Branding and Mode Choice

Branding and Mode Choice


J Hawthorne, Sinclair Knight Merz (Europe), UK


Does the branding of transport modes and operators affect modal choice, and can an understanding of brand values help to explain why observed behaviour may differ from that predicted by the parameters generally used in transport models?


Transport models typically assume that travellers will use a logical process to determine mode choice based on knowledge, or at least expectation, of factors such as time and cost. Yet observed data is sometimes at variance with what might appear to be the ?logical? outcome, so additional factors are introduced, for example to represent the effects of crowding, quality of service and availability of ancillary facilities. Detailed stated preference work can help to isolate the potential effects of such factors, however they may not fully represent the observed difference, and the use of ?mode constants? in modelling is an admission that a certain proportion of behaviour cannot be explained by the parameters contained in the models.

Marketing professionals have long recognised the advantages that branding can offer suppliers in crowded markets both by establishing points of difference and ?simplifying? the decisions which customers face. So it is hardly surprising that many transport operators have sought to climb on board the brand bandwagon. This has been particularly apparent in the UK as rail privatisation and franchising has replaced a national operator with very high brand recognition with a larger number of regional and independent operators, each of whom seems keen to differentiate themselves both from other operators and the previous holder of the franchise.

This paper considers the extent to which an effective brand proposition can influence mode choice, and, in particular, how it might influence modal constants. Marketers seek to identify quantifiable measures of ?brand value?, and the paper will examine the extent to which such techniques could be applied to the calibration of mode constants which reflect observed customer behaviour.

The paper also looks at practical examples of the application of branding by public transport operators, and in particular the apparent conflicts between localised and national branding. For example, National Express has introduced a plan to bring all its transport operations clearly within the National Express brand, whereas Govia maintains a low profile as a group, preferring to be known through its individual bus and train companies.

The paper considers whether brands can successfully be applied across multiple transport modes or whether operators should collaborate to seek to develop the mode as a brand in its own right. Well trained, presented and motivated staff are vital to a successful operator, and the paper therefore considers the importance of branding for internal marketing to staff as well as external marketing to customers and stakeholders.

While much of the background evidence is based on the UK transport market, many of the key players are either UK based organisations with wider international operations, or are part of the international diversification of former national operators from elsewhere in Europe.

With qualifications in both marketing and transport, the author seeks to provide a unique perspective on the interface between the two professions.


Association for European Transport