Eurostar's Marketing Chief on Putting the Star Back in the Brand

Mario Rauter discusses the process behind the new marque and how it will be communicated

Global hotel, airline and vacation rental brands are all poised for a 2023 bounce in travel. Rail companies, too, are preparing for a resurgence of train travel.

According to the 2023 Pinterest Predicts survey, pins related to train travel were up significantly from September 2020 to September 2022:

  • Inter-railing Europe aesthetic: +105%
  • Train trip aesthetic: +205%
  • Train quotes travel: +285%

Europe’s largest international high-speed rail network, Eurostar Group, has seen the data and is pivoting its marketing to take advantage as travelers begin their spring and summer trip planning.

Eurostar may be best known for operating the Chunnel (Channel Tunnel), the 31-mile underwater tunnel that connects travelers from London and Paris in two hours. Eurostar also operates routes in Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands. And following the merger with French-Belgian high-speed operator Thalys, Eurostar is launching a rebrand.

“We think we’re in a new golden age of train travel where people’s desire to travel less by plane and be more sustainable is a real boost for train travel around the world,” said Eurostar brand director Mario Rauter. “We see it in Europe quite strongly.”

At the forefront of all marketing is the star. Inspired by l’Etoile du Nord (The North Star), it is a tribute to the first Eurostar logo dating to 1994. Created by DesignStudio, the new animated spark graphic symbolizes the brand’s purpose, which is to “spark new opportunities,” connecting people, places, businesses and cultures across borders. A 2011 rebrand removed the star altogether.

One of the fleet of trains featuring the new Eurostar branding

“We live in a world where most of our communications channels are digital,” said Rauter, adding that the Eurostar and Thalys brands “were actually built for paper. And when your brand isn’t fit for your communications channels, that makes your communications less impactful,” he said. The combined board choose to retain the Eurostar name based on consumer and employee feedback.

“We’ve given the star back to Eurostar,” said Rauter.

According to Brandwatch’s Customer Experience Report 2022 data, the majority of online mentions were negative around air and rail travel due to cancellations, delays departures, strikes and passport checks. Eurostar was not immune to that negative sentiment, its data found, with only 27% of mentions being positive. The brand received 196,000 mentions last year, while Thalys only managed 16,000, indicating a happier level of service but low brand value for the former.

According to Annelie Helgelin, data analyst at Brandwatch, the negative mentions were not necessarily aimed toward the company but around missed departures, forgotten passports and the stress of travel, while the positivity highlighted the convenience and comfort of travel.

“The rebranding of Eurostar comes at a good time, after the pandemic and travel restrictions, Brexit and railway strikes across Europe. If done without causing inconvenience for travelers, the merger with Thalys will be a good move for both sides,” added Helgelin.

Where travelers are going

Expedia, the world’s biggest travel company by sales, has found its customers are seeking destinations Eurostar can easily accommodate.

“We’re seeing a surge in trips to culture capitals, a new wave of interest in wellness retreats, and a spike in demand for outdoor destinations beyond just beaches and mountains—not a new normal, but people branching out to unexpected trends in what we’re calling the ‘no-normal,'” said Jon Gieselman, president of Expedia Brands, about what its 2023 research found.

“Search volumes relating to traveling to Europe without planes are growing year on year and present an opportunity for an improved Eurostar brand to tie into longer-term travel trends like ‘slow travel’ alongside lifestyle changes such as being able to work from anywhere,” added Andy Headington, CEO of travel-focused digital agency Adido.

Measuring impact

Rauter explained that the focus on “sparking new opportunities” sends a message to both business and pleasure travelers.

Alongside the company’s sales network, which talks directly with corporate clients, a targeted communications campaign lead by PR will be the initial strategy to promote the rebrand with targeted local initiatives planned for each country in which the organization operates.

The campaign will also feature photography and artwork from local artists, with each piece of work attempting to evoke the character of their neighborhood. Also planned for later this year will be the rollout of a new website and the development of a new app that will introduce Thalys customers to the Eurostar loyalty scheme and its added benefits.

To measure the effectiveness of the new marque and the coming communications, awareness, brand recognition and sentiment will all be monitored, as will social posts across each of Eurostar Group’s markets.

A ridership goal has been set of 30 million passengers by 2030, more than double the 14.8 million combined passengers they carried last year.

Rauter is playing the long-game when considering whether the rebrand will be a success, stating that it takes “about a year” to determine its initial success. “It takes time for it to embed with people for it to be remembered as something new that you want to stand for,” he said.

According to Brandwatch’s Helgelin, post-rebrand, some travelers have “expressed excitement” around the return of the star.

“There is also a desire to travel more environmentally friendly, and more consumers are looking to travel across Europe by train. Merging the two large rail companies will improve accessibility for many. However, just a rebranding is not enough to gain happy and loyal customers. The company needs to prove that they are an efficient and reliable alternative,” she added.

“If managed in the right way, the brand can capture not only the growing trend in bookings but also a new, more conscience audience,” Adido’s Headington told Adweek.

Rauter adds that while the brand is strong in France and across Europe, “there is still work to be done,” which the new identity will aim to strengthen.

Offering his advice to other marketers leading a rebranding exercise, Rauter said: “Never be afraid of the history and listen to your staff. Staff are very passionate about the companies that they work in. And staff have very personal memories and relationships with brands and often, you find insight just talking to employees that you wouldn’t get in a focus group. We found some real pearls there.”

One of the posters featuring new artwork for the Eurostar rebrand