The role of marketing executive at a zoo is not all about cute baby animals: Using marketing dollars to promote wildlife conversation while keeping a commercial focus can be tricky. Zoos are dependent on financial support from visitors for their long-term survival, which makes it imperative for management to understand what motivates and inspires the public to visit.
Ben Hutton, head of marketing and communications at New Zealand’s Auckland Zoo, said it’s important to be conscious of the tension among a zoo’s various objectives. Zoos are invariably a valuable and respected wildlife conservation organisation, as well as an entity that must maintain a commercially sustainable financial base.
“They don’t need to be mutually exclusive, though,” Hutton told CMO.com. “Finding that middle ground is a daily focus.”
According to a 2014 report commissioned for the National Zoological Gardens of South Africa, to attract and satisfy visitors, marketers need to understand and internalise visitors’ needs. Determining the motives for visiting the zoo–whether recreational or educational, for personal or family enjoyment–enables zoos to develop persuasive communication campaigns and to structure entertainment accordingly.
The report’s findings reveal that the main motivation for visiting the National Zoological Gardens of South Africa was “altruistic recreation.” This understanding of why people visit the zoo has helped guide marketing activities to attract visitors and to satisfy their needs, the report explained.
‘Do Good’—And Draw Visitors
At Wildlife Reserves Singapore, the “do-good” aspect of marketing is front of mind when planning commercial activities that generate revenue. Chief marketing officer Isabel Cheng Siaw Fong told CMO.com it is her job to juggle these two considerations.
“It is a constant challenge because we will have to ensure that most, if not all, activities or promotions incorporate some wildlife conservation or education component,” Fong said. “This usually adds to the cost, but, at the same time, the activity or promotion has to be financially viable and profitable.”
Fong said the park employs an integrated marketing strategy to position it as a place for family bonding. “We focus on ‘edutainment’ to coincide with the shift in parents’ preference for education-based entertainment,” she explained. “For example, Singapore Zoo’s December campaign ‘Zoo Hoo! Wildlife Warriors’ featured fun and educational activities, such as games, arts-and-craft stations, and an interactive play and storytelling experience. Children who took on the Wildlife Warrior Trail learned ways to protect and save threatened animal species.”
On The Tourist Track
Promoting the zoo to domestic visitors as well as tourists is also important. Fong said the team works closely with inbound travel agents to package the park into visitors’ itineraries. “We use in-market digital advertising to influence visitors at the decision-making stage,” Fong said.
Once visitors have arrived in Singapore, the goal is to provide a seamless journey and positive experience right from the point of buying tickets.
“We recently partnered with a travel agent to start a ‘Safari Gate.’ This is basically a concept where we ensure that the wildlife experience starts for the visitor from the point of buying a zoo ticket in town,” Fong said. “We decorated two shop outlets owned by the travel agent so visitors who go to those outlets feel they are already stepping into the forest. The wildlife journey continues when they step into a ‘Safari Gate’ bus, which is decked out with animals and a jungle theme, as well as a special welcome video.”
Perks Of The Job
A love of animals and the opportunity to champion the cause of wildlife conversation underpins a zoo marketing role; it’s a unique combination that comes with unusual perks.
“You are the first to get the news pertaining to the wildlife that’s in our care, whether it’s a newborn lion cub or an interesting snippet of an incident involving a particular animal,” Fong explained. “We have had a number of births, and we get a chance to go back-of-house to have a peek. It is an experience that money cannot buy.”
Auckland Zoo’s Hutton agreed: “From a professional perspective, the content I’m working with is the envy of most–such creative possibilities. Personally, I love seeing the looks on kids’ faces when they happen across Burma, our Asian elephant, or our cheetah, or even our kunekune pigs on their daily walks around the zoo. You know those instances of wildlife connection will stay with them for a long time.”
Fong noted that the Singapore Zoo boasts the world’s first free-ranging orangutan facility, where visitors get to see orangutans up in the trees, just above them, in designated areas.
“There are no cages, and the whole experience is very natural or even better, as you get to see the orangutans even closer than you would in the rainforest,” she said.