Your humble servant traveled to Amsterdam to speak at Consumentrends 2009, apparently Holland’s biggest marketing conference. More precisely, I fly into Paris and take the train from there, mainly to get a leisurely view of Europe at 70 miles per hour. Jihaad is good friends with Mark Ronson, and got us (i.e. himself +1) invited to Mark’s birthday party outside of London. So I’m flying from Amsterdam to London to hit the party and spend Friday in meetings with our Brit friends.
Meanwhile, I’m writing from a seat on a high speed train zipping through the French countryside.
What strikes me most is that rural France ain’t all that different from rural U.S. I’m not in the part with the beautiful castles you see on Tour de France. Over here it’s highways with trucks and a few cars, power lines, agriculture, and an occasional graffiti wall. Only thing missing is a McDonalds and Starbucks at every rest stop. That will come, I’m sure.
Second thing that jumps out is how we’re sometimes so resistant to learning from what’s right in front of us. Europe has the train game on lock, and has for decades. At some point, we lost it. European travel by rail is fast, inexpensive, and easy. In America, it’s none of those. And when both automotive and air travel are in crisis mode, now is the time for the train business to get it together. I have to imagine ticket sales have seen some sort of bump, but there’s really no buzz about trains as a viable alternative.
I’d love to say Rebel will step in and show Amtrak how to effectively market itself in this new world, but the first problems to solve are competitive pricing and convenient scheduling. If they manage to sort those issues out, then it’s time to call Rebel.
First, we cover web 2.0 by getting real people to share their stores about rail travel. I guarantee there’s already lots of that out there, but no really good online resource exists for people to find out what it’s like. We need pictures, videos, blogs from the tracks. We need to facilitate people meeting up on trains, having fun together, sharing their experiences. That only works if there’s reasonable pricing and convenient scheduling. First thing people value is time, second is money. Get those right first.
Offline, let’s create cross promotions with popular events. Get tons of people to take the train to San Diego for Street Scene for example. The real opportunity to win is by making train travel not only affordable and easy, but fun. We know just how to do that. We also need to do exactly what the airlines haven’t done right, which is allowing sponsors to market to our captive audience by giving them cool stuff and enhancing the experience on-board.