Going Mobile With Public Transit & Websites

We’ve had a lot of discussions at work recently about mobile marketing. With internal teams as well as clients. One of the discussion themes has typically been about mobile websites, mobile apps, and how to determine when either/both should be applied as part of a client’s marketing mix. It so happens that there was a nice little write-up about that very topic on Mashable over the summer.

The site vs. app question was on my mind this past Saturday, when I was downtown with my kids sans automobile, sans bicycle trailer. We (read: I!) had decided we needed to leave the Central Library (storytime!) and head over to the Co-op (lunch!) before heading back home (nap time!).

Since I’m only well versed in my own bus route’s schedules–and even then only during rush hours–I needed help finding out how we’d get ourselves moved the 2+ miles across the city. Unfortunately, the bus route app I’d downloaded a while back, UniBus, hadn’t been reliable for months. So I tried MetroTransit’s site from my mobile. The site loaded fine but unfortunately their mobile schedules, which run NexTrip, weren’t cooperating.

Which is when I ditched the site altogether and tried the public transit mapping feature Google launched in GoogleMaps a while back. I’d never used it before and was pleasantly surprised. The feature gave me the route number I needed, walking directions to the bus stop, and a full range of times of when to expect that bus number to arrive.

This would then seem to become the focal point of this blog post: if a brand had to choose between creating a digital resource for customers on its own versus essentially co-opting and/or co-branding an existing resource, why not pursue the latter? Especially in cases such as this–where a mobile site feature on, or even an app by, MetroTransit.org would replicate functionality already available from search powerhouse Google–it seems like it simply isn’t worth reinventing the [bus] wheel.

But here’s the kicker. Those brands that go the latter [bus] route end up sacrificing ownership of the experience(s) they want their customers to have. Why is that risky? Because in the case of my Saturday excursion, it meant that Google would have sent me off on a wild goose chase to catch buses completely off the beaten path to get my kids and me back home again. Take a look at the screengrab of Google’s suggestion for where I should have gone.

Google Map

If you’re familiar with public transit in the Twin Cities you know that the little blue dot (i.e., me) was right on top of the Franklin Street LRT station. And yet Google wanted me to do more walking, to a bus stop a few blocks away, for a bus that doesn’t come as frequently as an LRT far. Only because of my familiarity with LRT and the recommended bus route did I end up knowing better than to leave the LRT platform in favor of Google’s recommendation.

So a partnership might not be the best option for a brand to pursue even though it could at first appear to offer the best, easiest approach to getting something done [for your customers]. Easy sometimes comes with strings attached.

Which brings us back to the mobile sites vs apps question at the start of this post. But since that wasn’t something I intended to cover for this little MetroTransit case/experience, check out that Mashable link. It’s a good read and could lead you to your own mobile answer(s).

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