Tulsa Transit: A Marketing Problem

I have used the bus system in Tulsa some, and I would like to more. When I have used the system I have enjoyed it. The buses are fine, drivers were nice and professional, free wifi, generally on time…all the things you would want from a transportation system. The system has it’s problems. Mostly the problems are around coverage, how long you have to wait for a bus, stuff like that. The truth is that i find the bus system relatively impractical, mostly because of the frequency of the schedule. Tulsa Transit knows this is a problem and they are working to fix it, which moistly is just about money it seems.

Now, before you get into this post to far I want to clarify something: Its going to come off as very critical of Tulsa Transit, and in truth that is not my intention. From the little I know I think Tulsa Transit’s leadership wants to be good, and understands these issue. Considering the resources they have (Tulsa per capita spending on transit is very low compared to peer cities..and not so peer cities. Our spending per capita on public transportation is lower that that of Springfield, MO).

But, it seems that there is a second level of problems that have to be addressed at the same time. Problems like headway and rout coverage are sort of technical in nature, and have essentially technical solutions (with some politics mixed in). Even if these technical problems were fixed I am not sure that tons of people would start using the buses in Tulsa. There is a marketing problem as well. Consider these two pictures of bus stops near my house:

These two stops, which are typical of many around town, seem to do two thing:

  • They tell the people who use the bus system that we don’t care about them…we can’t even bother to build a decent bus stop. We might not give you a place to stand that wont get muddy when it rains, much less a way to keep the rain off. Not to mention a sidewalk or a crosswalk.
  • Second, it sends a message to people who don’t ride the bus which reinforces any negative perceptions they have about buses and people who ride buses.

There is a scene in the movie Urbanized  which is particularly applicable here. In the scene the mayor of a big city is riding his bike on a newly constructed bike pathway. On one side of the path is a dirt road for cars. He sort of laughs and points out that bikes are on a nice paved trail and the cars are in the mud. But then he says why. And the reason if a very human reason. He wanted the people who rode bikes to know that they are important. That the city supported them and their pursuit of transportation. His answer was not about trends in walkability, or green, or sustainability, or  bike rights or anything like that. It was about how we treat people when we make hard decisions about spending limited resources.

So, I wonder what would happen if we put people first in our transportation systems? Tulsa Transit has to fix their technical issues, but I hope they also consider how the system treats people. It seem by doing this not only will people be given worth and value, but the transit system as a whole will be more used, simply because it  will be perceived as a place that takes care of the people of this city no matter who they are, and that by using the system you are not relegated to  second class status simply because we are unwilling to provide decent bus stops.

Evaluating Group Needs

If we are going to think of marketing in terms of meeting peoples needs there is something really important you have to do: Understand people’s needs. In this case we are taking about understanding a retreat group’s needs, but this can be applied to any client relationship.

I would like to propose that there is a big rule you have to follow to understand needs: Don’t assume you know what people want and need. You don’t know best.

As soon as you stop assuming you understand peoples needs you end up with a blank slate. On your own you can’t know what they need, so you have to fill the slate up. The best way to do this is of course to ask. There are lots of ways to ask groups about there needs, each has its strengths. Here are a few and some thoughts on each:

Participant exit surveys: The idea here is that everybody who comes to your camp fills out a short survey before they leave. It will ask questions like “Rate the food on a scale of 1 – 5″ or Rate the cleanliness of your cabin on a scale of 1 – 5” or “Rate the friendliness of staff…” you get the idea. It can also ask open ended questions, Like “what was your favorite meal”, or just have a place for more comments. The big strength of these surveys is that you get a lot of data and can start to see patterns If, for example, the cleanliness of cabins is constantly rated low then you know you have a problem with your housekeeping procedures. Of course the opposite is true, you get to see good patterns as well, if the cabins are rated very clean then you know that your housekeeping procedures are working. The disadvantage is that each individual data point is not very valuable. Take a question about food for example. A foodie who normally eats $50 a plate meals an the finest restaurant may rate your food very low. But, a 5th grade boy who loves pizza may rate your food very high because he really loved your pizza. And both of these people may have been eating the exact same meals. So, you cant just look at the foodies card and decide you need to revamp your entire menu, but you cant look at the kid’s card and decide everything is perfect. You have to look at the data as a whole.

Noticing Patterns: This is all about taking notes and personal debrief, and the patterns can show up anywhere. A few examples to make the point: Lets say you have great sleeping facilities for 150, great activities, and a great location. Lots of groups call and you talk to them and they are really excited. Then they ask about meeting spaces, you tell them you have a little chapel that seats 25, and it does not have any AV gear. Soon you start to notice a pattern: nobody is booking, and the conversation seems to end when you mention your little chapel. A big extreme as an example perhaps, but the point stands: if there is a consistent point of need or frustration it needs to be addressed. This could be little, if every single retreat your host ends up running around trying to find a 5th mic for your meeting space then you probably just need a 5th mic. Or big, if every group feels the need to bring in their own sound system to supplement a sub-standard system in your meeting space then perhaps there is more of a need for quality sound gear then you realize.

Just ask: Really this is the most important one. At every stage of your retreat process you should be taking the time to talk to group leaders about what they need. While they are there having the retreat this is more immediate (is there anything I can get for your upcoming game), but at other times it is more long term and strategit. A couple weeks after a retrate would be a great time to call or take a group leader out to lunch and ask them how the retreat went, what went well, what can be better, and what they need that you are not providing. This is a great way for you to get information, but it is also (and perhaps more importantly), a great way to build and maintain real relationships with retreat leaders.


Your Abilities Meet Their Needs.

I have not gotten back to this guest services marketing series very quickly. So, here we go.

The first part of of the workshop was about matching the abilities of your camp with the needs of potential groups.

Let’s start with some definitions.

When I say “your abilities” this relates to what your camp is capable of, as well as what is efficient. So, to evaluate your abilities you should look at physical things like capacity, dinning room space, activity space, meeting space, breakout rooms, and location. But you should also look at some less concrete things, for example how good is your food, are you willing to and capable of responding to last minute requests, how flexible is your mindset and policies? You have to consider the complete package of your camp, not just the buildings that you can see.

“Their need” is of course the needs of the groups. Again, this is about more then just how many beds a group needs. For example, what are their AV and meeting space needs? Do they need the ability to change their schedule on the fly or do they stick to a schedule they planned a year ago? What time of the year do they need to come? What is their budget? Do they need help planning or are they experts already?

Once you have evaluated your abilities it seems like there are several ways to go about matching them up with your market, and in truth it is going to be a cycle. The place to start is to determine the potential market. It does not matter how great your facilities are, how good your food is, and how friendly your staff if there is no one to come. So, for example, if your camp is in the middle of nowhere, and there is one church of 50 people in a 1500 mile radius, you’re probably never going to build a sustainable guest services ministry focused on serving churches with youth groups of 500. An exaggeration for sure, but the point is that you can’t develop your abilities in a vacuum. You must be relevant to the potential market.

I want to keep these posts bite sized, so we will stop their for now. Up next, some thoughts on how to evaluate the needs of groups.


Marketing for Guest Services

I just got back from the CCCA Ozark section. It was fun to get to connect with some people, hopefully help some people out, and hang out at New Life Ranch. A taught a workshop called Marketing for Guest Services. I want to write a bit over the next few weeks to get a bit deeper into some of the stuff I talked about, but, a summery is probably a good place to start.

Basically we talked about three things:

Your Abilities Meet Their Needs. The idea here is that any given camp has a set of things they can do well. This set is defined by a lot of things, size, staff, location, culture and more. Potential guest groups have a set of needs defined by size, program type, group type, and more. So, any given camp needs to figure out how to get connected with the groups they can service well based on ability. Now, there may be some gaps in what a camp can do that need to be filled or less people will come. If a camp, for example, has no beds, they probably wont get any groups. To do this you have to understand what groups need and constantly adapt to changing needs, but you also have to recognize that you wont serve everyone well. You have to define your market and figure out how to be great at serving them, but you don’t have to be great at serving every possible group.

Relationships – Friction vs. Smooth. We talked about how you relationships in a key to serving groups well, and to increasing the number of groups who will return. Relationships are also key to impacting peoples lives, so if you are about more then money building relationships is a big part of having impact on people. I tried to think about what it means to say “we are about relationships in how we handle guest groups” Im not sure i really figured that out or explained it well in the workshop. I guess the first thing is just to see people as people who have value. A spirit of servanthood is part of this as well, thinking of serving people as on honor goes a long way. How you define success is also part of this. If you see success as helping a group be successful then you will do everything you can to make sure they have what they need.

The next part of relationships is friction vs smooth. This is one way you can evaluate your processes and camp, in every interaction there is potential for friction or smoothness. So, if you think about everything that happens in the course of booking, planning and hosting a retreat and evaluate its contribution to friction or smoothness i think you are going to learn a lot about places that can be improved.

Filling Capacity or Getting People to Come. This is about filling beds. We talked about 3 ways to get people to come to your camp: returning groups, word of mouth, and connecting with people with influence in your target market.

Returning groups kind of take care of themselves if you are doing a good job. If you serve people and meet their needs in ways that exceed expectations a lot of them will come back.

For word of mouth it seems like one of the big things to do is identify your fans and ask them for help. They may really like you a lot, but it has never crossed their mind that they can help you fill unused space. I think though that it is important to equip them. Give them ways to spread the word about you.

Connecting to people with influence is just a way to think about networking. A camp has a target market, and there are people with influence over that target market. basically the idea is to fend hose influencers and connect with them.

More on all of this later…

CCCA Ozark Section – Marketing for Guest Services workshop

Hello CCCA people. Thanks for coming to my workshop. I hope you found it helpful. As promised here are the documents from the class:




As I mentioned I will be blogging some more in-depth thoughts about a lot of what we talked about, if you are interested check back and join the conversation. If you want to be notified about new posts there are two great ways to do it.

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Feel free to e-mail if you have any questions about what we talked about today (or other stuff…). I would love to talk to you.

Marketing Genusis

It’s of course good to find examples of good ideas and try to learn from them, here are a few:


RockMelt is a new browser (well..its a version of Chrome to be exact) that has really deep social media integration. To be honest i did not really like it. I tried if for a few days, but it did not work for me. But they did something interesting. They made getting the browser by invite only. Thats fairly common, its a good way to develop some scarcity and control growth. RockMelt gives everybody who signs up from an invite 6 invites to give out. But then they did something interesting. When i sent out an invite that was actually used I got two new invites. All of a sudden I felt like I could earn some sort of scarce resource by sending my invites to people who would actually use them. It would be interesting to see what there invite sent to invites used conversion rate is compared to other systems that don’t have this little twist.

Richmond Book Drive and Pomplamoose

This is a great little equation. Donate a book to a school library, get a free download of an album. The payoff for the school is clear, they get books. The payoff for Pomplamoose is less clear, they dont make any money. But they get seen and heard by a lot of people. And it goes a bit viral, it goes out past the immediate community of Richmond. It works really well for Pomplamoose because they have a really quirky and engaging personality that makes people want to seek out more.

Hall of Shame: That shopping comparison site that tricks you into spamming your entire google contact list? Yeah, they are not doing much to help themselves out.

I don’t have enough money

I am slowly learning how to throw pottery on a wheel. It’s a lot of fun, and I am slowly getting better. But that is not what this post is about.

I was talking to Jeff,  the owner of the studio where i am learning. He is a cool guy, and has created a really unique environment in his studio that allows people a chance to be creative, learn, and be part of a community of artists. Somehow marketing and promotion came up. He does not really do much promotion of his studio, or the store that goes with it, im sure there are lots of reason for this, but one of them is classis: “i dont have enough money.” Part of me loves to hear people say this because that is a big part of why I like hiring myself out to small organizations, i like being able to help people who feel like they can’t do something figure out how to do it.

But really I kind of cringe inside when i hear people say this, especially people who are running organizations doing something unique and important. To survive organizations have to make money, and to make money they have to find clients, and to find clients they have to connect with the right people somehow.

So, here are some no to low cost ideas and thoughts, which may be good or bad, for 3rd Street Clay Works:

Leverage Existing Fans (people like me)

  • Give current students some money off (say $50) their next 8 week session for every new person they bring in who signs up for classes
  • Give us store discounts or credits to give to our friends and family who are looking for Christmas presents
  • give us incentive to talk about what we are doing in the studio on social sites (say for example, a monthly drawing for a small prize, you get entered by posting your latest work to your facebook profile.)
  • Feature a different student each month on a blog/website/facebook page/etc. Perhaps a short video, a little write up, some pictures of recent work, stuff like that. The hope is for that person to tell their friends about the profile.
  • Do a show or two a year for everybody. Most of us (like me…) will probably never show our work publicly, so it would be kind of fun to get a chance to. Make it a lot of fun (demos, a band, let people try making some stuff, have good food) Invite lots of people.

Social Media

There are of course opportunities in social media. A blog might be interesting, it could have instructional articles, reflections on life (I think Jeff could probably write some great reflections on life!). A web site would probably be helpful also, just s simple one so people have a place to get contact info, class schedules, stuff like that. I think though that the low hanging fruit is on facebook. There is already a facebook page, but its not very active, stating to post constant content there would be a great way to get students to start taling about what they are doing at the studio. A few ideas:

  • post pictures of students recent works
  • short video demos
  • real time play by plays of opening the kiln after a fiering
  • links to interesting ceramics stuff online
  • links to new music
  • contests (give away a mug or something like that for doing something that might create attention, like posting a picture or link)


I actually think that groupon could be an effective tool. Giving people their fist 8 week class for 70% off would be a great way to get some new people in the door and hooked.

Its not for everyone

This is actually a really important realization. There is not exactly a mass market for learning to throw pottery at 3rd Street. FIrst, it is very local, people would not be willing to drive very far. People in Siloam Springs, Chicago, or Tokyo don’t matter to that part of the business. Second, not everybody wants to play in the mud, or even cares about how to form a pot. Third, even of those who do want to learn to throw only a small part of them would fit in at 3rd Street. There is a specific style of teaching, atmosphere to the studio, and group of people who come that would not appeal to everybody. So, you have to figure out the characteristics of those people and figure out where they are and how to connect with them.

Because of this it would be interesting to see what would happen if 3rd Street was really exclusive. What if they only way to get into classes was to get an invite from somebody already in a class. Suddenly classes are a hard to get into club, and you have to fit the profile to even be considered.

Tell Stories

Jeff has created something unique at 3rd Street (I might write more about that later). There are stores of people to tell, there are stores of a place to tell, and it will attract people to it. Stories like this:

The Big Picture on Vimeo.

The more these stores can be told through all of the ideas above the more real this place becomes in peoples minds, and the more they might be interested in what happens there.

On Change

There is a place in Oklahoma that has had a huge impact on me: New Life Ranch. I met my wife there, worked as a counselor, was a camper, had my first full time job there, and many of my closest friends are there.

There is one building at camp that i spent a lot of time in. Its called Wagon Inn. It sits in the center of camp. Over the years it has served many roles. One room in particular served as my cabin as a camper and a counselor. It later become my office. Lots of people have lots of memories in that building. Now its gone:

It was without a doubt time for it to go. Wagon had served it’s purpose well, but it was way overdue to be torn down.

It has been interesting listening to people talk about their sadness in seeing it torn down (some of which I share). People don’t like seeing things that are special to them change. The year after YOUR last year of camp is never as good. This all makes sense, we want good things to stay good, and who knows if the change is good.

Camps (and really any organization) need people to have strong emotional connections to what they do, but you run the risk of alienating people when you start changing. So there are lots of challenges in this here are a few:

  • how do you include people in change so that they understand it and support it?
  • Stagnation is never good. How do you decide it is time to change no matter how it alienates people who’s vision of your organization is in the past?
  • How do you communicate that changes in how you are doing something (a new building) does not change the why ” To proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ and to equip believers for ministry”
  • How do you cut people loose when they are unwilling to accept the change?

Change is good. In a few years nobody will remember Wagon Inn, and everybody will be excited about what takes its place.

house shows

part 2 in the musicians marketing series i guess…Recently a couple of musician friends of ours had a small show at our hose. We probably had  15 people here. I have been thinking about house shows a lot, and how they can fit into a musicians overall plan to connect with fans. It seems like they can be really effective…but first some negatives. I guess the big negative is size. with only 10-50 people at the show its not like you are connecting to a lot of people…and your not going to sell very many albums to the people at the show. So, financially it is (short term) not very profitable. Especially if you have to travel a lot to get to the show. House shows are kind of style limiting to, its a lot simpler for an acoustic singer songwriter type to pull off then a metal thrash band with 2 guitars, 3 percussionists, bass, keys,  a cow bell and speaker stacks 10 feet high.

now some positives I have been thinking about:

  • having a house show forces you to find one true fan, somebody who will host
  • The host has to find people to come, so they are doing some work for the artist, but more important then that the people they bring are filtered. The host will pick people who they know will like the artist (the host’s reputation is on the line after all)
  • The small venue makes it so the artist can talk to each person…more connection, hopefully more committed fans.

That’s it, just some quick thoughts. Making a connection is still the key, and giving those new fans ways to continue to follow, find new music, etc is still important just like a big show.

Open Mic Night

The other day I hung out with some friends at a pizza place during open mic. My friend is a musician, so he played a few songs. It was great. People responded well, he had the crowds attention, a lady even sought him out to tell him that she liked his music. I wonder though, from a pure marketing perspective was their any value in it? Nobody really knows who he was, they don’t know how to get his CD, his web site, or probably even his name.  So, I have been thinking, how can you turn people at an open mic into fans? How do you find a way to reconnect with them? Some ideas, not all good, but still ideas:

  • At the most basic, say your name and web site
  • Have some business cards or postcards to give people who you get to talk to
  • wear a shirt with you web site on it so that people will see it
  • collect email addresses
  • give away a demo to everybody who wants one
  • give away anything that will identify you
  • be so good people have to notice
  • play the same place a lot so that people get some repetition of your name.
  • give people money
  • get to know the owner of the place so you can come back and play your own show
  • be really intentional about talking to people who respond well
  • do something crazy so people have to remember you
  • take pictures and tell people they will be on your website (then put them on your website) so people will want to see themselves.
  • pick one person who responds well and do everything you can to connect with them, block out everybody else, make sure they leave as a super fan.

Thats it. any other ideas?