IBM analytics help small zoo, museum engage visitors

Data from admissions, exhibits, merchandise sales and membership is being used to get a better handle on popularity and preferences.

IBM is helping Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium identify the most popular exhibits. (Credit: Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium)

A small zoo in Washington state and history center in Colorado are using IBM Big Data analytics solutions to analyze detailed information about ticket sales, exhibit preferences and merchandise sales. Their goal: to get a better handle on patterns that might help improve marketing and resource management.

In both cases, the technology was integrated and deployed by IBM business partner BrightStar Partners (which is part of distributor Avnet's services division). 

(Disclosure: I've been involved with the IBM enterprise customer analytics team on several educational seminars over the past four months. The case studies I'm writing about today have nothing to do with my work for that team, which involves moderating a Web seminar series.)

The first system, for the Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium in Tacoma, has already resulted in a dramatic increase in online ticket sales. The 29-acre zoo, which employs about 80 people full-time, attracts more than 600,000 visitors on an annual basis. Its analytics technology is being used to monitor and evaluate data collected at visitor exhibits and special event sites, as well as on social channels such as Facebook. That information is being used to create simpler and more targeted marketing campaigns. So far, the zoo figures this has helped improve online ticket sales by up to 700 percent.

Those insights are available to zoo employees through iPads, which can be used to view financial information, attendance statistics and retail information. In one example of how this information is being used, a recent renewal promotion was emailed to members with membership about to expire. There was a 6 percent buy-in, compared with the 3 percent buy-in that normally comes from renewal campaigns sent out via snail mail, according to information shared by IBM.

The zoo plans to move to mobile ticketing in the future, which will allow visitors to use their smartphones to "check in" at specific exhibits. This will help the staff get a better handle on popularity, as well as how long people stay in certain places, IBM said.  

The second system is for the History Colorado Center in Denver; it is linked to the rollout of new point-of-sale (POS) technology.

Previously, the museum was only able to track very high-level information, such as the number of tickets sold in a given time frame. The new software, however, has been able to dig deeper: for example, now the center knows that 40 percent of its ticket sales are typically made to families, which is actually pretty unusual for a museum of this type.

The new system provides a central view of data patterns across ticketing, the retail store and food establishments. It is also aligned with museum-related Twitter and Facebook activity.

"We asked ourselves, why is this institution important," said Kathryn Hill, COO of History Colorado, in a statement about the new solution. "And we realized History Colorado can help visitors understand the present in the context of the past and to inform decision-making for the future. We have a unique role to play in building a better Colorado, to do what we have to do to get people in the door. That's what IBM is helping us to do."