It’s difficult times for the black cab industry. We speak to drivers on a daily basis whilst we compare black cab insurance policies on their behalf. Many express their concern at the circumstances surrounding their much loved trade. We are of course outsiders to a lot of the politics – however we are keen observers and wish to see iconic black cabs carrying passengers around London’s streets for years to come.
As an experienced marketer I have made an independent and objective assessment of the current situation, from which I have provided a set of observations. I’ve performed a competitor analysis, much like I would for my own company. This would involve sitting down to compare the services and product offerings of alternative brokers. I’d look to exploit any of their shortcomings. I’d also establish what our unique selling points are, and I would examine how we’re currently presenting ourselves to the market place. Then I would plot the best route forward.
It’s an incredibly sensitive subject for many black cab drivers. Their livelihood is under threat. So I would understand if they’d rather I stuck to arranging insurance policies. However, I’m keen to assist in the only way I know how. So, if I’d been hired as a consultant by the London black cab industry I would propose the following recommendations be considered for implementation as soon as possible;
Assessment : The Black Cab Trade
The black taxi industry feels it has legitimate cause to complain to their governing body and the law courts. Private hire apps that operate on questionable legal grounds have had a severe impact. They effectively allow street hailing and fares to be metered. Currently in my opinion individual driver’s campaigning on social media are potentially doing more harm than good by bringing more attention to the apps. The private hire firms will more than likely be looking on with the old adage in mind, “Any PR is good PR.”
What is truly required is a carefully constructed campaign. One that galvanises the large amount of public sympathy for this much loved trade. This support needs to be turned into real and sustained pressure and applied to those that matter. Achieving this requires a difficult balancing act to be performed. If carried out in an uncoordinated manner it could possibly look like resistance to new technologies and an aversion to increased competition. The apps have succeeded in turning the public’s head by offering lower headline rates combined with ease of use. My reading of the situation is that employing an experienced PR firm backed with funds from one powerful Union would be the most likely way to challenge this.
Another major issue affecting the black taxi industry is one that in my opinion borders on gross negligence on the part of TfL. Public safety has been put at risk by the lack of enforcement officers preventing illegal touts to operate. The fact that on a busy Christmas weekend only two enforcement officers were on call in London is scandalous. I’m sure there would be an outcry if this fact was successfully brought to the general public’s attention. Yet very little appeared to be made of it in the national press. The, “If it’s not pre-booked it’s a stranger’s car” campaign to me kept a very low profile this Christmas. Normally it is heavily promoted.
However in this blog I’m going to concentrate on tackling the first issue raised. That was how best to tackle the challenge presented to black cab drivers by increased, be it fair or otherwise, competition in the market place.
Battle Plan : Joining forces and Cab Man Charter
The first thing the black taxi industry needs to achieve in my mind is for the Unions to join forces. They may need to merge (into ideally one or at most two) or for representatives of each to form a council in a spirit of cooperation to achieve a single goal. This point is crucial, as collective power is key when lobbying government agencies/regulators. Together 25-28,000 taxi drivers sounds a large number. However when fragmented between 4 or 5 Unions representing the black cab industry the impact is diluted. To put it in context, the National Union of Teachers have over 300,000 members and they still struggle to impose their will on the decision makers.
Having one powerful Union would mean that one black taxi app such as Get Taxi App could be endorsed across the trade. Members would be implored to support and promote this app. It would enable black cab drivers to compete toe to toe with existing apps already operating in the market.
Likewise it probably couldn’t be made compulsory but if all cabbies signed up to a taxi cab man charter it could be a very powerful marketing tool. The Union would need to oversee the implementation. I’ve listed below a few ideas for what the charter might contain. Most drivers probably adhere to the majority of my suggestions already;
Promise : The taxi cab man charter
- Credit cards must be accepted – modern life is incredibly hectic, especially for city folk, convenience is key to attracting custom these days. Cash is becoming less and less popular. The Visa UK MD said that 50% of payments were made by card in 2014. With the rise of contactless cards he predicts that figure will rise to 95% with 10 years.
- Smart casual attire a must – It will be may be difficult to attract the custom of business men and women away from the well presented drivers in smart Mercedes. Portraying a professional but non stuffy image will help. Black cab drivers don’t need to be suited and booted. A polo top should be sufficient to present the right image. The top could be printed with an ad to promote the industry app as well.
- Clean cabs in which no food is consumed either by driver or passenger – Not a common problem for the black cab trade but it only takes one driver to ruin the good impression made by everyone else. It already goes without saying, few passengers are going to enjoy a ride in a smelly, dirty cab. Surprise inspections at ranks could be conducted by the Union.
- Provide assistance with luggage – Most drivers probably offer as standard, most passengers can cope on their own, but the few that don’t offer to the few that need assistance paint the entire trade in a bad light.
- No conversation regarding politics or religion – Just like at a polite dinner party, keep it light as you never know the opinions’ of the people you’re chatting to.
- Anywhere, Anytime – ‘Don’t go south of the river mate’ From the brief straw poll of public opinion that I sought this phrase still haunts the black cab trade. True or not many people still feel Black Cabs can’t always be relied on to go where they need to get to. Unfortunately the competition will go anywhere, anytime. From a marketing perspective there’s nothing worse than letting a potential customer down. If you won’t go where they need to go to at that particular moment, then what’s to stop them trying an alternative service the next time they need to make a cab journey. So if the light is on the fare needs to be accepted.
- Clean language at all times – This may seem obvious when it comes to conversation with members of the public in the cab. However it needs to be adhered to just as strictly when it comes to online interactions. Social media is a powerful public forum . Retweeting and liking comments that criticise competitors is a means to highlight their slip ups. However if in the process of doing so you lead them to a profile or feed that contains foul and abusive images or language your efforts may be counter-productive.
The Cab Man Charter could be even more comprehensive if members were required to complete the Hackney Carriage Drivers Company Tour Guide Course. This would officially make drivers qualified Taxi Tour Guides. That might be a bridge too far for many. But even without it all of the above bullet points would help contribute to a powerful marketing proposition to form the basis of an effective sales campaign.
The Power of Positive PR : Are Black Cab drivers selling themselves short?
Leave PR to the professionals – Imagine if each Union were to organise a go slow demo or a flash mob event in quick succession. The impact would be likely to be the opposite of the desired intention. The issue will be highlighted but there is a high risk that public sympathy be lost. The occasional protest will make the public aware of the issue. A relentless stream of inconvenience will turn them off of it. These type of protests should be a last resort and part of a coordinated, structured campaign.
Media relations requires a delicate touch. Points need to be communicated forcibly in order to be noticed. However passion can sometimes get the better of us. There is a fine line between raising awareness of your cause and garnering counter productive responses from the audience whose allegiance you’re attempting to gain. We saw this week negative repercussions when the line was over stepped. The general public and popular press took issue to a spokesmen for the black cab trade comparing cyclists to members of ISIS.
The Black Cab Charter would need to be supported by the successful communication of a number of additional positive, constructive points.
More could be made in the media about black cab driver’s local knowledge? Is the strenuous learning required to pass “The Knowledge” and the benefits it provides to passengers underplayed? Instant re-routes to avoid traffic jams are taken for granted. The freedom to use bus lanes is another great advantage in the market place. Along with the handiness that black cabs can be legally hailed by people on the street. The convenience of knowing a black cab will charge a flat rate without any surges could be a key point in any campaign. Also in my opinion knowing you’re in a fully licensed London black cab definitely brings confidence and assurances of personal safety.
There is a difference between scare, fear and negative marketing techniques as opposed to comparison marketing. The big supermarkets use price comparison all the time in the TV advertising. As I said we’re not afraid to compare black cab insurance policies. We feel our cover stands out as superior in the market place. When conducting a similar exercise for London black cab drivers it can be argued they have many unique advantages. Therefore more should be made of them.
All of the positives mentioned in this blog can be made front and centre of communications. Negatives examples like; 85% of accidents occur on the road due to distractions such as; looking at a sat nav can be kept in the back pocket.
At Plan we arrange insurance policies. We are not full time professional drivers. Though we feel we are immersed in the community. It might be dangerous to have stuck our heads above the parapet. But We feel there is a logic to our points and hope this blog is seen as providing a helpful objective perspective. We would love to hear your views and feedback. Please post any comments that you’d like to share.
It’s worth adding that we specialise in arranging insurance for all types of professional road based businesses. By professional we refer to drivers whose livelihood is reliant on them being on the road but also those that share an strong motoring mentality.
This does of course mean we cover both the public and private hire insurance markets. Our underwriting philosophy is to carefully select the best drivers within both and reward them with better rates.
We appreciate the tension between both industries. However we remain neutral. We believe the demand for both is sufficient to satisfy both parties needs. Our desire is to see both prosper within the boundaries of a fair and reasonable governance.