Bolt Bus: an America's Hottest Brands Case Study

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Bolt Bus
In 2007, Greyhound, met with a spate of new competitors, fretted about a possible loss of share in the national bus market it had dominated for so long. Rather than revamp its well-known, nearly century-old brand, it decided to create a new one.

Greyhound tasked its ad agency, Butler Shine Stern & Partners out in Sausalito, Calif., to build a new bus brand from scratch that would appeal to young, professional travelers. The agency came back with a soup-to-nuts plan for a new brand, including the design of the bright orange buses, new employee uniforms, and of course, the name, Bolt Bus.

Bolt launched last March in the Northeast with some PR efforts and street teams to spread the news, but with little in the way of traditional marketing. "A lot of it has been word-of-mouth," said Kim Plaskett, director of marketing for Bolt Bus.

At the core of the new brand's messaging is bus travel that's affordable -- you can't get much more recession-friendly than promotions like "rides for a buck" -- but doesn't sacrifice riders comfort. Among the amenities Bolt boasts are leather seats and generous legroom, plus those extras today's technologically savvy travelers require, such as free Wi-Fi and seatback electrical plugs.

Bolt's pricing model is clever, with seats sold not for fixed prices, but based on supply and demand. When tickets go up for sale, a $1 seat is always made available, with other seats at different price levels. If the seats start selling out fast prices go up, if not, more $1 seats are up for grabs. Because it is a curbside carrier -- its buses don't operate via city terminals -- overhead is low, and Bolt has flexibility to make changes to routes and bus stops depending upon demand.

Seeing the opportunity with regular riders, Bolt started a rewards program that's delightfully no hassles; regardless of the miles or prices of the seats, if you travel eight times, the next one is free.

Kim Plaskett
Kim Plaskett, director of marketing, Bolt Bus
"We get questions a lot on Twitter from people asking when they're going to get Bolt coming to their town," said Ms. Plaskett. The requests come in other ways, too. Recently, she was sent a photograph of four youngsters who described themselves as Yale college students, standing side-by-side in bright orange t-shirts spelling out the word "Bolt." It's the kind of cult-following behavior you'd expect to see for a band, not a bus company.

"We've seen month over month growth with the business," said Ms. Plaskett, noting"we're well beyond where we expected in terms of our passenger growth." In the matter of a single year, ridership has crossed the 2 million mark -- not shabby for a brand less than two years old.

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