Optimising Santa – Anatomy of a Christmas Promotion

This Christmas, the route optimisation team and I wanted to do something a little special. Our aim was to create a fun advertising campaign that captured the spirit of the festive season and demonstrated the power of route optimisation technology.

The original idea was borne out of a “calculate the fastest route” promotion that Lauren (from our marketing team) ran for the AGI Geocommunity event, back in September.

It proved so popular, that we quickly decided to run the competition again, this time on a slightly grander scale, open to all, during the run-up to Christmas. This time, we developed a back-story: “twenty parcels have fallen off Santa’s sleigh and all the reindeer have left for a stag party.” There were twenty waypoints, two of which had strict delivery timeslots to be adhered to, and two vehicles to do the deliveries. The prize: £250 of Amazon vouchers.

The benefits were multiple. Firstly, we can show entrants how route optimisation will generally find a better route. Secondly, we demonstrate just how long it really takes to plot routes by hand, especially many waypoints and no map. We can also publish the results to show how much time route optimisation can save people, comparing actual real routes people have entered with the results from route optimisation.

We set our newest web developer, Chris, onto the case. Together with Ralph, our chief web designer, they did an amazing job putting together a page which hooks up with several of our most popular web services (you can still view the page here). It serves as a nice demonstration page for our Mapping API, our Distances and Directions web services, and also, less obviously, our MyServices engine (the results that you input are stored in our new cloud-based database we call MyTables).

To enhance the publicity to our target audience, Ralph and Jim created adverts and published them into a few publications, such as GIS Professional, E-Logistics and Warehouse & Delivery Magazine. Jim then published a Press Release detailing the competition, did some fancy tactical tweeting, and managed to get us published in various places, including the Guardian’s Technology Blog. We also constructed an e-shot and mailed that out to various lists of email addresses.

Once the competition had run its course, our work was not yet complete. Firstly, we emailed the winner, a Mr. Gabhin Hill (who, incidentally, has still not claimed his prize, so if you yourself entered, there’s still a chance you’ll bag the voucher). Next, we prepared an e-shot to send out to all entrants with the results and sent that off. Finally, we created a press release detailing the study findings. (The key points are the fact that 38% of entrants failed to deliver to the timeslots, and of the rest, on average they were 19% slower routes than the optimal.)

Lastly, it was suggested that I write a blog entry for the whole process, to shed some light on the internal workings here at Postcode Anywhere; a task, which I’ve now completed, as you can see!