The director of marketing for the Oklahoma City Zoo shares strategies for reimagining live experiences

It’s no surprise that live family entertainment took a hit when the COVID-19 pandemic began. March Madness became known as March Sadness and indoor events such as concerts, theater and movies were virtually non-existent, while outdoor events and sports had to focus on finding ways to be safe but relevant for consumers trapped at home. As we emerge from the pandemic, the return of live entertainment has been something to watch and digital customers’ experience of attractions is more important than ever.

I had the opportunity to sit down and speak with Greg Heno, Director of Marketing for the Oklahoma City Zoo about their unique approach to innovation.

Jeff Froome:

How did the Oklahoma City Zoo innovate during the COVID-19 pandemic?

Greg Hino:

The pandemic forced us to close on Friday, March 13, 2020, which was the start of spring break and our busiest week of the year. Revenue from spring attendance is critical to the care of the more than 1,100 animals at the Oklahoma City Zoo. For us, the stress of the pandemic has sparked a lot of discussions and new ideas for generating money while connecting people to wildlife in a safer way. One idea was to create daily videos featuring wildlife and its caretakers on Facebook and YouTube. This series is called OKCZOO @ 2, It premieres daily at 2:00 p.m., featuring an up-close look at wildlife, behind-the-scenes tours and even some game shows. Another innovative idea was the launch of sip and walkAnd the An evening event series exclusively for adults 21 and up. While bars and restaurants remain closed, guests can enjoy conservation-themed food and drinks and see wildlife outdoors at the zoo. These kinds of innovative ideas have helped us reach new, younger audiences and encourage us to take more risks.

How has OKC Zoo attracted young guests in the past few years?

Hino:

Connecting with millennials and Generation Z presents a serious challenge to cultural institutions. Although it is easy to reach younger demographics through targeted ads on social media, it is difficult to communicate with this group and engage with it honestly. Zoos have two advantages that other cultural institutions do not have. First, we provide the interactive, multisensory, and immersive experience that millennials want. Second, millennials and Generation Z are beginning to see sustainability as a requirement in all of their endeavours. The Oklahoma City Zoo and hundreds of other accredited zoos and aquariums are not only advocates for wildlife conservation and sustainability, but we show that commitment in the experience we provide. By creating new immersive experiences, deeply rooted in sustainability and conservation, we can engage Millennials and Generation Z.

Frome:

How has OKC Zoo positioned itself as an agent of sustainability?

Hino:

The Oklahoma City Zoo has the opportunity to demonstrate sustainability at every touch point for more than one million guests annually. We are constantly evaluating and modifying the guest experience to make an impact on the environment and our guests. Our visitors’ maps are transformed from paper to downloadable files or images. Our vending machines sell water in aluminum cans, not plastic. All straws, plates and utensils are made of compostable materials. New buildings being constructed are LED certified. Single-use plastics are discarded from our gift shops and restaurants. Even the green spaces in our parking lot are being converted into pollen gardens of native species. Our goal is for guests to discover and adopt these sustainability measures when they leave the zoo. Everyone remembers their visit to the zoo, so now we want our visitors to be inspired and take action.

In my book, The Purpose Advantage 2.0, I look at the topics of sustainability, innovation, and purpose in detail. In today’s era of rapid change, brand activism trumps brand communication, OKC Zoo’s brand actions are an essential and visible way for brands to think about achieving sustainability in life.

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