5 Ways to Drive Mobile Pay Utilization through Marketing

A Convenient Change for Drivers

Since the arrival of the first smartphone over 10 years ago, adoption of mobile technologies has increased dramatically. Today 8 in 10 adults own a smartphone. People now have a natural expectation to be able to pay for various services through the convenience of their smartphones. This trend has been driving the adoption of mobile parking apps from cities and parking operators who are looking to make parking easier for their customers through the use of technology.

This technology offers various benefits, including the convenience of not having to rush outside to refill a meter if additional time needs to be added to an active parking session. Instead, the app user gets notified on their mobile device as their session is about to expire and can extend time with a tap on their phone.

Mobile pay for parking is an exciting initiative for a city to launch. It brings so many opportunities to communicate with the community on a more personal level. But, it’s important to make a concentrated effort to ensure high user adoption on an ongoing basis. After working with over 400 municipalities and private operators to launch mobile payment applications, we have uncovered some key practices that drive higher utilization.

5 Ways Municipalities Can Encourage Citizens to Use Mobile Pay

1. Implement clear signage

Sufficient, clear signage is one of the most powerful tools parking operators can use to let parkers know there is a more convenient way to pay for parking: a mobile application. Volume, placement and design of signage are all equally important factors in the success of a mobile parking app program. Operators have to ensure that signage (including signs on posts as well as decals on meters) are placed in a high enough density that can easily be seen from at least 15 feet away. Think about it: If one of the conveniences that drivers gain through a mobile app is that they do not have to dig around for coins to pay for parking, nor walk to a meter, especially in inclement weather, then it makes it significantly more appealing to them to download and adopt the app from the convenience of their cars before they leave the parking location. Passport recommends at least one 12×18 inch sign per five to 10 parking spaces for on-street parking and one sign per 15-20 spaces for off-street parking locations. We also recommend at least one to two decals on parking meters to ensure that even those who decide to walk up to the meter notice that there is a more convenient way to pay for parking.

Additionally, drivers often want to park and get to their destination as fast as possible. They do not want to stand in a parking lot or on the side of the street trying to read paragraphs of text on signs that can be confusing. Clear and concise sign design is imperative when trying to catch a driver’s attention. Someone has to be able to look at the sign for five to 10 seconds and figure out the message, which means that parking operators must ensure that signage design conveys a message as quickly as possible. Passport has conducted extensive user testing on signage and has optimized and simplified the design of signs and decals for clients in order to drive higher utilization and adoption of the app.

2. Publicize, publicize, publicize!

One of the most effective ways to reach a wide audience of prospective customers is through PR efforts. Parking operations that experience high mobile pay utilization for parking have invested in resources to promote to the top local press outlets so people of all demographics are aware of the new and more convenient way to pay for parking. Passport works closely with clients to organize press conferences and invite the mayor or city leaders to speak about the new technology rollout. This helps drive a big push of media activity at the very beginning of the program, which drives awareness across the local community.

In addition to traditional media, the power of social media should not be overlooked. According to the American Press Institute, 88% of millennials get their news from Facebook—not the local newspaper or TV news station. Ensuring that your PR efforts reach social media networks, either through targeted ads or popular social media newsgroups, goes a long way to target younger demographics in your community.

3. Encourage trial

You’ve gone through the process of selecting a mobile parking app vendor, you’ve rolled out the app in your community and you’ve talked to the media about it. Now you must think about how to actually encourage people to download and use the app so they can see for themselves how convenient it is to pay with their smartphones. One of the best ways to drive trial is to provide a discount code. Passport frequently works with parking operators to provide a discount validation code that users can apply to their active parking sessions. Parking operators often promote the code not only through flyers, or temporary signs at the parking location, but also through social media, their websites or other digital campaigns.

Let’s face it, everyone loves a deal so discount codes are a great way to drive immediate trial.

4. Personalize your app to fit the culture of your community

What makes your city unique? How do people connect to it? Portland, Oregon, has a serious cat culture going on, so they personalized their app as “Parking Kitty,” featuring a complete cat theme and design. Usage of the app tripled within the first six months, in part because of the nod to the local feline scene, in this instance. Involving the city, its trends, and the interests of the people is extremely important for your program’s success.

5. Keep a quarterly campaign cadence

Research shows that people need to hear a consistent marketing message at least seven times before they take action and, in this case, download and use your mobile parking app. That means that although a big marketing push at the beginning of launching your mobile app program is great, it is not enough to ensure an increasing utilization to sustain your program. Having launched and successfully grown over 400 mobile app programs in 5,000+ locations across the globe, Passport has deep experience in driving utilization.

Make sure you’re doing something to push the message out on a quarterly basis. Whether it’s a local event, a festival partnership, putting out more validation codes, street team ambassadors, or advertising across the city, messaging is key on a continuous basis. Don’t complete your launch and forget about ongoing marketing!

Municipalities That Set Their Sights on Maximizing Mobile Pay Utilization and Crushed It

Need some encouragement? We’ve worked with a number of cities that placed a lot of focus on user adoption and reaped the results.

Portland, Oregon:

The Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT) worked with Passport to implement a variety of marketing tactics, from digital announcements and how-to flyers to street teams and branded T-shirts, exemplifying the fact that awareness is absolutely key in the success of an app. The PBOT infused the city’s cat culture into the branding of the app and all marketing campaigns, including working with musician Moshow the cat rapper, who helped the PBOT create a music video to promote its Parking Kitty app.


Boston held a successful event a few years ago to promote its Park Boston app. The city and Passport collaborated to throw an outdoor arcade event, brought out vintage arcade games and invited citizens to ditch their coins to play. It was a huge success because it was fun and well-promoted; plus, the mayor and popular athletes attended, participated and showed support for the initiative.


Chicago made it a point to simplify its signs and include a single call to action with very few words, clearly directing citizens to download the ParkChicago app, and realized a strong utilization rate. The ParkChicago signs are simple and have only one call to action, which resulted in a clear message to the users and created a natural path of adoption.

Launching an App With Passport

“Marketing an app is a constant, ongoing effort, just like with any other product out there. It isn’t a one-and-done kind of deal. Without an intentional, focused campaign, your adoption and utilization will stagnate. To achieve the best performance, it’s essential to set an ongoing cadence of showcasing end-user benefits and explaining how to use the app.” 

Grant Emory, Client Lifecycle Marketing Manager at Passport

Here at Passport, helping clients develop unique marketing plans is part of our success recipe. We’ve successfully executed on over 400 launches and offer both standard and customized branding options. A dedicated marketing and implementation team works side by side with clients throughout launches to ensure the introduction of a mobile parking app is as successful as possible. Beyond implementation, we also provide a client success team who works with our clients to ensure the ongoing success of their applications.

There is so much positive impact to be realized by implementing mobile pay and freeing your citizens from the traditional obligations of parking: pocket change, meter ordeals, and even struggling to pay tickets. When you’re planning your own launch, make sure your marketing and PR plan is aggressive and engaging, not only at inception, but on an ongoing basis. Your citizens will thank you for it, and you’ll see a healthy adoption rate.