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 Post subject: Excursion website marketing is pretty miserable
PostPosted: Mon Mar 20, 2017 5:33 pm 

Joined: Tue Jan 25, 2005 4:03 pm
Posts: 685
Last week we announced a series of trips behind the 765. Prior to the event we had already built our ticketing pages, event pages, news post, press release, etc...

For instance: http://fortwaynerailroad.org/2017/03/re ... n-chicago/

The details The Joliet Rocket trips are pretty important to its marketing and offer a little more than usual. We're trying to make the layover something special and make the trip more than just a train ride.

But how do you market that?

Something that's frustrated me and no doubt others (including our customers) is that reading about these trips is boring.

Plainly, it sucks.

We operators say we're offering these amazing experiences behind or aboard such and such a train...and the marketing has all the allure of a paper bag.

We're guilty. I'm guilty.

Here are two examples of our event page and ticketing page (not posted here because of the physical size of the media). They've since changed as of today, but here's how they rendered last week:

https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B0o4lH ... sp=sharing

https://drive.google.com/open?id=0B0o4l ... 1luR0liMnM

Even as the copywriter and designer of those pages, they horrify me.

There are so many details -- the WHO, WHAT, WHY, WHEN, WHERE, HOW and WHY SHOULD I CARE - that get lost in that wall of text. If you're not a train person, you don't know where to start. If you are, you'll probably just email us and we'll just copy/paste what was published. If you're on social media, you may have saw the link to the press release, but not actually read it (as many, many folks were loathe to do last week.)

So, how can rail preservation do better? Shouldn't our marketing be as powerful as the story were trying to tell and as sexy as our trains? Shouldn't the process of buying a ticket or discovering information be part of the experience, too?

Frustrated with this Wall-O-Text and Spray-And-Pray Method of Information Marketing, I tore into a subdomain Sunday and came up with this:

http://excursions.fortwaynerailroad.org/

It's my hope that just the web page alone, the copy, the photo, the design, the user-friendliness, all contribute to a positive reflection of the organization, the train, the offerings...and do just enough to get people to buy a ticket. It's a work in progress, but it's a universe better than what was there previously.

Let's do better, rail preservation. Update your sites. Recruit talent. Don't rely entirely on social media. Invest in creating content. Think about a style guide. Tell your story but do it well. Don't just vomit information and hope people care. Make 'em care. Don't play to nostalgia, play to experiences.

Feedback, ideas and critique welcome. Share your own efforts below.

See you in June?


Attachments:
joliet-rocket-about-section.jpg
joliet-rocket-about-section.jpg [ 77.88 KiB | Viewed 1326 times ]

_________________
Kelly Lynch
Vice President
Fort Wayne Railroad Historical Society, Inc
http://www.fwrhs.org


Last edited by nathansixchime on Mon Mar 20, 2017 5:40 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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 Post subject: Re: Excursion website marketing is pretty miserable
PostPosted: Mon Mar 20, 2017 5:39 pm 

Joined: Sun Aug 22, 2004 7:19 am
Posts: 5079
Location: southeastern USA
Thanks, Kelly.

An appearance by Joliet Jake and Elwood Blues might push a few more seats.

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"Techies never minded eating bits and jots of their work. They were grit and grease inside and out and could turn a pile of junk into a magical kingdom."

Andrea Hairston


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 Post subject: Re: Excursion website marketing is pretty miserable
PostPosted: Mon Mar 20, 2017 7:06 pm 

Joined: Thu Sep 29, 2011 10:17 am
Posts: 116
Location: New York
There's several considerations, whether you're selling a trip behind the 765 or trying to convince folks to make yet another visit to Ye Olde Railroad Museum.

These are my considerations:

- Who is your primary market? Most often, it is the general public.

- What do you want them to do? Most often, you want them to buy tickets.

Whoever is reading the ad will need to be convinced your event is INTERESTING and had VALUE. What makes something "interesting?" Facts and figures don't sell tickets. Feelings are stronger than facts. Speak in the active voice, and use evocative imagery. Brevity is beautiful. Once you have their interest, then add items which speak to VALUE. This could be things like free parking, food on premises, any additional entertainment, first public train ride over a particular line, and so on.

Here's an example of a press release we wrote advertising our "Diesel Days" event in September. Usually I would leave out details about specific engines and road names, but in this case, the LA&L is a local company, and my strategy is that the "local" angle will hook a newspaper editor or television producer.

Quote:
Diesel Days celebrates 75 years of diesel locomotive technology

Powerful diesel locomotives are the backbone of the modern railroad industry. From humble yard switchers to high-horsepower road engines, these locomotives have ruled the rails since their widespread introduction the 1940s. Don’t miss your opportunity to climb aboard these kings of the rails during Diesel Days at the Rochester & Genesee Valley Railroad Museum on September 16-17.

See, hear, and ride behind several kinds of restored vintage diesel locomotives. The highlight of this year’s event is the reactivation of No. 20, built in 1949 by American Locomotive Co. in Schenectady, N.Y., and donated to our museum by the Livonia, Avon & Lakeville Railroad in 2016.

Your mile-and-a-half round-trip train ride disembarks at the museum’s restoration shop. Enjoy a self-guided tour of our unique exhibits as you visit New York State’s largest collection of historic trains. Take a tour of the engineer’s cab and discover what it takes to make these massive machines move. Upgrade your ticket to a Cab Pass and ride up front with the engineer!

Your Tickets are $10.00 for adults, $8.00 for youth/seniors, and children under four ride for free! Refreshments are available for purchase. Trains depart every half hour from 10:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. from our train station on Route 251 in the town of Rush. Seats are limited so please purchase your advance tickets today at RochesterTrainRides.com. All aboard!


So I tried to explain why they should be interested, and what kind of value they will get for their ticket. I'm trying to drive visitors to our web site where they can buy tickets and learn more details about our event.

-otto-

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Otto Vondrak, Trustee
Rochester & Genesee Valley Railroad Museum, Rochester, N.Y.


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 Post subject: Re: Excursion website marketing is pretty miserable
PostPosted: Mon Mar 20, 2017 7:25 pm 

Joined: Thu Oct 08, 2015 11:54 am
Posts: 51
Location: Orrville, OH
Kelly,

The third iteration is by far the best. In my experience, I've noticed people just don't bother to read a bunch of text all the way through. Visually, images are always great and you have to balance the text with it. Thus, it's hard to get the finer details in. When we were still running excursions, I'd hit all the big and important points kinda like teasers with the obligatory fluffy adjectives. For the finer details, I made either a second web page that they could click to if still interested and/or nice downloadable brochures that could be printed and read at the users leisure.

You might also take a voluntary survey from your customers to find out how they learned of the event and how you might improve your promotion. Sometimes you get some decent feedback.

I'm currently working on a redesign of the website to make it mobile-friendly and since we don't currently have any major events, I don't have a good example for you to look at.

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Eric Schlentner
ORHS


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 Post subject: Re: Excursion website marketing is pretty miserable
PostPosted: Mon Mar 20, 2017 7:42 pm 

Joined: Tue Jan 25, 2005 4:03 pm
Posts: 685
Great stuff, Otto!

And...

jayrod wrote:
You might also take a voluntary survey from your customers to find out how they learned of the event and how you might improve your promotion. Sometimes you get some decent feedback.


Indeed, part of our checkout process requires the purchaser to say how they heard about the trip. Our follow up feedback will ask "how easy was it to learn about xyxyx" and other experience related questions...

One thing we'll hopefully be a lot better at is scheduling emails to go out to passengers the evening of the trip prompting them for feedback.

KL


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 Post subject: Re: Excursion website marketing is pretty miserable
PostPosted: Mon Mar 20, 2017 7:53 pm 

Joined: Wed Aug 20, 2008 8:32 pm
Posts: 183
I try to keep text short on mine and try to hit the high points and the basic info. For instance:

http://www.LuxRailTravel.com/pittsburgh

I try to keep it fairly simple... Where. When. Why. And why not. Also, I see the more value you can add, the better the public responds. A offering of a trip guide, t-shirt or food/drink being included in the ticket prices seem to generate more interest and therefore more ticket sales.


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 Post subject: Re: Excursion website marketing is pretty miserable
PostPosted: Mon Mar 20, 2017 8:54 pm 

Joined: Tue Jul 02, 2013 10:45 pm
Posts: 91
I am actually making a presentation on Thursday of this week about this subject. One of the topics we are looking at is social media marketing, We have some interesting information about what attracts customers, and the traditional website is really dropping down in the list of ways to attract customers. Generally, as has already been stated, too many words drives folks away. What we have learned is that for a sizeable part of the population, a video 30 seconds or shorter with a direct link to the order form is the best way. I've been using a social media marketing class at a university to create these short videos, and they have done them for a number of causes and events, with a noted increase in participation. You can push these on YouTube, Twitter, and even on your website to get the message out faster.

Another good source is word of mouth, either from friends or on various rating websites such as TripAdvisor Influencers are important in this area, which means happy past customers are important.

Bart


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 Post subject: Re: Excursion website marketing is pretty miserable
PostPosted: Mon Mar 20, 2017 9:13 pm 

Joined: Thu Feb 26, 2009 3:07 pm
Posts: 429
Location: B'more Maryland
There is plenty of guidance out there about writing for the web.

It IS a medium that requires its own writing style.

So much so, that given the amount of web content the federal government generates, they've actually created a site to help content authors: https://www.usability.gov/how-to-and-to ... e-web.html

These guys are highly regarded in the web world:
https://www.nngroup.com/topic/writing-web/


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 Post subject: Re: Excursion website marketing is pretty miserable
PostPosted: Mon Mar 20, 2017 9:36 pm 

Joined: Mon Aug 23, 2004 8:10 am
Posts: 2250
Thank you for bringing this topic up, Kelly. I have (at least) two excursion sites to craft this year and I have started thinking about what to do to break the mold. You've inspired me to go for "it" whatever "it" may be.

Bartman the two things I would add to your comments are 1) there is still nothing better for SEO than a properly crafted website (I just had a looong conversation about this for a client today... the dotcom is a greatly under appreciated asset) and 2) the best thing tourist railroads can do on social media is to develop a highly targeted paid program upon which you build your earned media. The days of social being an effective "free" channel are long gone due to a number of reasons, but it's quite incredible what even $50 well spent on Facebook can achieve. I use paid Facebook posts (usually dark posts) for rail related fundraisers and usually see a 8:1 return on the investment.

And one more, don't underestimate Instagram's importance.

All the best,

Rob

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The long memory is the most radical idea in this country. It is the loss of that long memory which deprives our people of that connective flow of thoughts and events that clarifies our vision, not of where we're going, but where we want to go. B. Phillips


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 Post subject: Re: Excursion website marketing is pretty miserable
PostPosted: Mon Mar 20, 2017 10:24 pm 

Joined: Tue Jul 02, 2013 10:45 pm
Posts: 91
I agree that you need to choose your market. Social media really is much more complex than simply posting a photo or an ad. You need to know who the market is and why. There are many, many different social media networks and they tend to serve very different markets, with only some overlap between them.

For example, I have run hundreds of charter excursions and have several great locations I use for my existing market. However, when I do photo freights, I have to go elsewhere and get to where photographers who attend these events post their photos. I have also been good at getting television coverage by the right news person (the wrong one has it just news, the right one makes it an exciting event) and on the radio. I have also noticed that large newspapers are pretty much a waste unless they are a sponsor, while small newspapers in rural areas are just happy for the news and will promote the event for weeks.

A further challenge is that the social market changes from location to location. Urban areas tend to use different media than rural areas, often just because of the access to information about the networks.

It is work, and sometimes a bit of help from the professionals will more than cover their cost.

Bart


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 Post subject: Re: Excursion website marketing is pretty miserable
PostPosted: Mon Mar 20, 2017 10:47 pm 

Joined: Mon Jan 11, 2016 4:48 pm
Posts: 10
Location: Virginia
I like the new site design Kelly. While the press release is important, it doesn't need to be the basis of the trip section on the web site.

As far as marketing the trips and attracting new riders, something to keep in mind is you can't take a one size fits all approach.

FWRHS in particular does a good job at being creative in the variety of trips you plan. Trips such as these Joliet ones have a different market (being half-day trips in a major metro area with unique layover entertainment) compared to the "standard" NS trip from a smaller metro area running over rare mileage where the local population is more in tune with the railroad.

Whereas the NS trips tend to sell themselves, trips in major metro areas are competing against a lot of entertainment options. A college football example of this is how University of Miami (FL) or Southern California games rarely sell out (even against a big name opponent) whereas a University of Tennessee game against a non-power 5 opponent will almost always sell out and at the very least have over 95K in attendance. Ross encountered this with his 614 NJ trips back in the 90's - you need to offer more than what the typical rail enthusiast is attracted to (b/c there aren't enough of us to support these trips alone).

So back to these Joliet trips. As Bart stated, you need to figure out how to push on social media. How you style ads that are viewed on your cell phone are different from how you would on your Internet site. That's why major media companies have changed there styling (as an exampke Disney comes to mind - the changed their movie intros couple of years ago from 'The Walt Disney Company' to just plain 'Disney' as it is easier to read solely b/c of the growth in streaming content on smart phones ).

One thought to help better tap the younger generation (from having a teenage daughter) is to reach out to 'YouTubers' and see if you can get them to promo the trips. Figure out who is big in the Chicago area and get them to talk up the trips on their shows - have them down to Fort Wayne to see 765 maybe. They are looking for thing to do on their shows for their audiences as well. In exchange let them ride for free and document the trips for even more PR. Then if Metro invites you back next year you can tap into that market easier as people who missed out last year might want to ride next time.

Just a few ideas that might help you better promote 765.

Regards,
Matt


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 Post subject: Re: Excursion website marketing is pretty miserable
PostPosted: Tue Mar 21, 2017 8:06 am 

Joined: Tue Jul 02, 2013 10:45 pm
Posts: 91
Last night, I just kept seeing a stop watch with a countdown...7...6...5...and the voice "time is ticking away for you to join with us" and then 765 flying by with a quick plug for the next event....15 to 20 seconds and you are done....

Bart


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 Post subject: Re: Excursion website marketing is pretty miserable
PostPosted: Tue Mar 21, 2017 8:50 am 

Joined: Tue Jan 25, 2005 4:03 pm
Posts: 685
Thanks, guys.

Social is pretty serious to us (first steam engine on Twitter? yay?) but as successful as we've been with it, my advice to any group in our industry is to treat their website like it's their monthly or weekly magazine and their social like it's a newspaper. Too many groups ignore their website and let the paint fade, but the life of a social media post is only 2-3 days.

You never want to make people dig and Facebook is atrocious for this. It hurts my heart when groups are working on projects and only post updates about it on social media, but when you visit their website (where you can actually donate, become a member, etc) there hasn't been an update in months and months.

I like the idea of getting known talent to boost it - this is a pretty good trend in social and I have clients sort of tripping over themselves to get certain people to feature their products or name drop them. Thankfully with this lead time, we can experiment a little bit more, but early trends are promising...

--

Despite my utter disdain for math, here's what the numbers have taught me:

Using both social and a reasonably current web presence is critical.

Creating a Facebook event for our open house last year helped us reach thousands of people, with 6,000 people indicating their interest. We had about 3,500 people show up and it blew the doors off. Now that Facebook has revamped "Events," it's a much more useful tool. We used the Events again to sell out our Santa Trains in hours. When people signify their interest on the Event, they're then notified when the event is updated by the event host (you), which is almost as good as being able to whisper in a few hundred (or thousand) people's ear.

Facebook Events aside, a few years ago we ran a trip over Horseshoe Curve and those trips sold out in 48 hours. However, our trip out of Fort Wayne sold out in less than 2 hours. It broke our site.

I could have known this was going to happen if I'd paid more attention to how popular those event pages where from an paralytics standpoint. While our specific Horseshoe Curve event page nabbed something like 8,000 unique visitors, the trips out of Fort Wayne had 16,000!

Prior online behavior and social interaction combined can help paint the picture of how your trips are being received, but also how they'll sell.

Having a good web presence is helpful especially if you have a way to track visitors and behavior. We've had about 300 people sign up for a "Joliet" specific notification list (combined with our email list of 25k), which is very good because 70% of those people will buy tickets and they'll buy more than one.

Our initial announcement on Facebook last week reached 53,200 people. Interactions matter most and at least 2,775 people interacted and 400 people shared it and 6,136 people clicked the link to read the press release (quite a gap from 53,200…)

Close to 1,000 people have indicated interest via the Facebook event and a specific email newsletter link, so if half those people buy 2-3 tickets…

By comparison, last year's trip on Metra had about 800-ish people had 260 ticket buyers…

We are really most fortunate this year for lead time within 90 days - last year was a struggle. We're getting out ahead and we're able to prime the pump before sales start which has always been our MO. (I'll post more on that process as this trip sells, but we detailed last year's cancellation with Galesburg (30 day to market sell) in one of our newsletters.)

I'm sharing all of these numbers because they are important to our operations and I think they're important to yours. Have a strategy. Maybe a future RYPN article can include a marketing check list and best practices...

Find people on your team or group to own this process and watch them.

They can tell you a lot more than just likes and comments.

_________________
Kelly Lynch
Vice President
Fort Wayne Railroad Historical Society, Inc
http://www.fwrhs.org


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 Post subject: Re: Excursion website marketing is pretty miserable
PostPosted: Tue Mar 21, 2017 8:59 am 

Joined: Mon Feb 22, 2010 5:06 pm
Posts: 116
Us train guys are really good at trains. Running, working on, firing, etc.

Conversely, people trained in marketing are usually pretty good at what they do.

I'm not trained in brain surgery. For the same reason, I would be reluctant to have someone like me operating on my brain.

Sometimes, train guys can be good at marketing. Mostly, though, probably not.

I'm not sure why an organization like FWHS wouldn't have a trained, professional marketing company handling things like this.

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Steve DeGaetano
Fireman, New Hope Valley Railway


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 Post subject: Re: Excursion website marketing is pretty miserable
PostPosted: Tue Mar 21, 2017 9:57 am 

Joined: Tue Jan 25, 2005 4:03 pm
Posts: 685
Quote:
I'm not sure why an organization like FWHS wouldn't have a trained, professional marketing company handling things like this.


First, the overhead. For these trips, the expenses are already significant. Adding in the cost of an agency would cost a sizable portion. Easier to recoup if you run all year, but these banner events offer operators only a few opportunities to make big money when they rely on residual income like donations, memberships, special events at home.

Even sites developed for companies (a recent Pullman themed operation comes to mind…) and maintained by a marketing person still were extraordinarily lacking in selling the actual experience.

In this case, FWRHS is kind of an exception. It has a member who operates a professional marketing and consulting agency, but also happens to know how to fire and gets trains in general. That person even posts on RYPN sometimes to share some insight and perspective from what is a reasonably successful operation.

Brain surgeon or machinist he is not, however...


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