‘We want to be Uber for trains’ says Trainline’s new marketing boss

The ticket retailer has hired its first European marketing boss as it looks to become the default train app across the continent.

Trainline has big plans for its business. It already sells tickets through its website and mobile apps in 24 different European countries, working with 48 train operators, and covering 78% of Europe’s train lines.

The company was founded in 1997 as part of Virgin Rail but spun out in 2002 as a standalone business. It has since expanded rapidly and last year acquired Captain Train in its bid to create the biggest digital rail ticket retailer in Europe.

It now wants to establish itself as the leader for train travel, becoming the default for people both booking tickets and looking to find out information.

“If it means being the default app in someone’s pocket for trains, then we’d absolutely like to emulate Uber,” says Trainline’s new European brand marketing director Lisa Bowcott.

“The key is to show consumers that there’s no better company in Europe when it comes to understanding the needs for train travel. We want our brand to make people feel instantly comfortable about getting on a train.”

Bowcott joined Trainline earlier this month as its first ever European marketing boss. She will report directly to Trainline’s chief operating officer Mark Brooker at its UK headquarters, although she is keen to describe the firm as “European” despite Brexit.

It might be seen as a difficult gig. The rail industry in the UK is rarely thought of in a favourable light by the British public. Major operators such as Southern have angered Brits due to issues over delays and reliability, while annual ticket prices rises are routinely criticised.

If it means being the default app in someone’s pocket for trains, then we’d absolutely like to emulate Uber

Lisa Bowcott, Trainline

However, Bowcott says Trainline’s position as a tech firm, not a rail firm, means it’s less encumbered by these problems.

“The important thing to remember is we are 100% independent and not a rail company. This means we are not encumbered by infrastructure controversies like train networks are,” she adds.

“We are a tech company, so our efforts are put into understanding the needs of customers so that if they do have issues with delays, we can provide them with the best information to have a good trip.”

According to Bowcott, technology runs through the DNA of the business, with tech people representing half of Trainline’s overall head office staff. Last year, its data science team launched Busy Bot, an AI assistant within Trainline’s app, which tells travellers in real-time how busy their train is. And the focus in the year ahead is to continue to launch “new, innovative features”.

Trainline sees its tech positioning as “perfect” for digital advertising, with Bowcott refusing to comment on whether there are plans for the brand to execute a more regular above-the-line strategy. Trainline has, in the past, sporadically launched TV campaigns (see above) to convey specific messages but is not consistently on TV.

Bowcott has had something of an unconventional career. She started off in roles at Procter & Gamble and BT before moving agency side to Havas and then a director of strategy role at Saatchi & Saatchi. Now back on the client side, Bowcott believes more marketers should experience both agency and client side as it will ultimately make them more well-rounded.

She advises: “I strongly believe to create a brilliant marketing strategy, you need a strong understanding of product and the commercial implications but also get how creativity fits into bringing that all to life. Experiencing both sides helps you do that.

“The biggest problem marketers face nowadays is doing too much and being able to refuse to do things. Maybe being on both sides allows you to disconnect a little and build a versatile marketing strategy that only prioritises what’s important.”