopilot". 

Habit has been an important factor in the survival of our species.  This mindset allowed our ancient ancestors to more efficiently gather food, stay warm and sheltered, and keep out of the way of predators and other dangers.  But habit is a double-edged sword, in that it causes us to naturally resist change.  We as a species are usually far more comfortable with the status quo.

This is why people tend to deal with the same people and services on a continual basis.  An individual will shop for the same brand of food, household goods, visit the same family doctor or dentist, frequent the same restaurants, drive the exact same route to work, and often travel to the same or similar vacation destinations.  That is also why a business usually is able to maintain the same base of customers.  People tend to do business with the same company over and over again.  You may think it is customer loyalty, and to a great extent this may be true - but it really has more to do with the human need to conform to a habit - a predictable behavioral pattern.  And this trait of habit is why in fact it becomes difficult to attract new customers.

So with this understanding of human nature, you can more easily accept why it is a very difficult job to attract new customers.  However, to ensure a healthy and progressive business, you must be able to continually attract new customers to your business, and to more effectively develop the means to retain that new customer business.

So the question now becomes, how can you cause potential new customers to break their "habit" and commence doing business with your company?  Actually there are two parts to this equation.  The first part is "breaking an existing habit" and then the "creation of a new habit that includes using your service".  If you cannot achieve the second part, then it doesn't make very much sense in even trying to pursue the first part.  

Therefore a well-planned sales promotional program puts a great deal of emphasis on the second part - the ability to create a continuing customer relationship.  For now let’s leave that second part for a future article, and concentrate on the first part of the equation, "breaking an existing habit".  The most important ingredient in achieving this is called an "incentive"!

To acquire a new customer, you must provide an incentive that is sufficient enough to overcome the customer's natural resistance to change.  You must cause them to want to abandon what is familiar to them (habit), in order to seek something that could be more attractive to them (your service).

In planning a sales promotion campaign, you should carefully identify or target the customer base you wish to attract, determine how and when you want to attract them to your service, and also determine what kind of incentive would be most attractive to this target group.  In short it has to be the right incentive for the right people.  It is also important to limit the length of such a campaign, otherwise your marketplace may assume that such incentives are actually a permanent part of your fare structure, and hence will be perceived as having no value at all.  A well-planned sales promotional campaign often may be limited to a specific day (such as a Saturday in the case of urban shoppers who might be targeted by a transit operation), perhaps a span of several weeks or possibly as long as a month if targeted to regional commuters or intercity travelers.

The use of "freebies" should be carefully limited.  A good incentive does not necessarily mean that it has to be free.  In fact measured discounts are usually more effective.  These can include two-for-one deals at prescribed times or discount coupons off the regular fare rate.  It could take the form of a special introductory price on a weekly or monthly pass, or special discounts on a packaged vacation or destination tour. One of the more effective use of incentives are value-added packages wherein the price remains the same, but includes additional options or features.  

The primary objective of a sales promotional incentive is to attract new customers to try out your service just once or perhaps several times.  This gives you an opportunity to introduce them to the quality and merits of your service, and most importantly it provides the new customer with an initial familiarity with your company, which happens to be the very first step in the creation of a new "habit".