Personalisation is nothing new in mobile marketing – indeed the concepts of loyalty cards and targeted marketing pre-date digital technology altogether. But a new watershed in digital marketing could be coming in 2017, thanks to the public transport sector.

Until now, transport ticketing has lagged behind many other consumer transactions for the simple reason that a ticket transaction has historically always been anonymous. Paper tickets, and more recently travelcards, allow for no meaningful engagement between the transport operator and the individual customer: no loyalty, no up-sell or cross-sell, no interaction – just a commodity purchase.

Mobile ticketing is the catalyst to change all that: by introducing personalisation to the ticketing process, transport operators are effectively opening up a new marketing channel to millions of people every day, on an individual basis – not just for themselves but for any partner brand wishing to directly target these users on an individual basis.

This is not science fiction: “m-ticketing” apps are already being rolled out in pilot projects around the UK by the Government, and it is now a franchise requirement for all operators bidding for routes that they have to adhere to an interoperable smart ticketing standard. This means that a passenger will be able to travel across the country, or conceivably across an entire continent, on one single transaction from a mobile device.

But how will this change marketing? Mobile devices can track user behaviours and movements, and artificial intelligence can then predict preferences and opportunities. At a basic level this will mean you can be sent deals and offers based on your daily travel preferences and locations. At a more advanced level it could introduce affiliate partnerships: for example, if you use a bus to travel to a concert venue or cinema at a certain time, this could then trigger a push notification from partner film companies, music labels or fast food outlets with relevant and localised offers.

There are, however, barriers for both the transport and the marketing sectors to overcome. One of the biggest of these is around obtaining customer consent, and the use and sharing of personal data.

When food and drinks brands directly target a customer with an offer based on their preferences and location, this is generally well received. If a bus operator were to do the same based on the user’s real-time movement patterns, the industry has concerns that this could be perceived as invasive.

The transport industry is looking to the retail sector for inspiration, where the sharing of personal data has become almost “de rigueur” to the customer. Supermarkets are an exemplar for personalisation, taking vast amounts of big data and utilising it to derive a multi-faceted profile of each individual customer - allowing tailored offers to be sent to the customer and generating increasing brand loyalty as a result.

This level of sharing of personal data between the customer and retailer has become instinctive to all of us as consumers, but how far off is the transport industry from being in a similar position to capitalise on their own customers’ data?

There could be some initial resistance from customers when it comes to sharing precise details of their real-time movements, despite the fact that Google, Apple and a host of other apps on their mobile phone already collect exactly the same data. This resistance can be overcome if operators seek informed consents, and are open and transparent about the restricted and specific uses to which it is intended such consents will apply. It needs to be clearly communicated from the outset is that this will be a win-win relationship for both customer and operator.

The transport operators, like retailers, must work hard to make the personalised experience worthwhile for the customer; offering rewards and loyalty recognition in exchange for data. With the greater understanding generated by the data on customers’ regular routes, operators can offer cheaper alternative routes/modes, encourage off-peak travel and deliver transport or location-based offers linked to leisure as a way of getting their customer onside in return for permitting access to their personal information.

Transport operators must also look beyond their own operations if they want to maximise the potential of personalisation. Transport policy groups are urging bus, rail, tram and other operators to collaborate more effectively in order to offer a truly multi-modal, frictionless customer experience: one trip for one click. The technology already exists to enable this, we just need all stakeholders to work together and share data, as brands already do in digital marketing campaigns.

The right balance needs to be struck between the interests of the customer and transport operators; data on the movements of passengers is incredibly powerful but it is vital that communication around its introduction is clear, coherent and, above all, scrupulously honest, so that passengers do not see this as an unwarranted intrusion of their privacy.

By following in the retailers’ footsteps and using data to change the experience of each passenger through added-value offers on their regular journeys, operators are less likely to face sustained resistance from customers.

The provision of that win-win scenario, with personalised transport offers that clearly benefit the passenger, will help make the concept of personalisation as pervasive and informative for travel as it is in retail, and create a powerful new channels of communication to millions of individuals.


By Joanne Thompson, CEO at Penrillian

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