It’s easy to be awed by the concept of Big Data. We’re inundated with stories and images of the world’s largest companies solving massive problems by decoding incomprehensible amounts of information.
But adventure parks aren’t the world’s largest companies, and they don’t have piles of data just lying around. But they have guests. And guests don’t want to be decoded, they want to be understood. Talked to. Appreciated.
So while Big Data is easy to fantasize about, it’s the smaller, simpler data points that truly matter to attractions like yours.
Turning those data points into revenue involves a handful of coordinated efforts, but we’re going to focus on four of the most important:
• data capture
• automated messaging
• manual messaging
You can’t do much with data if you don’t have any. And once you start doing good things with data, more data helps that machine run even faster. In other words, all great data-driven efforts start with great data capture.
One of the best places to start is with email addresses.
These bits of contact information are a powerfully accurate unique identifier that ties different visits and transactions together for a more complete view of a guest’s behavior. Plus, it’s contact information, so email addresses also give you a way to act on what you learn, through relevant, targeted messaging.
So how do you get the data you need? Here are three places to start.
Just Do It
It may sound obvious, but it starts with making the decision to do it. Meaning, when you gather guest information at a ticket window or an online form or contest, make sure an email address is part of the ask.
Does asking for an email address at the window take longer? Yes. Is the data perfect? No. But the value of that 15-30 seconds per guest far outweighs the costs, and a list of 75 percent accurate email addresses is infinitely better than no addresses at all.
Top Golf is a great example of this. Despite lines out the door, you cannot use its facilities without a card. And you know what’s required to get that card? Nothing more than an email address. That may not be the only reason for the company’s success, but it’s a big one.
Enhance Local Partnerships
Many attractions and parks partner with local lodging and other complementary businesses that sell the things parks are unable to. What’s typical for lodging partnerships, however, is simply a page on the park’s website, with links out to those properties. This is a huge missed opportunity, because the hotels get all the data, and an upper hand in marketing to that guest.
Instead, use a booking platform that enables you to sell that lodging right on your website, alongside your tickets. Not only will you get all the information about each of your guests, but a nice commission to boot.
Golf courses are quickly catching onto this. Courses that were built before destination golf was a thing are now surrounded by incredible lodging for the golfers who travel to play. Savvy operators are converting those partner web pages into a booking widget that lives right on their website, which drives additional revenue and data into their business.
You might be wondering what this has to do with data capture, but encouraging your guests to purchase their tickets in advance generates one of the most valuable data points you’ll ever find: a guest’s arrival date.
The time between when someone purchases an experience you’re selling and when they actually consume that experience creates an extremely powerful window of opportunity to provide a guest all the tools and information he or she needs in advance to make the most out of the visit.
Once you have contact information, transaction details, and key dates in the database, the next step is to get those pieces into an automation-based email platform.
The powerful thing about automation is also the most obvious one: once you turn it on, your work is done. And while there are dozens of clever ways to use automation to increase guest satisfaction, spend, and return rates, here are two to get you started.
Every adventure park has a pain point or two it wishes it could address. Maybe it’s waivers that delay groups’ start times, or perhaps Google Maps brings people to the wrong place. Whatever the case, building on the advance purchase point above, a pre-arrival campaign is one of the most effective ways to address all of these pain points—with very little effort.
In your email platform, create an automated email message based on a basic if/then statement:
• IF this guest’s arrival date is exactly three days in the future,
• THEN send this message to the email address in his or her profile.
A resort in Utah noticed that its first-time guests would often arrive in the wrong clothes and unsure where to park. An automated email sent three days before arrival filled with those details saw a 65 percent open rate and had an immediate, measurable effect on the preparation and satisfaction of guests.
Just like it sounds, the post-departure campaign is another automated email based on the same date, but looking backwards.
Sent 3-4 days after a guest visits your adventure park, these automated emails ask for feedback while that feedback is still fresh in guests’ minds. Set this up now and, even if you don’t have time to review the results until shoulder season, at least you’ll have something to review. This feedback will also be much more accurate than what you’d get from a survey sent months after a guest’s experience.
A four-season outdoor resort in Massachusetts takes this one step further by setting up notifications when a guest leaves a bad rating in the survey. When this happens, a staff member quickly jumps on the phone to try to make it right. This can lead to return visits that otherwise wouldn’t take place, and to positive referrals (or at least fewer negative trashings).
While automation is handy because it takes so little effort, a little effort based on the right data points can take you even further. Here are three places to start.
Segmented, Lifecycle Messaging
There are two pieces to focus on here.
The first is segmentation. That is, taking what you know about the people in your database and grouping them by shared characteristics that influence behavior. For example, a summer attraction in Oregon does nothing more than send two emails every time it has an offer to promote. One is written to parents, and includes pictures of happy, smiling kids. The other is written to everyone else, with the attraction’s typical images and text.
This simple difference drives a significant, measurable boost in the performance of those messages, from click rates all the way through to transactions.
The second key piece is to keep talking to them.
Don’t just wait until you have a slow week to throw your database a discount. Keep them up to date on news and stories and events and upgrades at your park. You’re probably already doing this on social media, so just apply that same pattern to your email lists. Start talking to them the moment they enter your database, and keep it going through your season and their lifecycle.
Very Important Guests (VIGs)
With transactional data you can also start to identify your most important guests. Maybe this is a church group that comes every summer, or that family with the second home down the road. Whatever the case, knowing where loyalty lies is the first step toward not losing it. It’s also the best way to identify ways to increase loyalty.
The same goes for guests with significant influence, whether that’s online or offline. Give these guests and groups unique opportunities and experiences they can’t wait to tell their friends and followers about.
A resort in Alberta invites a small group of loyal guests to a private day just before it opens to the public each season. Those guests feel appreciated and enjoy an exclusive experience. As a result, both loyalty and word-of-mouth marketing increase.
To be fair, this could also fall under automation, but given the more common use in manual marketing campaigns, we’ll include it here. The idea is to take individual data points and use them to dynamically make messages extremely personal and, in turn, increasingly relevant.
The example of this you’ve probably seen is an email with your name in the subject line or body. Some marketers find this cheesy, but consumers love it. Open and click rates can be significantly higher for a well-thought-out personalization campaign.
A more advanced example that some resorts in the ski industry use would be season pass emails that show pass photos, usage rates, and fun stats from the previous season right in the message. When split-tested against generic campaigns, these personalized pass promotions see many times the revenue and engagement per send.
So far we’ve talked about specific campaigns to deploy based on data, but sometimes it’s knowing how or when to deploy them that’s the real key. Once again, taking the time to analyze your data can pay huge dividends.
Look Forward, Not Back
It’s incredibly easy to fall into the trap of only looking at your performance after it’s happened. The problem, of course, is that once it’s in the books, it’s too late to do anything about it. So while your boss may want to know what last week’s numbers were, the more important stat for your efforts is next week’s.
You do this by looking forward, comparing the number of transactions that are already on the books to those that took place during this same time last year.
Some hotels and attractions are reaping huge benefits from doing this. They use services that pool their upcoming performance with that of other lodging providers in the area to see how they are pacing compared to last year, and how that compares to other properties in the area. If they’re down and nobody else is, they may shift marketing resources to bolster the lagging dates.
Weekend spikes in demand give adventure parks pricing power. And by looking forward to see when those spikes are starting, parks can adjust prices to make the most of the limited inventory they have remaining on those days.
The inverse is also true. Lower demand on midweek days, identified in advance, can be counteracted with careful pricing and products.
This has become a powerful tool for another seasonal, weather dependent industry: ski areas. On weekdays, ski areas sell date-specific, non-refundable tickets at discounted rates. The further in advance skiers buy, the bigger the discount. So, skiers get a big discount, operators get midweek revenue, and marketers have the opportunity to send pre-arrival messaging in the meantime.
It’s easy to be overwhelmed by the possibilities or process, but the beauty of data and modern technology is that you don’t have to go big to see results.
Find a good vendor to work with, begin to build your database, turn on some simple automation, start to use insights to segment your guests, and learn from the data as you go. Take small steps consistently, and before long you’ll have your data-driven marketing machine humming along nicely.
Starting small is way better than not starting at all, and you’ll end up far ahead.