Mississippi River Trail Bikeway Marketing Toolbox

Produced by Minnesota Department of Transportation and Explore Minnesota Tourism

The Minnesota Department of Transportation has developed a guide to marketing bicycling along the Mississippi River Trail through the state's 800 miles of the bike route.

June 01, 2011

Example of marketing themes for a stretch of the river trail

Objectives of study

MRT VISION: The Mississippi River Trail Bikeway in Minnesota is an international quality bicycling experience that safely connects riders to natural and cultural resources throughout one of the most bicycle-friendly states in America.

MRT BRAND: The MRT is a bikeway, primarily on the shoulders of low volume, paved roads, that provides the safest and best bicycling experience along the length of the Mississippi River through ten states from the headwaters at Lake Itasca to the Gulf of Mexico

KEY MRT MESSAGES: A great adventure! Visitors and residents can explore America’s cultural and natural heritage and see what tourists in an automobile will never see. Enrichment and social cohesiveness. The trail celebrates important Mississippi River people, places, and stories that have made Minnesota’s communities great. Better health. The MRT encourages healthy and life- extending outdoor activity. Diverse terrain engages diverse riders. The MRT is primarily an on-road bikeway, with some off road trail segments. The right distance for all riders. The MRT is a unique long distance route with opportunities for short rides.

REASONS TO SUPPORT THE MRT: Creating bicycle infrastructure provides significant environmental, health, economic, and transportation benefits. Adds value to existing infrastructure. The bikeway provides new uses for an already maintained transportation network. The road, shoulders, and trails occupied by the MRT are now part of an internationally acclaimed bikeway.

  • Increases bicycle-related tourism, which has had proven economic impact, even in an economic downturn. The MRT invites visitors and revenue to communities across the state. Businesses may develop a mutually beneficial relationship with the MRT by promoting their goods and services as MRT amenities. Certain businesses may find that bicyclists are a niche market waiting to be tapped!
  • Enhances quality of life, serves as an attraction for residents and businesses. Bicycle transportation is a key community component that supports active living, and a healthier population.
  • Serves as a positive addition to a network of parks, trails, and natural and cultural resources. As well as being a recreational opportunity, the MRT encourages contact with other community amenities, offering exploration and exercise.
  • Contributes to environmental stewardship. The MRT links fiscal value to the health and condition of the river, riverside parks, and adjacent natural areas. A low-impact form of transportation, it also helps reduce our carbon footprint.
  • Encourages social cohesiveness. The MRT not only connects diverse places, it also promotes an understanding of local and regional issues. The result is increased cooperative solutions.
  • Fulfills state statutes. The MRT helps MnDOT fulfill its statutory requirements to develop bikeways (Statute 160.265) to encourage tourism through transportation, and promote and increase bicycling and health forms of transportation (Statute 174.01).
  • The MRT is a tremendous opportunity to tie economic value to environmental and social well being. We believe the MRT will add value to your community, but we cannot guarantee benefits. Please remember the gains from the MRT will depend on many factors, including support from the local and regional communities and businesses.

THE MARKETING NEED: According to Explore Minnesota, tourism is an $11.2 billion industry in Minnesota and every $1 invested in marketing Minnesota’s amenities, results in a return of $53 in gross sales. http://industry.exploreminnesota.com/side2/emt-tourism- council/value-of-tourism/

It is not enough to just establish the MRT bikeway; you must also build awareness of the route and promote its value over time. MRT designation and signing alone will not result in use. To justify the resources spent mapping and signing the route, resources must also be allocated for long-term marketing to build a positive perception. It is imperative to communicate with potential users regularly to maximize bikeway use and benefits.

The MRT product is not just the route, but the experience found along the way. Because many factors contribute to the overall experience, from the scenery to the bikeway conditions to the hospitality in each community, it is important to have a consistent marketing effort across agencies, businesses, and people.

CREATE MRT AWARENESS: Unfortunately the motto, “If you build it, they will come,” rarely manifests itself. Defining and building MRT awareness is an important first step to marketing. Route maps and signs, ribbon cutting ceremonies, inaugural rides, social media and press releases announcing the MRT are viable ways of building awareness. Partnering with local businesses along the way will also help build MRT awareness.

CONSUMERS ARE INUNDATED WITH MESSAGES – DON’T NEGLECT YOURS: Consumers have unlimited choices and are constantly inundated with advertising and promotions enticing them to spend their time and money. Don’t let the MRT get lost in the crowd. Web, radio, social media, television advertisements, and events can serve as a reminder to potential users that the MRT is ready and waiting.

BUILD MRT IMAGE, REPUTATION, AND PERCEIVED VALUE OVER TIME: Establishing the MRT as a destination worthy of experiencing will require consistent and long-term branding efforts. It is important to identify target users and define an experience that is attractive to them. Identifying MRT amenities and creating itineraries, websites and brochures are ways to help communicate the experience awaiting bicyclists. However, it is equally important to nurture the MRT image over time. Feature articles, blogs, and op-eds that intimately communicate the experience along the MRT will help demonstrate the route’s value. Sponsoring a regular media-fam ride, will help keep the MRT in the minds of travel writers.

Marketing plan checklist

DEFINE YOUR OBJECTIVES, SCHEDULE, AND BUDGET.

  • What are your overall goals?

DO YOU WANT TO:

  • Raise MRT awareness?
  • Gain community support?
  • Attract bicyclists?
  • Facilitate planning a trip?
  • Promote businesses and services along the route?
  • Create a memorable experience for bicyclists?
  • How do your efforts to market the MRT align with other goals for your organization, business, or community?
  • Have you identified your budget and funding sources?
  • What is the timeframe for completing your objectives? (Are you aware of publication deadlines for local newspapers, community newsletters, or other publications.
  • Are complementary events or marketing efforts occurring that could create synergy with the MRT marketing?

IDENTIFY YOUR TARGET AUDIENCE AND THEIR NEEDS.

  • Have you conducted an inventory and assessment of community assets, including bicycle facilities, services, amenities, events, and support that bicyclists may find attractive?
  • Are you targeting a specific type of bicyclist or a specific type of trip? (Make sure to consider existing users.)
  • Is the product you are marketing suitable to the audience you are targeting?
  • Do you have diverse marketing strategies tailored to specific bicyclist types on different types of trips?

SELECT MARKETING STRATEGIES FOR YOUR TARGET AUDIENCE. CONSIDER THE FOUR P'S (PRODUCT, PRICE, PLACE AND PROMOTION).

  • Is the segment of the MRT that you are promoting a good match for the age and ability of the bicyclist you want to attract?
  • How easy is it for a bicyclist to connect with your product? Have you addressed:
  • The ability of a bicyclist to plan a trip to your destination? The journey to and from your destination?
  • The experience at your destination?
  • The memories they will experience?
  • What publications does your target audience read? Send press release or place an advertisement here!
  • What types of events does your target audience currently attend? Have a presence there—sponsor the event, purchase a booth, or pass out fliers to the crowd.
  • What types of events would your target audience attend? Host one! (Keep in mind the event cost must meet your audiences’ budget and the location must be easily accessible.)
  • Where can you find large numbers of your target audience (church, community center, athletic clubs, restaurants)? Place brochures or advertisements here?
  • What web and social networking sites does your target audience use? Join them!

IDENTIFY RESOURCES AVAILABLE TO YOU.

  • Are you familiar with the support and resources provided by other MRT marketing partners? (See Marketing Partners section)
  • Can you link the MRT to existing marketing efforts community newsletters, social media accounts, and events.

OUTLINE AN IMPLEMENTATION PLAN.

We recommend you consider the following procedures while creating your plan:

  • Specify a budget
  • Identify specific tasks
  • Assign responsibility
  • Define deadlines
  • Provide necessary information to people to carry out tasks
  • Monitor progress