Monthly Archives: May 2011

Political Campaign versus Social Marketing

        This blog post is the result of an idea that sparked at a conversation over a wine glass during the happy hour that followed the Organizing 2.0 meeting in W.PA. (The hour became hours and the last discussion group broke apart around 1 am in the morning).

            It all started as a debate on how a proper campaign should be organized.  The canvasser shall go door to door and discuss the specific issues each community member does have and build around that. It is not an yes or no type of questionnaire because the canvasser needs to understand the community beyond statistics and appearances in order to provide the campaign organizer with the information that will be used later to build a platform for a specific candidate. Now, that is exactly what I learned about ten years ago from the British women, the political leaders teaching us –young women and potential political workers from East Europe. Yet, two weeks ago, at the discussion table I looked contradicted.

          No, I was saying, you already have an ideology and you need to identify those specific issues that are relevant for it – even more you need to identify the specific community members who already understand the benefits of the particular solution you suggest for these particular sets of issues. Because you need to build relationships with these people and you need to invest in their leadership qualities as they will be the ones promoting the solution… But I was no longer looking at community organizing as a political campaign organizer, but as a social marketer.

                 As a political campaign organizer you are selling a person to voters – a political candidate. What we want to know is what his potential voters need and expect from a legislator.  After you will help to build a platform that answers their specific needs and the third step is to return to the community in question to show people how this platform will answer their needs and meet their expectations.  So do not blame politicians for failing you after elected. First , these specific community needs will change as population ages , economic conditions change , the civil issues at hand do change…And so will a politician’s platform.  

        Plus when you sell a political leader the currency is votes – someone’s specific need may be ignored if a majority support is not perceived. For example let’s take what Republicans learned about Medicare – you can mess with universal, government funded health insurance as long as you do not mess with the universal, government funded insurance of your electorate. Even if your electorate seems to be unable to comprehend that they are benefiting from a universal, government funded health insurance plan when opposing its general counterpart. A politician will only address an issue as long as it will not lead to a dramatic loss of votes. [1]

     As a social marketer you already know the solution. Most times the solution is supported by significant professional research, you just need to sell this solution to community members when they grew (up) used to belief  the solution is fundamentally different. For example , when selling  “transit”  as a solution for transportation issues such as transportation funding,  congestion, travel time, pricing, economic value and so on you may need to address first your target population’s belief that the above issues are always solved by a free market car industry and by increasing mobility. [2]

       It is not much different from selling them an energy efficient washing machine to solve their electric bill issue. It is just harder because you need to reach a deeper level –   you need to change what a person believes.  When selling energy efficient washing machines all you need is to convince that the model you are selling will save them enough on the electric bill to be worth the higher price tag. Because your customer already believes that the solution to his/her electric bill issue will be an energy efficient washing machine. He may doubt that the particular model you are selling does consume a lot less electric and thus it can effectively solve his issue. What you change is this person’s Attitude.  When selling transit to Pittsburgh residents as a way to improve travel time and reduce congestion, you must change their Belief that the solution will always be better mobility when in fact is better access.

Notes:

[1] There are exceptions but those are few and far in-between

[2] This explains why is so much harder to sell transit in the United States.

My Rights as a Pedestrian

A recent article on Grist explainin  “Why are we (Americans)  so angry at the gas pump “– Because we have no choices- notes that suburban sprawl makes impossible (or at best impracticable) other transportation means such as walking, biking or taking public transit.  We do have to drive to work, shopping, doctor, the kids soccer games ,family events, church and so on… So even with a gas efficient vehicle at $3 /gallon we’ve already spent a big chunk of our budget at the pump, if gas were $8.50/gallon as I understand it is now in UK , we’d probably had to stop eating because we would either be unable to afford a trip to the store, or if we put the gas in the car there will be  nothing left to purchase groceries.

the first phase of several projects planned to improve the Route 65 Marshall Avenue Interchange

            One of the solutions pointed in the Grist article mentioned above: limit sprawl from now own, rebuild within urban boundaries with higher population densities.  Shorter distances will make all these options such as walking possible again. Agreed! But we need to do better, and there is something else we need to do first: we need to revise our outlook on accessibility. In many cases it is not distance, but lack of access for cyclists and pedestrians turning away most Americans living in suburban areas who may consider walking instead of driving.

            And our priorities are so skewed that , even in the old city neighborhoods  where pedestrian pathways survived the last six decades, we tend to ignore the fact that their role is not ornamental  but quite pragmatic.  Yes, people do walk on those sidewalks –especially when they are the pedestrian path to a bus route. So really, what were they thinking when they put up this sign?

I am unable to tell you what exactly where they thinking, but I can tell you how to fix it. You can file a complaint with Penn DOT here: http://www.dot.state.pa.us/penndot/districts/district11/d11ccc.nsf

Why file a complaint?

  • Because Penn DOT through their local district is actually required to supervise and in certain cases approve every step of the project in order to comply with FHWA Work Zone Safety & Mobility Rule (23 CFR Subpart J)
  • Because Penn DOT’s specifies in its Publication 46 that, when designing even a temporary traffic control plan, a contractor is required to provide bicyclist and pedestrian accommodations:

Para 6.14.2.4 (c) Do not expose bicycle and pedestrian pathways to unsafe conditions…”, and obviously if your pathway is blocked therefore forces you to step out in traffic you are exposed to an unsafe condition.

  • Because we need to remind Penn DOT that their pedestrian friendly policies are nothing if they are just ink on paper.

 

WE have the same rights as Pedestrians as we do as drivers!

Bad Bus Day (rant) -original post July 15th 2008

In the previous post I covered a little bit the topic of bus accommodations for  bulky object with wheels in Germany. So I could not help to recall some old bickering on the wheelchair accommodations offered by Pittsburgh buses ( wheelchairs are the only bulky objects with wheels they will allow in a bus )

This story I wrote in July 2007 covers the unfortunate story of a wheelchair bound rider who ended suspended halfway between the ground and the bus floor:

“I am trying to pay my debt and it had become increasingly difficult (not that I am the only one in this situation). When they asked me to work some overtime, I volunteered even some more hours in…SO, today I was supposed to be in at 9am (instead of 12pm).

But as it was said, Tuesday there must be three bad hours.

The first bad hour :It started yesterday evening when I realized I must have caught a cold or something. I decided to go early to bed and take some acetaminophen based cold pills. It worked last night, I got in that drowsy state and felt great, but unfortunately the drowsy effect did not vanish in eight hours as supposed, but lingered with me in bed . I got up for a late start and dilly-dallied in the shower and left my house so late that:

The second bad hour: I missed my bus. I called in and told my boss I’ll be half an hour late counting toward the overtime I volunteered. Got in the next bus and made it just in time for my connection. For a minute or so I thought my luck had changed. But it did not:

The third bad hour: One passenger in a wheelchair. The driver gets the platform out  – you know, the one that is supposed to raise him at the floor level, and it gets stuck. Yes, the poor guy was stuck right in the middle, at the second step level. He could not get out and he could not get in…
I did felt bad for that man and his wheelchair. But I felt even worse for me, I was 45 minutes late to work –and that was half the time I volunteered to work over my schedule. Do you think they’ll ask me again? I am afraid they won’t. “

The interior of a friendly transit system

Deutsche Busse -Innen

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Americans are world-wide famous for their pragmatism. However when it comes to designing the interior of a bus their pragmatism went out of the bus windows . The accommodation for wheelchair bound riders in the front of the bus looks as a gauche modification to the original design just for the sake of complying with ADA regulations.

 

 

 

On the other side –German bus designer made sure that they can accommodate any type of bulky, wheel based mobility accessory including strollers, carts and big carry-ons without creating too much discomfort for other riders.

 

 

 

 Image sources:
http://www.stadtbus-fulda.de/Gestern/Standard%202/Wagen%20131.htm
http://www.eifel-rur-bus.de/seiten/nachrichten/2006/nb_2006-12.html
http://www.bergischerbus.net/ablage/schienenkoenig/bus-2009.html
 

How to tell an ugly truth

Or why “pink marketing” strategies do not really work when the situation is actually gloomy…

Many do associate marketing strategies and branding with the skills of a sleek salesmen who could sell ice to the Eskimos. And unfortunately many marketing strategies are built on a similar approach, that of a sleek salesman.

Sleek marketing strategies are creating demand – not too long ago as we were just getting used with the idea of the cell phone as a must have and now cell phones won’t do any longer –we must have smartphones.

Sleek marketing strategies also specialize on “embellishing the truth” or creating a better brand image by enhancing the product’s feature. Which is ok  when the truth about the product is that it looks quite pretty without adding the marketing make-up  . Such is the case of Toyota marketing its newest   SUV models as green rather than just  gas efficient.  For such fancy SUVs they are quite efficient when it comes to their MPG, to be green they’d probably have to give up being SUVs altogether …

The problem arises when the marketing strategies try to pretty up a truth that is ugly. Such was the delay of Toyota recalls and the company’s attempts to push certain technical issues under the rug or make them look minor when they were quite bad…

You probably tell yourself that it is counterintuitive to shout out an ugly truth as a marketing strategy. If a product malfunctions, you may want to make the whole deal hush-hush until the problem is fixed. And you are right, just that between media and social media is hard to keep an issue affecting your customers hush-hush for too long.  So what shall you do?

Let’s take Johnson and Johnson 1982 recall – after seven people died of Cyanide poisoning after taking Tylenol capsules that where tampered with the company had two choices:

  • To try to understate the problem and advise caution until the source of contamination was discovered (the person (s) who poisoned the pill) while standing behind the safety of the product
  • To shout out: the truth is ugly –  we have a big problem, the product is not as safe as we thought and we’ve no idea how it was possible to tamper with it  – and recall all the products immediately.

They chose the second approach –  they decided to recall Tylenol products from store shelves across US, not just in Chicago and offer free replacements . Their statement and marketing approach : the truth is ugly , but we care so much about our customers that we are not afraid to admit it and fix it no matter what cost. The result : Johnson and Johnson recovered its lost quite fast as it emerged from the whole crisis as a hero.

Another good example is the successful social marketing approach for AIDS awareness lead by the CDC in 1986 and matched by similar campaigns in UK and continental Europe (Stop AIDS Campaign) . It started by acknowledging the truth – there is a virus and it is deadly.  The truth is ugly but let’s get our facts right. The campaign encouraged medical authorities to speak openly about the risks, transmission and consequences of AIDS and it also encouraged all the people, including teens to ask questions and get informed.  The campaign had its share of negative comments and a lot of unpleasant facts were to be acknowledged and accepted – you know the type we really do not want to deal with, like your 16 years old daughter sexual life. But it did stop the rumors…

Therefore, when marketing does not have a choice but to deal with an ugly truth there are many ways it can approach the issue and build its strategy. It can stress the facts again and again in order to fight rumors and give an important place to potential solutions and healing. It can stress the importance of people as human beings rather than mere consumers that are important only as long as there is a profit to be made.

The only way you don’t want to deal with the ugly truth is by hiding it under a considerable amount marketing face powder and try to make it seem prettier by applying some heavy advertising mascara.