It is amazing how zoos around the world are using the new Pokemon Go app to appeal to their customers. Offering discounts and attracting the general public to come to their facility is a strategic marketing move. However, the entire idea of an app that gets people outside in an engaging and social culture is actually a lost opportunity for our entire industry.
It was the week of May 11th, or maybe the 18th, of 2015. I just finished the first year of my Professional Science Masters in Zoo, Aquarium and Animal Shelter Management at Colorado State University. I was anxious about preparing for a summer long research study at Pueblo Zoo, that would one day completely change the way I looked at the animal mind.
The graduating students in my program all gathered at campus on a mission to start a consulting company for zoos, aquariums, and animal shelters (inspired by what we learned in school). This was an initial attempt at ARRC Consulting-and the biggest lesson we learned from it was to embrace failure.
We wanted to start our company off with something big, something innovative, to help better the visitor experience at zoos. Taking on a white board, we drew mind maps and spiderwebs of ideas, highlighted the key points, goals and objectives, and started to find the intersection that sparks innovation.
Our first objective was to get visitors more engaged and better informed from their experience at a zoo. As millennials, the only fact that can be validated about our generation is that we were the last to play in the woods and the first to adapt to the digital age. So, we focused on using that to aid our ideas.
We knew that visitors were frequently on their cell phones, documenting their experience through Snapchat, Faceboook posts, Tweets, and for some looking up information on Google. This also indicated the death of signage. Although some visitors may take the time to read the information on signs (mostly the parents and grandparents), no one can argue that it is much more convenient to search on Google while your phone is already in your hands taking pictures (or at least that is the way the digital revolution has transformed our behavior).
We decided to address these issues by creating an interactive app that all zoos could use. Now, most zoos already have apps, but they are not very engaging. We wanted to create an app that would use GPS information to track visitor locations around the zoo. This would not only help guests navigate, but by using specific locations to provide information. For example, the menu at a restaurant, wait times for an attraction, and most importantly where the animals were.
As we brainstormed, we developed the idea that we could use bar codes and/or GPS beacons for visitors to "collect" information on the animals at their exhibit. This would not only engage the guests at the exhibit, but allow for a better educational experiences. For example, the visitor comes up to a tiger exhibit and can browse facts and conservation information about the animal (and more information that would generally be available on a sign). The tiger page would also encourage action by giving guests direction on where to donate or how to get more involved. And finally, the tiger exhibit would be added to the visitor's "collection".
As incentive for traveling around the zoo and collecting more animals, the number of animals "collected" during a visit would add up to visitor rewards. For example, if you collect 25% of the animals you get a free drink, 50% a free meal, and 100% a free trip to the zoo. This may seem too easy, but don't forget the tedious work in collecting animal species at the reptile house, insectarium, green house, and aquarium. In the end, such an app would result in more time spent at each enclosure and the zoo as a whole.
Our first version of the company and the app fell through. A year later ARRCC was successful founded and the nation was taken over by Pokemon Go. Almost the exact same concept has achieved our goals out in the real world, rather than in a conservation setting. People are interacting outside, walking around, spending nights hunting Pokemon in local parks. They are outside, they are in nature, (still on their cellphones) and they are enjoying life as a community.
The reason for this blog is not to claim fame for an idea. A matter of fact I will begin to share more of our innovative ideas on our blogs over time. See, the point of this blog is to demonstrate that an entire industry missed a very profitable and beneficial opportunity.
Whether your organization is limited by funding or time, these are no longer excuses for industries that are responsible for the livelihood of our planet. We must get together, we must brain storm, and we must innovate.
Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge is a big cat sanctuary located in Eureka Springs, Arkansas. Turpentine is really taking the industry by storm, not only in their welfare, enclosure designs, and education, but by their innovative thinking. The sanctuary has been participating in the most important area of running a business; listening to the world around them. They have taken down their signs and replaced them with GPS beacons. This allows guests to use their cell phones at each individual cat's enclosure and learn about the animal's history. Guests can now use their own cell phone around the 450 acre property as a real life PokeDex!
Despite the similarities between our proposed mobile zoo app and Pokemon Go, I encourage the industry to use this idea's platform. In conservation, we want to make people care more about the environment. However, the digital revolution has solidified the need to incorporate technology into our approach to make the general public better appreciate our planet.
We cannot force people to do anything, so don't force your guests off their cell phones. Encourage it. Use it to your advantage and give your customers what they want while still promoting your organization's mission. This is what will create an attractive and trustworthy business.