Eurostar is a brand on the cusp of a significant marketing push. “We have got a big brand job to do next year,” says director of marketing and sales Emma Harris, referring to a planned shift of focus towards connecting passengers to European destinations further afield than Paris and Brussels.
What role online advertising plays in that activity remains to be seen. For Eurostar, digital spend is focused primarily on delivering return on investment, with click-throughs and conversions monitored closely. Brand building is left mostly to offline media, Harris says.
Head of marketing Claire Hutchinson, who reports to Harris at Eurostar, adds that using internet display formats for brand advertising is a difficult strategy to execute when the target audience is focused on particular interests and not easily distracted. Reaching these people means attracting their attention for enough time to elicit some kind of emotional response.
“It is hard to do that online with an audience like ours, which is very smart and engaged but also very busy,” says Hutchinson. But, she adds, youth brands might have more success in this endeavour, as their audience is broadly more receptive to marketing messages online.
Between 2007 and 2010, Eurostar increased the proportion of ad spend going into digital channels from 7% to 40%. According to Harris, Eurostar’s digital activity has two focuses. The first is targeting its principal audience, which is identified as “urban” and “intelligent”. The second is reaching areas of the internet where users are likely to be interested in travel.
“By focusing on those two core areas we get a really healthy ROI online,” she says. Hutchinson puts return on investment at about 50-1, and 180-1 for pay-per-click advertising.
Harris continues: “What is great about online is that you can change your messaging. You can test and change and see what is returning. That is why we find it so powerful, and over the past three years we have shifted more and more of our spend overall from offline to online.”
This does not necessarily mean that Eurostar takes the role of online display advertising for granted. There is still plenty of scope for experimentation with formats and techniques, says Harris. “We want to find ways to use it more creatively. We think there is a lot more depth to it.”
As an example, Harris cites activity surrounding the brand’s Tri-City-Athlon event, organised as part of its sponsorship of the London 2012 Olympics. “We used online ads in specific areas to get people to visit the triathlon microsite.”
With crucial work to be done in the coming year and a marketing budget that Harris says is “pretty reflective” of this year’s, Eurostar has a need to establish a brand message while the long-term trend towards greater online activity continues.
Like many other brands, it has the task of either justifying more above-the-line activity or finding ways to achieve brand awareness online.
Hutchinson notes: “That is quite an interesting challenge for marketing people, particularly with TV consumption changing and media consumption changing. How do you do the big messaging piece and then convert down the line?”