Georgia Aquarium Boosts Customer Engagement

By Samuel Greengard Print this article Print
Customer Engagement

The largest aquarium in the Western Hemisphere turns to a more sophisticated marketing strategy to improve the customer experience for its millions of visitors.

Maximizing revenue is a goal for every organization. But for a popular public venue that attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors each year, the stakes are enormous. It's essential to build effective marketing campaigns, map the customer experience and stay in close touch with visitors.

In the past, the Georgia Aquarium, which houses more than 100,000 animals and attracts upward of two million visitors annually, used basic email blasts to send out a newsletter twice a month. But click-through rates were lagging, and the ability to target recipients was extremely limited.

"We recognized the need to focus more effectively on the entire customer lifecycle," explains Rosie Judd, director of digital media for the facility. "We wanted to increase conversions and revenue generated by our email campaigns."

As a result, the aquarium turned to IBM Commerce to help it make a bigger splash. The three-person marketing team plugged the software into an existing IBM Silverpop Engage cloud platform to build a far more robust and flexible engagement framework.

Building Customer Personas

Since the platform went live about two years ago, the aquarium has dived into digital communication. The tools allow it to build customer personas, map customer experiences, and send different emails and marketing messages to different groups of customers, based on factors that are important to them.

The Georgia Aquarium identified four primary personas. They are ticket purchasers and event attendees who are not aquarium members, members and pass holders, a group that belongs to the Oceans Society and donors.

Once the marketing group combined the customer personas with its goals and created a grid, it was possible to build pre-visit and post-visit email campaigns using personalized, automated programs tailored to each visitor's interests and experience at the aquarium. Over the course of a couple of years testing and perfecting the methods, the group developed 75 different queries and messages that are based on the various data points.

For example, the marketing group identified a pre-visit touch point for nonmembers who purchase tickets. It involves sending directions, parking instructions and a list of things to do while visiting the aquarium. The messaging also mentions special programs—such as behind-the-scenes tours and animal encounters—that are available to members. "We are able to raise awareness and also up-sell using this approach," Judd says.

The aquarium fashioned similar campaigns for other personas. "By integrating our donor database with Salesforce and Silverpop Engage, we have gained insights and messaging capabilities that were not possible in the past," he adds.

Judd reports that the results have been impressive. The initiative has helped the Georgia Aquarium push email open rates to above 60 percent, while boosting revenue from email by more than 30 percent.

The marketing team is now working with the sales and development staff to further integrate lifecycles across the different customer groups by plugging in purchase insights, milestones, visit history and behavior, Web visits and mobile app experiences. It also is developing an automated member renewal program with targeted messaging.

"Our goal has always been to work smarter, not harder," Judd says. "This approach makes us far more strategic."

This article was originally published on 2015-06-25
Samuel Greengard writes about business and technology for Baseline, CIO Insight and other publications. His most recent book is The Internet of Things (MIT Press, 2015).
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