National Academies Press: OpenBook

Public Benefits of Highway System Preservation and Maintenance (2004)


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Suggested Citation:"CHAPTER FOUR - MARKETING THE PUBLIC BENEFITS OF MAINTENANCE." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2004. Public Benefits of Highway System Preservation and Maintenance. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/23362.
Page 34
Suggested Citation:"CHAPTER FOUR - MARKETING THE PUBLIC BENEFITS OF MAINTENANCE." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2004. Public Benefits of Highway System Preservation and Maintenance. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/23362.
Page 35
Suggested Citation:"CHAPTER FOUR - MARKETING THE PUBLIC BENEFITS OF MAINTENANCE." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2004. Public Benefits of Highway System Preservation and Maintenance. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/23362.
Page 36
Suggested Citation:"CHAPTER FOUR - MARKETING THE PUBLIC BENEFITS OF MAINTENANCE." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2004. Public Benefits of Highway System Preservation and Maintenance. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/23362.

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22 CHAPTER FOUR MARKETING THE PUBLIC BENEFITS OF MAINTENANCE Many factors undoubtedly contributed to the defeat of Oregon’s gas tax increase, as mentioned in chapter three; however, ODOT’s campaign to inform and influence public opinion is an important example of marketing maintenance that several analysts have suggested is needed (e.g., Kraft 1998; Niemi 1999). Marketing, according to specialists in the field, is “the process of planning and executing the concep- tion, pricing, promotion, and distribution of ideas, goods, ser- vices, organizations, and events to create and maintain rela- tionships that will satisfy individual and organizational objectives” (Boone and Kurtz 2001). Marketing (or market) research, an element of marketing, entails the collection and analysis of data relevant to marketing decision making, and communicating the analysis results to management. Market- ing concepts and market research have frequently been used in transportation management—for example, to at- tract and retain transit riders (Elmore-Yalch 1998) and to encourage the wider use of new techniques to improve maintenance practices (Beimborn et al. 1986). Many agencies, particularly at local government levels, post billboards along routes undergoing major maintenance or reconstruction, alerting vehicle occupants that they are observing their tax dollars at work, and naming the elected official whose leadership is presumably responsible for the effort. The literature review and interviews conducted for this study did not reveal evidence that such signage en- hanced public appreciation of the benefits of maintenance. A few agencies make more active efforts to market their maintenance activities; in doing so, they seek to present to the public a cogent description of the public benefits of these activities. The Oregon “Pave me now or pay more later” campaign is one example. Another is the Minnesota DOT’s (MnDOT’s) “maintenance business planning” pro- gram and publication of brochures and information sum- maries for use by the news media (Figure 11). The Michigan Road Preservation Association maintains what it characterizes as “an aggressive program to inform the public, MDOT, and the legislature of the importance and cost-effectiveness of the preventive maintenance proc- esses in preserving Michigan’s road system.” As this con- tractor’s organization describes it, the program relies largely on lobbying and published informational materials. MDOT reported that $16 million spent on PM in the 1999 to 2000 pe- riod, to treat 3,710 route-miles of road, increased the life span of the pavements by up to 7 years (“An Overview of State- wide Accomplishments 1999–001” 2002). MARKET RESEARCH The survey for this study found that agencies use a range of methods commonly employed in market research (see Table 6). MnDOT, for example, conducted a survey (its market research) of state residents, licensed drivers, and highway-district residents that became the basis for prepar- ing its brochures and media information. Approximately three-quarters of responding agencies prepare maintenance program reports at least annually. However, only 21% of respondents actively provide main- tenance program output or productivity information to the public. Some 58% of agencies responding to the study sur- vey make an official estimate of the maintenance backlog; however, almost one-half of these agencies do so less than annually. Only 11% actively present outcome measures such as pavement condition indices. Results of this reports’ undirected sampling of agency websites was consistent with the survey results. The survey, part of a joint study with agencies in Wisconsin and Iowa, was similar to that of the Pennsylvania DOT (described previously). The MnDOT marketing materials described selected re- sults of the customer opinion survey, pertaining to what the department was doing well or where improvement was needed. The agency sought to educate customers by listing seven products and services the agency provides: clear roadways, smooth and reliable pavement, available bridges, attractive roadsides, safety features (such as guardrails, functioning traffic signals, and signing), highway permits and regulations, and motorist services (such as information on road conditions and attractive rest areas). Agency per- sonnel asserted that these materials have been well re- ceived by the public. INFORMING THE PUBLIC A particularly aggressive marketing campaign—exempli- fying conventional marketing wisdom that salesmen make a difference (e.g., Davidow 1986)—was mounted by the public works officials of Cincinnati, Ohio, with private- sector assistance. In the 1980s, the city was faced with se- rious deterioration of roads and other infrastructure and a declining revenue base as employees of city-based corpora- tions moved to the suburbs. In response, public works offi- cials prepared an illustrated annual report “The Public Works Story” (In Our Own Backyard . . . 1993). This

23 widely circulated report, published from 1983 through 1989, included numerous photographs of facility condi- tions throughout the city’s neighborhoods, taken from viewpoints that citizens and other road users could identify and verify. Also included were estimates of the costs to re- pair specific problems—effectively a backlog estimate. At about the same time a similar process was begun in Cleveland, Ohio. By the 1980s, infrastructure deterioration was so advanced that streets were disintegrating, nearly 30% of the county bridges were in need of major repair, and the Cuyahoga River had become so polluted that it caught fire. In 1981, the Greater Cleveland Growth Asso- ciation (a chamber of commerce organization) and the city’s mayor initiated discussions of the city’s physical and economic problems among public-sector and business leaders. After 2 years of discussion and negotiation, the participants developed a capital investment strategy and formed a new organization, Build Up Greater Cleveland (BUGC), to inform the public and to implement and peri- odically update the strategy. Community leaders now give credit to BUGC’s systematic program of coordinated advo- cacy for the community’s success in mobilizing substantial investment funding for infrastructure revitalization. For ex- ample, BUGC leaders worked for the passage of a state referendum establishing the Ohio Public Works Commis- sion and its local funding program. That program provided approximately $13.5 million annually for the maintenance and rehabilitation of sewers, roads, and bridges in Cuya- hoga County. FIGURE 11 MnDOT maintenance-marketing brochure (two of six tri- fold panels). City leaders in Cincinnati similarly credit “The Public Works Story” reports with shifting public opinion toward recognition that action was needed. A partnership devel- oped between the city’s public works leadership and senior management of Procter and Gamble, the city’s largest em- ployer. In 1986, the city council asked Procter and Gamble Chief Executive Officer John Smale, to chair an independ- ent commission to assess the city’s infrastructure problems. The Smale Commission’s report included proposals for a tax increase to fund infrastructure renewal and preserva- tion. The business community, led by Mr. Smale, took re- sponsibility for ensuring voter approval of the increase by donating funds to prepare and circulate a videotape presen- tation, a television commercial, and newspaper advertising. Mr. Smale and George Rowe, the public works director, appeared as a team before dozens of neighborhood and community groups to present the case for approval. Voters

24 in a 1988 referendum voted in favor of the tax increase, al- though the margin of victory was narrow, fewer than 300 votes out of some 50,000 ballots cast. A less formal use of the techniques embodied in the Cincinnati and Cleveland experiences was reported by a senior military officer who had been responsible for secur- ing Congressional committee approval of budgets for maintenance and renewal of base housing. The officer showed committee members photographs of deteriorating barracks and explained the likely impact of such conditions on morale. After considerable discussion, grudging ap- proval was given for improvement. To consolidate his case, the officer appeared before the committee at the next ap- proval cycle and initially showed committee members the same photographs. Questioned by the members as to why the repairs had not been made, the officer then distributed new photographs of the newly renovated and now well- maintained facilities, thanking the legislators for their ear- lier actions. He then presented the next budget request. Ex- periences reviewed in chapter three give evidence that the opinions of elected officials and the public in general can be influenced toward favorable views of maintenance. School facilities managers have been encouraged to adopt methods that will similarly communicate the “vital role of facility management, maintenance, and capital improve- ment planning on educational delivery” (Effective Facility Management . . . 2001). SHIFTING ATTITUDES Accomplishing such shifts is a primary objective of mar- keting and public relations, which work to build and main- tain an organization’s relationships with customers, poten- tial customers, and others, who may influence the organization’s prosperity, to create and protect product and organization identity and reputation (Davidow 1986; Cay- wood 1997). Marketing and public relations techniques move customers away from competitors’ products or from positions unfriendly to the organization by increasing “dis- sonance” between the person’s opinions and positive in- formation about the competition, and by enhancing “con- sonance” or comfort with the idea that the organization and its products are good (Festinger 1957). Consonance—the complement of dissonance—increases when the customer’s observations and expectations match. When considering the use of consonance, marketing professionals have found, for example, that a person buying an expensive car is less likely to conclude the car is a “lemon,” owing to poor performance during the first month or two, if the new car dealer has strengthened the buyer’s opinion that the car’s higher price is an indicator of higher quality. The dealer seeks to maintain in the buyer a convic- tion that the problems are unusual, an aberration. Swift, courteous service and an effective resolution of the prob- lems increases positive feelings toward the manufacturer and the dealership—that is, consonance—and retains cus- tomer loyalty, leading to repeat business. If the problems are poorly handled or persist too long, however, dissonance increases, the customer’s views generally become negative, and the now unsatisfied customer may talk to other poten- tial customers about his or her displeasure. The next car purchased will likely be a different brand, and the next ser- vice appointment might be with a different local provider, not only on the part of the original buyer but possibly of others as well. When considering the use of dissonance, Cincinnati’s annual publication of “The Public Works Story” may be understood as a successful effort to shift public opinion away from comfort with current conditions and toward the view that greater maintenance spending was needed. Ore- gon’s “Pave me now or pay more later” campaign had a similar purpose. The military officer’s use of photographs of deteriorating barracks made legislators less comfortable. In each case, the marketing effort was meant to increase disso- nance and convert the audience into customers for the compe- tition—a change in maintenance practices and the actions needed to pay for the change. Officials in Cincinnati and the military officer were then able to close the sale. A more extreme use of dissonance to build demand for maintenance was reported by economist A.O. Hirschman (1958). He described a highway project in South America where a decision had been made to build the road with light-duty paving rather than a gravel surface, although conventional analysis showed the latter to be a more effi- cient design. The consulting engineer explained, “We as- sumed that, with the increasing truck and bus industry in Colombia, local pressure would be applied to the Ministry of Public Works to repair the deep holes that will develop in cheap bituminous pavements if maintenance and re- treatment are delayed, and that the pressure would be greater than if a gravel and stone road is allowed to deterio- rate.” Road users expect the paved road to provide better riding conditions than a gravel road, regardless of the de- sign characteristics of the pavement. When these expecta- tions are not met, dissatisfaction leads to complaints, which consistently leads to more maintenance, repair, and reconstruction than would have been the case with a gravel road. Poor conditions were anticipated to serve the same purpose as marketing publications. INFLUENCING DECISIONS The proof of marketing and public relations success lies in the decisions that people make to purchase a particular product, vote for a particular candidate, and so on. Impor- tant information that may be gathered through market re-

25 search is the “price point” at which potential customers are likely to make the decision. In the case of commercial products and services it is the customer’s “willingness to pay.” This willingness depends on the characteristics of the product. The color of an automobile, for example, does not change mechanical performance, however, it can dramati- cally influence the car’s market potential. Similarly, shore- front building sites sell for higher prices than otherwise equivalent pieces of property some distance from the beach. When observable market transactions establish prices, statistical methods can be used to attribute values to such unpriced characteristics as color and location amenity. In the absence of observable transactions, market research- ers and economists use such methods as “contingent valua- tion” to estimate willingness to pay (see e.g., Carson et al. 1996 or Valuing Environmental Preferences . . . 1999). In their simpler forms, such methods seek to elicit meaningful answers to direct questions about how much people would be willing to pay to have access to or not to lose the quality in question—for example, smooth-riding highway pavements. The answers are meaningful if they can be used to set realistic policies or estimate appropriate price levels. For example, water resource planners use such methods to estimate appropriate fees for fishing and boat- ing on reservoirs; the fees represent a value that the public places on these recreational uses of the infrastructure (e.g., Piper 1998). In highway transportation, willingness-to-pay methods have been used in valuing safety improvements (e.g., 1996 Valuation . . . 1997) and new technology (Poly- doropoulou et al. 1998), and for planning toll facilities. Re- searchers have proposed broader applications to transporta- tion planning (e.g., McFadden 1997). ODOT’s 1998 survey (see chapter three) asked whether people would be willing to pay higher gas taxes to relieve congestion, and 57% of respondents answered affirma- tively. This synthesis study failed to find any instances in which surveys or other contingent valuation techniques were employed to estimate appropriate maintenance budg- ets or to value the benefits of PM or preservation, from the public’s perspective. The listening and learning done by skilled professionals determine the distinctions between sales and marketing. A good salesperson determines how best to convince poten- tial buyers that they want and need the product. A good marketing person learns about the customers’ preferences and communicates what is learned, ultimately to the prod- uct development department, so that products are designed to match customers’ desires. As products leave the factory, the marketing person finds ways to alert potential custom- ers to the match and helps the products sell themselves. From this perspective, it can be seen that the methods currently used by state and local agencies for communicat- ing maintenance activities and their benefits to stake- holders, as identified in literature, surveys, and interviews (see the following bulleted list), are more of sales than marketing; they aim to persuade taxpayers to support legis- lative initiatives intended to raise additional money for in- frastructure maintenance and rehabilitation. • Roadside billboards, • Printed materials (brochures, reports), • News releases and directed articles in the press, • Public service messages, • Internet-published materials (web pages, reports), • Videotapes, • Displays at public gatherings (e.g., state fairs), • Directed briefings and presentations (legislative, pub- lic), and • Lobbying. The surveys conducted by some states, which included questions about road-user or taxpayer preferences, are a step toward developing what might be termed an attractive and salable maintenance product.

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TRB’s National Cooperative Highway Research Program (NCHRP) Synthesis 330: Public Benefits of Highway System Preservation and Maintenance examines the current practices for identifying, measuring, and articulating the public benefits of highway system maintenance and operation, and of communicating those benefits that are understandable and meaningful to stakeholders—road users, elected officials, and others who have an interest in the system’s performance.

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