Easier, Quicker, Smarter travel

Making a success of Smart ticketing to transform how peak passengers buy tickets and commute by train

Northern Rail

Branding, Strategy, Campaign Planning & Delivery, Internal Comms 2019-2020

The Brief

To launch Smart travel and migrate all 50,000 Northern season ticket holders to Smartcards

The Strategy

Targeted support and eye-catching incentives plotted against the technology adoption curve

The Solution

Punctuating everyday journeys with reasons to believe and providing rapid renewal online

Smart ticketing is revolutionising train travel, however the buying habits of commuters are deeply ingrained and there is a certain reassurance offered by a paper ticket. Obstacles that needed to be overcome.

Our launch of Smartcards promised to solve a known pain point for peak-hour passengers. The start of the working week is historically the busiest time to renew season tickets, with almost half of renewals made on a Monday morning and facing the lottery of a queue, or not. Smartcards would replace this last-minute rush to renew with more choice and convenience for the customer, giving them back precious time and added peace of mind. And as a more durable product, Smartcards also promised to help customers glide through the gatelines and avoid the need for replacements.

Despite all this potential, moving across 50,000 people to a new platform is no mean feat. As we all know, meaningful movements are all about hearts and minds.

Market leader for Smartcards
Win back the cost of your Smart season ticket

Time to say ‘goodbye’ to paper

Working closely with ticket retailing colleagues and leveraging a network that makes 180,000 weekly journeys to 500 stations, we turned highly inventive, owned formats into regular opportunities to get more Smartcards into season ticket holders’ hands. Mediums such as tanoy announcements, ticket machine screens and promotional receipts were deployed as media channels for the first time. Coupled with an upgraded renewal experience via digital channels and rapid loading of tickets via NFC, word quickly spread amongst early adopters.

Attention then turned to the majority, who would be met with even more hands-on assistance and a whopping £500,000+ ‘win back the cost of your season ticket’ incentive.


Similar schemes and seismic changes have taken years to get off the ground. Less than six months in and Northern is proudly the leading issuer of Smart season tickets in the country. A true team effort.

Next up: pay-as-you-go (PAYG) ticketing in the mold of Transport for London’s Oyster cards.