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Transport for London’s CMO on his “pioneering” Cloud marketing initiatives

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Photo credit:

Torsten Reimer

Christopher Macleod explains the key marketing strategy that has allowed Transport for London to utilize its wealth of data that is has available.

London’s transport network is one of the most recognizable globally.

Black cabs, red buses, and tube station signs all feature largely within popular culture references, tourist board advertisements, and, true to modern-day communications, Instagram-ready photo streams.

It’s not just a pretty face either: Transport for London’s (TfL) network experiences 31 million journeys daily; not only do customers rely on these links to get around the capital, but they need constant, real-time, information on tube, bus, river and road networks, in a way that can be personalized to their journeys, and in a format that today’s digitally savvy Londoners expect.

The man who is partly responsible for this is Christopher Macleod.

Macleod has been TfL’s Marketing Director for nearly a decade, and so has seen first-hand the changes to technology and transport marketing that the explosion of digital has brought about.

“There is an irony here…we’re the ultimate analogue business – helping people get around physically can never be digitized – but the other half of our product is now a digital concept, information.”

Over the last nine years, TfL and Macleod have had to continually position themselves as receptive to new mediums of communication channels whilst still delivering on their promise of keeping London moving, working and growing.

It’s meant that, as a marketer, Macleod has engaged with the revolution in mobile capabilities and access, the use of (open) data and analytics, and Cloud technology services; integration of various digital formats whilst delivering value for money is key to his transport marketing strategy.

One example is TfL’s website.

“We were quite pioneering with our website when we allowed it to be hosted on the Cloud, but we saw a number of benefits for our particular position and site traffic.”

One of those benefits was flexibility.

The list of TfL’s services is impressive and covers much more than management of physical transport systems: road saftey, cycle hire, congenstion charge, promotion of London’s contactless card payment system, and providing information for nearly 20,000 bus stops are just a selection.

That means their information heavy website is accessed by many people for many different reasons, and can be subject to heavy loading at predictable – and unpredictable – moments.

“Disruption to services means spikes, as do Christmas or other holidays, so something like a flexible Cloud host situation allowed us to have extra capacity, and to scale up and scale down as we like.”

“There was a cost advantage too. It allowed us to reduce our cost significantly by having such a flexible system, and provides us with a website that is accessible 100% of the time, which is incredibly important for us as an information-centric company.”

Cloud technology use today is nothing new, but TfL’s and Macleod’s early adoption signals an organization keen to remain in touch with new transport marketing methods.

Collaborative networking and events, idea sharing and other forms of marketing initiatives are being used by executives more often today as a way of developing new strategies that integrate digital techniques.

As a marketer, “coming from a public sector background, it’s interesting talking with other CMOs, but we don’t work in a formal way. I am a member of various professional bodies, a marketing society, a marketing academy and so on, where we cross-pollinate ideas and keep abreast together.”

TfL is a public organization, but like any marketer Macleod wants to focus on operating as a customer-service business.

For an organization that deals with people’s physical journeys, it’s also important for them to follow their personal journey’s too, with their transport services and the brand itself; TfL’s tag line “Every Journey Matters,” elucidates this thinking.

Macleod reports to The Commisioner (TfL’s CEO equivalent) who has also echoed this sentiment of wanting to be a customer-service business which happens to do transport.

Macleod recognized this dynamic early on, and has therefore had the time and capital to focus on other tranport marketing trends and strategies; London’s transport doesn’t run itself, but since new technologies have improved online capabilities of information-heavy companies, TfL and others have added bandwidth to improve its transport marketing startegies, and in turn its user’s journeys and experiences.