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Tolling Points

Visual Storytelling Helps Tolling Agencies Reach Their Audience

Bill Cramer

At IBTTA’s Transportation Finance and Road Usage Charging Conference in April, Sarah Swensson King with Transportation Corridors Agencies took top honors in the association’s first-ever Transportation Idol contest. In this interview with Tolling Points, King shares her thinking on customer outreach through visual storytelling.

Tolling Points: Why was it important to you to enter the Transportation Idol contest? 

Sarah King: Transportation Corridor Agencies (TCA) first saw the Transportation Idol announcement on Twitter and on April 1, and our first reaction was that it had to be an April Fool’s Day prank! Once we checked the call for entries on IBTTA’s website and saw that it was actually a legitimate contest, we could hardly resist.

The Toll Roads in Orange County were built in the 1990s, and today, 96% of our drivers pay electronically. But during the first few months of our transition to all-electronic tolling, the influx of calls to our customer service department was a challenge. Social media began overlapping with our customer service function, drivers were confused, and much of the news coverage reflected that confusion.

Nearly a year later, we’ve gained a better understanding of how our customer service systems and procedures can open more of a conversation with our users. Their feedback allows us to continually improve our system, and what better way to showcase those efforts in a fun, innovative, creative display as we approached the one-year anniversary?

Tolling Points: Where did you get ideas and inspiration for your entry?

Sarah King: You need to be able to take your growing pains and have fun with them! Many of us know from personal experience that having a sense of humor can make life a little easier—and that’s what TCA did, by following in Taylor Swift’s footsteps to Shake It Off. Our communications team took a widely popular song that many age groups, not just teens, could recognize. We rewrote the lyrics to tell the story of our first year with AET, including the growing pains of removing cash toll booths.

Tolling Points: Apart from the Idol judges, what audiences or audience personas did you have in mind when you made the video?

Sarah King: The Toll Roads record more than 260,000 toll transactions per day in Orange County, California. The Shake It Off video is just one part of a diverse marketing and communications, outreach, social media, education, and awareness program, designed to reach all types of audiences. We’re in business to keep people moving and get them home, or wherever they need to be, within a predictable time frame. The Toll Roads are for everyone, and we want people to understand that they offer beautiful views and are fun to drive.  

Tolling Points: How can this kind of messaging help tolling agencies tell a compelling story to customers, prospective customers, and key influencers?

Sarah King: Every agency, no matter its size, has a unique story to share with the public and its customers. Through visual storytelling, or a fun parody music video, we can remind people of the benefits of choosing to drive The Toll Roads. Audiences relate to visuals/pictures, especially moving pictures, and this was an interesting way to capture our viewers’ attention. That’s why major companies use jingles to sell their product: we’re more inclined to remember song lyrics and the associated visuals than to absorb the information on a fact sheet. TCA is thrilled that the video resonated with the IBTTA audience, and we were happy we could educate our own community in an interesting and engaging way.

Ludwig Wittgenstein said that “if people never did silly things, nothing intelligent would ever get done.” And Chelsea Handler advises us to “laugh loudly, laugh often, and most importantly, laugh at yourself.” That’s what we tried to do with Shake It Off.

For more bright ideas on customer outreach and communication, mark your calendar for IBTTA’s New Media, Communications, and Human Resources Workshop, October 18-20, 2015 in Cleveland, Ohio.



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