When a long-held aspiration is close to being achieved, it’s important to seal the deal, and that’s what happened on the Avocet Line (Exeter-Exmouth) in 2016. Devon & Cornwall Rail Partnership mounted a marketing campaign to make sure that a long-awaited trial of a year-round half-hourly Sunday service was a big success. The trial, which began in May 2016, was the culmination of years of effort by partners including Great Western Railway (GWR), Devon County Council, the Avocet Line Rail Users Group and the Devon & Cornwall Rail Partnership (DCRP). To make the improvements stick, DCRP worked with these partners to run a comprehensive marketing campaign to maximise ‘bums on seats’ and prove the demand for the services. The campaign went beyond traditional approaches, using innovation to get outstanding results.
Step 1: Understanding the market
To understand the local audience, GWR and DCRP commissioned Ice, a behaviour change agency, to run focus groups and interviews. These explored attitudes to Sunday travel and perceived barriers. The results informed the marketing plan, which aimed to make Sunday rail journeys easy, fun and popular by giving people reasons to travel. The plan spanned online and offline media to reach as many local residents as possible.
Step 2: Branding the campaign
Catchy campaigns work best, so DCRP invented ‘Seize The Sunday’, a slogan that stuck in the mind and emphasised that Sundays are unique: they can be dull and slip by, or the most care-free, fun day of the week.
Step 3: Implementing the campaign
- Website: SeizeTheSunday.org was the campaign hub, with information about the extra services, journey times and fares. The site’s blog provided ideas for days out along the line, from festivals to places for brunch near stations. The site is responsive, displaying well on mobiles, tablets and desktops.
- Facebook ads: Targeted Facebook ads were shown to residents of towns and villages served by the line. The ads were tailored to each location, giving people relevant day trip ideas, fares and journey times from their nearest station. Many recipients shared the posts with friends. They were also able to ask questions beneath the posts and receive swift answers from DCRP. The ads offered excellent value. For example, one £25 ad reached nearly 5,000 people.
- Videos: Three short videos, each featuring a different day trip idea, were produced to inspire people (http://bit.ly/CRA17dci, http://bit.ly/dcii, http://bit.ly/CRA17dciii), embedded on the website and shared on social media.
- Twitter: DCRP’s @AvocetLine account raised the profile of the line and promoted the extra services. It now has more than 1,300 followers. The hashtag #SeizeTheSunday was used throughout the campaign.
- Photo competition: DCRP ran a summer photo competition, with local residents sending in photos of their trips to win a pair of First Class tickets to London, provided by GWR.
- Press: A launch photo-call and ongoing press releases secured repeat coverage in local newspapers.
- Newspaper adverts: Press releases and local newspaper adverts were used to reinforce the message.
- Banners: Eye-catching banners were displayed at stations to encourage rail users to take Sunday trips.
- Leaflets: Five station-specific door-to-door leaflets gave residents information tailored to their nearest station.
- Partnerships with local businesses: Local shops and cafes stocked Seize The Sunday postcards, and DCRP published blog posts about top independent places to shop and eat on Sundays in the area.
- Community newsletters and social media: Articles were secured in community associations and centres’ newsletters. Residents’ associations and station friends spread the word via social media.
- Local poster campaign: A4 posters were displayed on community noticeboards.
During the main campaign period (May-December 2016), Sunday journey figures on the Avocet Line jumped by 22.5% compared with the same period in 2015. This is with a 12% increase in Sunday train services. More than 16,000 extra Sunday journeys were made (88,549 up from 72,257). This is particularly impressive given that the combined population of Exeter and Exmouth is only 165,000 people. Travel across the rest of the week was also boosted, with Monday-Saturday figures up by more than 7% year-on-year. This helped make 2016 the best ever year for the Avocet Line since current records began in 2001, and 2017 saw the success continue. From January to April, Sundays were up 13% year-on-year. The rest of the week was up 7%. Most importantly, thanks to the strong performance, GWR committed to continuing the extra services throughout 2017. This shows the impact that a comprehensive, intensive and innovative marketing campaign can have.