A Teaspoon of Marketing Insight From My Holiday Train Ride

Written by Kimberly MacArthur Graham on January 2, 2014


During the holidays, my husband and I took our first-ever Amtrak train, an overnight run from Denver’s Union Station to visit family in Centerville, Iowa.  We rented a sleeper car for the 12-hour journey and, with fantastic customer care and zero hassles with TSA, no  lost luggage, or having to find a rural gas station at 3 a.m., we have been recommending train travel to all our friends and relatives ever since, as a terrific alternative to flying or driving.  Almost universally, they are excited to try the train. But why haven’t they already?

As a recent convert, I lovingly offer three suggestions for smarter marketing inspired by Amtrak, but applicable to all businesses.

Deliver on the Details

With the exception of an itty-bitty salad (seriously: 3 leaves + 2 cherry tomatoes), the food is pretty good – including savvy vegetarian fare. The silverware is real. And the servers look sharp. So why cheap plastic dishware – that they THROW AWAY? Dining cars were historically classy, so draw on nostalgia and double-track the foodie and “green” trends and use real dishes. In any business, practice stringent QA/QC and demand the same of vendors. Make sure that everything you deliver is well-designed, -written, and -produced. Never overlook the details; your clients won’t.

Share the Wealth (of Advantages)

Yes, some people take the train because it’s a more affordable mode of transportation. But there is an (untapped) audience that might prefer the train to driving or flying, if only they knew all the advantages in terms of time saved, convenience of luggage carry-on, and overall experience (more on that next).  No matter what business you’re in, don’t be afraid to “toot your own horn,” but remember that potential clients don’t care how great your company is; they want to know specifically how they will benefit.

Build an Experience and a Community

All the Amtrak associates, from ticket agents to conductors, were helpful and appreciative of our business. Why not take that graciousness one step further and create a tourism “experience” that taps into the rich history of rail travel? Provide fun facts that pertain to the route being traveled or the places along the way. Use technology to engage: add this info to the Amtrak app, and share it based on the user’s current location. Make it more than reliable, comfortable transportation: make it a desirable piece of Americana. All business owners should be cognizant of creating a great experience for clients every step of the way. Make sure your website offers a great User Experience and that your processes are as good as – or better than — your product.  And of course, don’t forget to nurture and grow your community by encouraging feedback and sharing news via an active, engaged social media presence; a regular newsletter; and real-life touch points (remember the phone?).

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4 Responses to “A Teaspoon of Marketing Insight From My Holiday Train Ride”

  1. These are all good points. I just made another pleasant Amtrak trip over Thanksgiving to visit West Coast friends and family.

    About plastic platees, though, you need to be aware that Amtrak has had repeated meddling from members of Congress trying to get into the details of food service. In particular, Representative Mica from Florida can be seen on YouTube badgering a witness who wasn’t even there to talk about that subject. When the trains were run by private companies, their documented losses were much higher than Amtrak’s and food service was subsidized from other revenue.

    The food on my trip was good and I put up with the plastic in exchange for having one less crew member needed to wash dishes.

    • Kimberly says:

      I’m so glad to hear from another train-lover. Your points are well-taken and I know that financially, plastic plates are more responsible. I can almost guarantee you, though, that at some point, Congress will require “real” dishware because it is green. Just watch! -Kimberly

  2. Daniel O'Connor says:

    Very inciteful article that inspires me to take the train (Amtrak) if only to Winter Park and to step up my game in the experience that I deliver as well as the end product. Thank-you.

    • Kimberly says:

      Thanks, Dan!
      Do take the train (and your camera) and let us know how you enjoyed the ride. Be sure to share your photos with us; I can imagine a suite of images taken at the same “way stations” during different seasons.

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