STM drives green image

With an eco-friendly rebranding, Denise Vaillancourt has helped Société de transport de Montréal rank greener than Greenpeace in Quebec.

Denise Vaillancourt, executive director, planning, marketing and communications, Société de transport de Montréal (STM) prides herself on pragmatically balancing customer needs with operational realities. But as her work this year has shown, she’s not resigned to accepting the status quo, and is rather clever at finding the upside hidden within organizational weak spots.
One of the most compelling arguments for choosing public transit over driving is the environmental impact. But while research conducted by STM in 2007 found that concern for the environment was a characteristic shared by users and non-users alike, it also found that, when it came to its green brand image, STM was not doing so well.
“With public transport being such a pivotal environmental component, we were somewhat surprised at the company’s results at that time,” says Vaillancourt, who joined STM in 1983, after completing an internship there as part of her master’s degree in industrial and organizational psychology.
Vaillancourt and her team (which includes 22 marketers, plus 42 communications people) decided to spend more time exploring the possibility of developing environmental positioning, considering its consumer relevance and its ability to build volume and uniqueness versus public transit’s main competitor – driving alone in a car.
While it was clear that green had become the new black – with many consumers actively seeking eco-friendly alternatives – Vaillancourt wanted to understand just how willing consumers were to take action for the environment and what role they thought corporations should play. She didn’t want STM to be accused of simply greenwashing.
Further research turned up a critical insight: citizens are willing to adopt more environmentally friendly behaviours, but only if they feel that corporations and public entities are taking similar action.
“From this research, we gained the assurance that, with more than 100 environmental actions already to its credit, the STM was well-positioned, [unlike] most corporate citizens, to deliver an environmental promise,” Vaillancourt says. “However, the lack of awareness of the STM’s green actions clearly highlighted a need for the STM to communicate.”
This led the way for STM’s environmental positioning, developed with Montreal-based brand consultancy Cohésion Strategies and unveiled in mid-2009. Anchored by a corporate campaign called “Society in Motion,” the environmental platform focused on three main elements: public transit’s positive impact on the environment, STM’s concrete actions to become more eco-friendly, and recent service improvements and innovations.
To develop new visual branding that aligned with this platform, Vaillancourt turned to Sid Lee in Montreal. The notion that STM and its travellers were entering into a pact with each other was represented by the symbol of a chevron, with a blue arrow (representing the STM) and a yellow arrow (representing clients) overlapping to reflect action taken for the environment (green). The chevron also resembles a French quotation mark, evoking the idea of dialogue.

To fulfill its end of the bargain, STM upped its green efforts beyond its existing 100 environmental actions, cleaning its biodiesel buses with biodegradable detergents and retreading their tires to get more use out of them. It completed the implementation of the OPUS smart card (a rechargeable card used for fares on multiple public transit systems in Quebec), putting it into the hands of over two million people in less than one year.
As part of its new brand positioning, STM also elected to drop its corporate tone when communicating with customers and instead engage them in dialogue via social media. With help from Montreal web agency TP1 and production company Jimmy Lee, STM created a blog at, posted YouTube videos and began using Twitter and Facebook to issue  service disruption announcements.
It also engaged in a new sponsorship strategy, achieving a 10:1 visibility vs. investment ratio while partnering with Cirque du Soleil, Roger’s Cup, Montreal Jazz Festival and Just for Laughs Festival to encourage the use of public transit. For the Roger’s Cup, free public transportation was available to all ticket holders, with tickets bearing the STM logo and the initiative promoted through transit campaigns, the STM website and Metro newspaper. During Just For Laughs, STM used a 24-foot balloon to reach out to the public, while on-site entertainers interacted with crowds to talk about public transportation. With media by Touché!PHD, these efforts resulted in 45% of 2009 Roger’s Cup visitors and 48% of 2010 Just for Laughs Festival visitors choosing public transit.
While customers were reminded that public transit was the eco-friendly way to get around, employees were reminded that they were doing noble work. This resulted in a surge in employee motivation, with the Secor organizational mobilization index jumping from -4 in 2006 to +23 in 2009.
François Lacoursière, VP/senior partner, Sid Lee observes that Vaillancourt has an amazing ability to rally people behind a brand idea. “She can communicate and show internal stakeholders the true potential of a creative platform. And when everyone jumps on the bandwagon, she has all the strengths required to keep everyone on track.”
He explains that STM is a huge company and yet, “in no time, almost every new project was aligned with the expression of the vision, from advertising to bus interior and exterior, interactive presence, events, sponsorships, internal communications and signage.”

The end result of these efforts was that the record level ridership seen in 2008 – spurred by the opening of three new metro stations and a 16% increase in metro service – was maintained in 2009, even while the recession led to 35,000 job losses in Montreal.
Overall customer satisfaction, as measured by Leger Marketing, increased from 79% in 2007 to an all-time high of 86% at the end of 2009.
Perhaps most impressive of all, an Ipsos Descarie survey in July 2010 saw Montreal residents identify STM as the number one promoter of the environment, ranking ahead of Greenpeace.
And STM’s commitment to the cause doesn’t end there.
“Our brand positioning is also driving us forward,” Vaillancourt says. “For example, we are aiming to completely electrify our public transport system to achieve zero polluting emissions for any new vehicle by 2025. To cement its commitment to the environment, the STM signed the International Association of Public Transport’s sustainable development charter.”
As STM works towards a greener future, the upbeat Vaillancourt’s commitment to teamwork will propel progress. Lacoursière says, “She has the confidence to be the angel’s advocate before being the devil’s advocate. We build on the strengths of the ideas instead of always focusing on what might not work. It makes the ride very enjoyable and we all feel we are doing something together that is meaningful to STM and Montreal.”

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