Metro Trains Melbourne's first executive-level marketer sets sights on digital experience transformation

Former Swinburne University marketing leader talks to CMO about the brand and customer opportunities and challenges ahead for the Victorian Government's train operator

Sarah Graham
Sarah Graham

The move to tailored, digital experiences for customers and passenger education are key priorities for Metro Trains Melbourne’s first executive-level brand and marketing leader as she officially takes up her new role.

Sarah Graham was appointed general manager of brand and marketing at Metro Trains Melbourne (MTM) in September. Her appointment to the newly created role follows a five-year stint at Swinburne University, where she oversaw a digital marketing transformation that evolved into a whole-of-organisation experience change program.

About half-way through her tenure, Graham’s remit expanded from domestic student acquisition to also include international students and pre-arrival engagement. Swinburne is now working to take these digital marketing and experience transformation learnings through the whole student experience lifecycle.

“After a very big piece of transformation work, which evolved from marketing organisation experience transformation to an organisational level, I could see the end of the road as we were coming out the other side,” Graham told CMO. “So I was looking for the next professional challenge.”  

Graham said realisation dawned when her team was able to demonstrate personalisation of content at scale in a completely automated way and in real-time. Swinburne has since undertaken several campaigns using that capability.

Read more: How Swinburne Uni’s CMO is orchestrating a digital marketing transformation

7 lessons in build scalable digital marketing foundations from Swinburne Uni

“The team managing took off in leaps and bounds, outstripping my expectations. It’s wonderful to see people grow and take that on. And they owned it. It wasn’t all about what I was thinking, but what they were conceptualising and doing,” she commented. “It became so embedded in the business and the way of operating, the value had outstripped my imagination.”

Swinburne has yet to confirm if it will directly replace Graham or restructure the CMO position.

Graham has now gained herself another digital capability transformation role, this time at MTM, the franchise train operator for the Transport of Victoria. She said was keen to test her skillset’s transferability in a different organisation and industry context, as well as take on a fresh digital transformation initiative.  

Digital experience transformation

Just one month in, Graham cited lots of capability and an appetite across the organisation for change. The newly created role brings brand and marketing function to a more senior level of the organisation, another signal of the appetite for people wanting to transform, she said.

“The big opportunity is the move to digital experience for customers,” she explained. “My job as the franchisee is to put that vision into practice and make it happen, to realise it.”

A key priority is the journey to change the mindset, both in terms of passengers and people. “I have a brand and marketing remit to build that brand on behalf of Victorian Government, and built equity in the brand,” Graham continued. “We have to do a strong job of articulating why and what Metro means to passengers and the people of Victoria. That requires us to be very clear about our value proposition. It’s work that’s evolving.”

For Graham, an emergent skill base is required to bring a legacy business on the transformation journey, utilising digital capabilities. And like any transformation piece, MTM has its challenges.

“We’re still using a lot of paper, from timetables to posters, handouts, and I’m sure that’s the most effective way to communicate with the customer,” she said.  

The marketing emphasis, meanwhile, is on passenger education and experience. This includes encouraging passengers on appropriate behaviour around and on trains to cope with exponential growth in load and demand on the system. What’s more, with Victoria in the process of a massive infrastructure build, there’s plenty of education to be done as services are disrupted and then transformed.

“Today there is disruption, and challenges with load and demand. We have to manage communications within that environment,” Graham said. “People do understand what we are doing and are excited by it. But we have to continue the narrative to make sure they understand how it will help them longer term. It’s a fascinating to be involved with this - there’s exciting growth and potential of offer in the future.”  

In addition, given the diversity of community in Victoria, Graham spied an opportunity to segment messaging to appropriate parts of the community. Digital will allow more target conversation to occur with particular groups and segments.

In fact, Graham’s first campaign on behaviour targeted at the commuter segment sees MTM using digital platform almost exclusively to address commuters commonly on their phones while in transit.

“There’s an emergent capability here, but a lot of money still being spent on print, and there’s opportunity to redirect some of that print effort into other forms of media,” she said. “Yes there’s an appetite for change, and as we are able to report more effectively on effectiveness of particular campaigns, the appetite will grow to utilise digital information combined with survey information.”

Graham noted MTM’s significant capacity to survey passengers and the wealth of feedback it receives regularly from customers as strong assets. “We can harness that to have an ongoing conversation with them around particular aspects of what we are trying to do, and also measuring recall to firstly understand the level of impact we’re having,” she said.

And on the staffing front, Graham highlighted good resources in place but the need to delve into how teams are spending their time, along with the media and channels MTM uses to get its messages across.

In addition to the B2C work, Graham also has a corporate brand job bringing MTM’s skills and capability to the Government. “There’s a brand piece for us around being clear on what we are bringing to that, and how we are being effective as the government’s partner,” she said.  

Graham reports to executive director of corporate affairs, and noted the strong emphasis on media and public PR given the visibility of MTM’s services.

“There is a very strong skills base in that area here. My role is not immediately connected to dealing with media, but the good part is I can leverage all that for content,” she said.  

MTM also recently brought on more people in stakeholder management, which Graham saw as another asset in building the brand.

“There are dynamic, enthusiastic people… it’s invigorating to be in an environment where people are enthusiastic to go on a range of journeys and offer their skills and capability to do that,” she added.  

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