In addition to providing residents and visitors to major cities access to alternative, quick and easy transportation, bike shares are an increasingly popular way for forward-thinking brands to get more attention.
Companies like Citi Bike and Alta recently partnered to launch New York City’s much welcomed bike share, a direct move linking health and sustainability to new methods of transportation, (not to mention catering to a whole new generation of urban dwellers who don't mind being a moving ad).
Even city hotels are picking up their own bike fleets to offer velo-loving guests options of getting around town, setting them apart in terms of who they are catering to and want to attract. In fact, Green Lodging News reports that “more than 500 cities in 49 countries now have advanced bicycle-sharing programs—evidence of the growing interest in carbon-free travel.”
Starwood’s Element hotels, for example, are required to have bicycles available for guests as part of the brand’s Bikes-to-Borrow program and all Kimpton hotel properties offer them as well. The Hyatt is getting on board too.
Papillionaire Bicycles, an Australian designed and based bike company riffing off of vintage bikes (recently launched in Brooklyn) also have bikes at three of the Punthill hotels, and at the Q1 hotel/spa in Queensland.
Saxon Baird, head of U.S. operations says women opting to bike in cities whether from bike shares or at hotels are “very driven and strong-minded and athletic but also very particular about style. I've sold a handful of Classic styles to women who I know use it to commute every day to Manhattan from Brooklyn,” says Baird.
Most bike share programs will be found in major metropolitan cities where, as the New York Times recently reported that millennials, the bulk of who are increasingly inhabiting cities, “aren’t driving cars.”
And when it comes to bikes, there’s lots of money to be made.
Mia Birk, President of Alta Planning and Design, the company supplying Citibank with their bike share in New York City says the early adopters—those sponsors who get in on the ground floor to support bike shares, will reap the benefits.
“Witness NYC, where Citibank is the title sponsor of Citi Bike, with a launch slated for Memorial Day. We’ve sold more than 10,000 memberships. The volume of (mostly positive) press has been staggering, and the 500+ stations will all be branded Citi colors and logo. A cutting edge, phenomenal level of exposure,” says Birk, adding that’s why Citi Bank committed $41 million to be the title sponsor of NYC’s Citi Bike program (opening Memorial Day).
Add to that organizations like Blue Cross Blue Shield of Minnesota, Kaiser Permanente, Barclays, Master Card, Whole Foods Market, New Balance, hospitals, universities like Harvard and MIT, restaurants, Frontier Airlines, and telecom companies have committed tens and hundreds of thousands, even millions to sponsor bike share systems.
Puget Sound Bike Share in Seattle, has determined that by offering a city-wide bike collective, a company can equate the sponsorship opportunities to a total of $2.8 million in annual media value.
While some cyclists might choose biking as a snub to gas tax and oil companies, Holly Houser, Executive Director of Puget Sound Bike Share says she truly thinks the bicycling trend goes hand-in-hand with the movement of people back to the city and back into urban, walkable neighborhoods.
Houser also cites the U.S. PIRG report, and that the Millennials are the first generation to fully embrace mobile internet-connected technologies, which are rapidly spawning new transportation options.
Big business is listening and watching as well.
“Sponsors who invest in bike share will not only benefit from the massive visibility of the system as 500 bikes zip around the city every day, they will also associate their brand and their message with 60,500 professionals, students and visitors each year who engage over and over again with the system, the website and the conversations on social media,” says Houser.
Though bike shares can and should benefit all sorts of markets (there are big opportunities to serve lower income populations), the "sell" for corporate sponsors is that urban bike-shares often attract the young, educated, professional market that they want to reach.
Andrea Learned, a women's market expert and sustainability communications strategist who is an urban bike enthusiast says bike shares, in particular, are riding the coattails of successful businesses like Car2Go and AirBnB.
“Bike share as a corporate sponsorship opportunity is a no-brainer. Whether it is budgeted as a marketing or a social or environmental responsibility effort, pairing your corporate brand with the youthfulness and freshness (and health and environmental benefits) of biking reflects an awareness of the lifestyle and interests of a key consumer base,” says Learned.
“Branding your corporation through bike share (or sponsoring bike events) these days is a powerful way to reflect awareness of what is hip and what is smart, without having to put out a press release about how hip and smart your brand is,” Learned adds.
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