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Capacity Management Media

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Many train operating companies are able to rely on a steady stream of commuters flocking to and from the big cities on a daily basis. East Coast Mainline (ECML), a relatively new and government-managed operator, does not enjoy this guaranteed custom. It must do battle against other long-distance rail operators and titans of the domestic aviation world, like British Airways, Virgin and easyJet, while also attempting to coax thousands of car-owners from their vehicles. 

Filling up the Friday evening train from London to Edinburgh is no trouble. However it is much more difficult to sell seats on an early afternoon service in the middle of the week in January. Yet some 95% of ECML’s revenue derives from infrequent, discretionary trips by irregular customers (both business and leisure), meaning the brand is dependent on selling those seats. 

Havas Media's challenge was to fill these seats without relying on discounted prices, and to do so at a media cost that was no higher than 5% of revenue earned. 


Havas had already advised ECML to move from its traditional ‘burst’ marketing strategy, aimed at stimulating demand during periods where sales were expected to be lowest, to an ‘always on’ approach, which would achieve a constant level of awareness throughout the year and allow them to react to market changes as they occurred. To help the brand achieve this, the agency devised a new system by which ECML could deliver a capacity management solution in real-time.


Havas' innovation was creating an open exchange between a number of different technology platforms to develop dynamic creative based on routes and travel dates with the highest capacity, building up a segmented prospect pool online and develop data rules from its attribution system that drove its programmatic buying to drive more sales at lower prices. Havas achieved this via the following steps: 

- Developed dynamic creative through Flashtalking that linked directly to the ECML booking engine to pull in the lowest available ticket prices, and which prioritised routes with the highest real-time capacity. These variables populated a creative template which relayed all this information simply to users in relevant geographical areas, whilst allowing multi-variant testing in banner to optimise the display. 

- Tagged the ECML website with audience tracking pixels by AudienceScience to segment the audience by business and leisure and by route to build out the prospects pool across the web. 

- Set up an attribution solution in Artemis to optimise by audience segment and channel. 

- Set up these data rules in the programmatic buying platform to ensure that the right price is paid for media based on the correct data to drive marketing costs down, and ticket sales up.


In just six months, Havas drove an additional £5.4m ($9m) in revenue, improving the already-low C%R by 17%, and beating the target by 68%. ECML’s revenues rose 62% year-on-year, with only 34% incremental budget. Web traffic was up by 115%.

The happy client put it best: “We’re already seeing huge success off the back of this dynamic approach, and have beaten our already-impressive C%R benchmark. It’s great that as a train operator, in what is seen as an industry behind the times, we’re leading the way with our digital activity. This approach allows us the flexibility to react to opportunities and business demands almost instantly - something we’ve never been able to do before. We can now be highly targeted and relevant with our display and much more transparent, giving our customers an even better East Coast experience.” George Shuttlewood, Leisure Marketing Manager.

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East Coast Mainline
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