It’s all very well us understanding the benefits to all of active travel. But how do we get the message out there to others?
The Big Picture
Active travel campaigns are just part of the big picture. They need to be backed up by other measures such as engineering works or traffic enforcement to create and protect safe cycle lanes… you can’t have one without the others if you want people to change their behaviour.
If you build a new cycleway, you need to let people know it’s there, not just with signage but with information to your target users.
If you have a ‘cycle to school’ campaign but do not provide safe routes, it’s hard to get parents and pupils on board.
Identify your audience
Of course you may want ‘everybody to cycle’ or ‘everybody to walk’ but for an effective campaign you need to be clear about your most important target audience. People who already cycle are easy to win over but what about those who do not cycle… but could? It would make the greatest impact if you engaged with them, involve them in decisions and got them to give it a go and possibly change their everyday travel habits.
Language to engage your audience
How will you engage with your audience? There are lots of techniques for this but a key one is to make them realise it’s about them – by very careful use of language.
Talk about ‘people cycling’ rather than ‘cyclists’ so you are not defining the person by what they always do; instead you are referring to a person who just happens to be cycling at that time and in that place. Many of us cycle, drive or walk at different times, different places and different situations. We don’t want to tribalise ourselves into being ‘cyclists’ or ‘drivers’ because that leads to antagonism. People who don’t currently cycle will not feel the message is for them – although it should be.
Whether you are a local authority, charity, business or other kind of organisation trying to promote active travel, you can’t do it on your own. Your first campaign should actually be to get support from those community leaders who have influence. This could be local councillors, business support networks, interest groups, neighbourhood networks and existing advocates for related issues within your community.
They need good information which relates to their aims so they can easily understand and see the benefits. These are busy people though. So make it easy for them to share ideas and influence their audience. For example create facebook or twitter posts which are easily shareable. Also encourage their ideas and suggestions as they know their audience WAY better than you do.
Have you heard of the seven touches of marketing? It’s the same for your campaigns. Expect to have to tell people in seven ways before they hear. This persistence will pay off for your campaign and it needs to be well thought out as there is so much ‘noise’ and other distractions people are trying to cope with. Understanding your audience will help you see which means to use to reach them.
Carry the Message
It’s not just posters and social media that can help you reach your audience. your message can be carried on a range of different, useful promotional products. For example bike bells given out featuring your logo or message can act as a reward or incentive for engaging with you (eg filling in a travel survey at an event) whilst enforcing your message. They also enable ‘word of mouth’ communications afterwards – “Where did you get that bike bell from?” “From the info stand in the market place – they said there’s a new cycle lane opening too.”.