Episode 15 – Interview with Tracy Lott from Zoo Atlanta

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Episode 15 – Interview with Tracy Lott from Zoo Atlanta

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Adam: [00:00:01] Hey today I’m here with Tracy Lott, Vice President of Marketing at Zoo Atlanta and we’re gonna talk about some of the fun initiatives that they have going at the Zoo. Hey Tracy!

 

Tracy: [00:00:10] Hello, how are you?

 

Adam: [00:00:11] I’m great- thanks for joining me.

 

Tracy: [00:00:13] Well thanks for having me.

 

Adam: [00:00:14] This will be fun. So we were talking before we recorded here…tell me about kind of the new initiative that you’re taking with the Zoo. I want to hear about it and then maybe I’ll follow up later in an episode and we can hear how successful it was.

 

Tracy: [00:00:26] Absolutely. Absolutely. Well, I know we’re going to kind of dig into digital marketing and how important it is from a non-profit marketing perspective and we’ve definitely seen a shift in terms of our marketing dollars towards digital and so we are actually taking on a new initiative this Fall. Traditionally we’ve had a direct mail campaign that happens twice a year with the goal of bringing in new members- so a member acquisition campaign. It’s been primarily direct mail based although we do do some paid social in there and we do have elements of e-mail to some of our lapse members and things like that.

 

Adam: [00:01:10] Right.

 

Tracy: [00:01:11] But we actually, this time around this Fall are going to be taking it all digital.

 

Adam: [00:01:17] Nice!

 

Tracy: [00:01:18] Really exciting, a little scary at the same time because we haven’t done it. We are shifting our dollars from direct mail over to digital. We’re going to be doing a mix of paid search, which we haven’t done before in any of our marketing outside of our Google AdWord Grant, so we’re implementing some paid search tactics in there- social, paid social. We’re going to also implement some email marketing on our part. So using our existing lists that we have of lapsed members and then we’re also going to be doing some display ads.

 

Adam: [00:01:55] Awesome!

 

Tracy: [00:01:56] We’re really excited about this because it can be highly targeted. We know who our members are. We know who’s likely to become a member. So we’re going to be doing some look alike targeting through the display ads, which I’m really excited about and also through Facebook. So we’ll be interested to see how this all pans out.

 

Adam: [00:02:19] Man this is great so, I’d love to hear a few specifics about just a couple of these. So, you mentioned you’re going beyond Google Grants. So, is that beyond like Adwords? Is that the first step there?

 

Tracy: [00:02:31] So yes, so we’re taking it beyond Adwords. Love having the Adwords Grant.

 

Adam: [00:02:39] It’s a great start.

 

Tracy: [00:02:39] …As a nonprofit it’s a good start but we find at some points in time it can be a little limiting because you can only bid so high so this will allow us to bid a little bit higher. We’ll probably turn off…we will be turning off that Adwords campaign at that point in time but we’ve got a good list of keywords that we’re going to be using in the paid search and then we’ll be able to monitor it on a daily weekly basis…

 

Adam: [00:03:09] Scale it up, scale it down.

 

Tracy: [00:03:09] Yeah exactly. Make changes as need be, which is what’s really exciting about this.

 

Adam: [00:03:14] Yeah.

 

Tracy: [00:03:14] The direct mail campaign you just kind of send it out and cross your fingers.

 

Adam: [00:03:17] You don’t know what’s going to happen.

 

Tracy: [00:03:18] Exactly and the same thing holds true for the display ads that we’re doing. We’re going to be doing some AB testing with different creative and just see if one resonates more than the other.So we’ll be able to do that. It’s about a two and a half month campaign. So we’ll be able to shift things as needed and it will give us enough time to see what’s working and what’s not working.

 

Adam: [00:03:41] Right. So, on social- you mentioned social ads, I assume Facebook primarily. Are you going to go Instagram or..?

 

Tracy: [00:03:50] Facebook primarily although there may be some in Instagram as part of that.

 

Adam: [00:03:54] As a part of Facebook?

 

Tracy: [00:03:56] Yeah absolutely.

 

Adam: [00:03:56] But not specific for Instagram necessarily.

 

Tracy: [00:03:58] Right.

 

Adam: [00:03:58] And Twitter are you going to spend any time on Twitter?

 

Tracy: [00:04:00] No.

 

Adam: [00:04:00] No I didn’t think so. I already knew the answer to that. I just had to ask.

 

Tracy: [00:04:04] Yeah it’s going to be predominantly Facebook when it comes to the social.

 

Adam: [00:04:08] So, you mentioned Facebook and doing lookalike ads and some of our listeners may not be aware of what lookalike ads are, so why don’t you give me a snapshot description of that.

 

Tracy: [00:04:18]So we of course, with the vendor that we’re working with have an NDA with them. So we provided them with some of our member data. They’re not using it for anything else other than to look at our members where they live… We have a lot of member data just based on surveys that we’ve done so we’ve provided them with that so they know the general age, likes, dislikes, all that good stuff. So, they are going to be targeting based on that.

 

Adam: [00:05:05] I love that. Top 50 zip codes. What surprises are there…is there like an outlier like in Alabama or something that’s in the top 50 or is it just all metro-Atlanta.

 

Tracy: [00:05:18] It’s all metro-Atlanta. We definitely have certain pockets where we have more members for us. Definitely the Decatur area just because of proximity to the Zoo. Grant Park of course but then also in the northern suburbs when you kind of look at the [00:05:38] corridor [0.9] between four hundred and seventy five that’s we’re pulling a lot of members outside of the perimeter. We do really well inside the perimeter.

 

Adam: [00:05:48] Sounds like you need to get more Gwinnett people down here. I’m a representative but we need more Gwinnett people.

 

Tracy: [00:05:55] Exactly.

 

Adam: [00:05:55] OK that’s good. We’re big fans so we try to draw people in for you. It’s good place to hang out.

 

Tracy: [00:06:01] We appreciate that.

 

Adam: [00:06:03] OK so you’re doing Adwords, you’re doing social. What else did you.

 

Tracy: [00:06:11] We’re doing just General Display and then e-mail and this kind of goes back and forth because I know one of the things that we may touch on, are some things that haven’t worked in the past. We’ve done email campaigns specifically with the purpose of acquiring new members or with the goal of acquiring new members, that haven’t worked too well, where we’re purchasing lists and doing the look alike targeting and that sort of thing with email. What we’ve found works best is, depending on our own list that we have, our own e-mail list of members who maybe were members in the past that haven’t renewed in the last year, that’s where we found e-mail to be most effective. So throughout this campaign we’ll be sending e-mails to those groups specifically.

 

Adam: [00:06:57] I think in my experience at least, the only thing that at least in my opinion, the purchasing lists is really good for- a list of emails in particular, is to use those e-mails to then target on Facebook but not to actually e-mail them directly because more unwanted e-mail that you didn’t sign up for is just something that I mean you’re just not going to get any good response from it. But for targeting on Facebook it’s great. You know you can buy a list, you can target on Facebook all the way. It’s amazing.

 

Tracy: [00:07:22] Yeah. So that’s one of the other tactics that we’re going to be using.

 

Adam: [00:07:25] Wow. That sounds fantastic. Now, when you start all this?

 

Tracy: [00:07:29] So this will start… It all starts the 21st of August.

 

Adam: [00:07:33] Oh, it’s almost time. OK that’s great..

 

Tracy: [00:07:34] We will see how it goes it runs through… It’s in line with the time frame that we’ve typically done our direct mail, so we’ll definitely be able to compare it to that since it’s covering off on the same time frame. And it will wrap up at the end of October so it gets us through Boo at the Zoo.

 

Adam: [00:07:51] Oh yeah, love Boo at the Zoo.

 

Tracy: [00:07:51] ..Which is a really big event here at the Zoo and a reason to become a member.

 

Adam: [00:07:56] So this is a great project that you’re working on. Do any projects come to mind, or marketing initiatives come to mind that you have worked on and have been really successful?

 

Tracy: [00:08:08] As it relates to digital marketing, something that we did this Spring during our peak season, so most of our media, while we have media throughout the year we really heavy up during the peak time of the year which is basically April through the end of October. So, we ramp up in the spring so during the ramp up period we did some native advertising which we’ve done in the past. However we didn’t do it in the way that we did in this Spring, which was to put the content on our own website and have it pushed out through other websites and we saw some good results in terms of conversions. People purchasing tickets, people purchasing memberships from it. We were able to follow them through the purchase, which was great. We saw a lot of referrals coming to our website. It was wonderful to see people were staying on our website. So, we deem that a success. I think the trick with that is, we really had to think through the content that we’re putting out there and making sure that it was the right content.

 

Adam: [00:09:14] So what content was successful? Do you have an example?

 

Tracy: [00:09:17] We had about five blog posts that we put out throughout the duration of this flight. And it was staggered by far. I mean the main focus of this year for us. We have two main focus. One of them was the opening of a new attraction that we have- Tree Top Trail which is a great experience.

 

Adam: [00:09:39] My kids love that.

 

Tracy: [00:09:39] I was gonna say if someone out there hasn’t done it I highly encourage you to do it, it’s so much fun.

 

Adam: [00:09:44] I’ve got to brag on that. I’ll tell you later if I remember.

 

Tracy: [00:09:48] It’s a fun experience. We wanted to focus on that because that opened up this past Spring It opened up in March and then we also have twin panda cubs right now.

 

Adam: [00:09:58] Yeah. My kids love those too.

 

Tracy: [00:09:58] We are one of four Zoos in the U.S. that have pandas, giant pandas and we are the only Zoo in the U.S. that has twin giant pandas. So, it really makes us unique. So we wanted to focus on that. So one of the blogs of course was around our giant panda cubs and letting people know about them, their personalities and that sort of thing. And the other things that we really focused in on were the great experiences- once in a lifetime experiences that you could have here at the Zoo. Not a lot of people know about our Wild Encounter Experiences- you’re just feeding things, feeding our African elephants..

 

Adam: [00:10:39] My family did that with the orangutans. That was amazing, so crazy.

 

Tracy: [00:10:43] Yeah. So, focusing on Wild Encounters, giraffe feedings, things that you wouldn’t have the opportunity to do anywhere else. We like to focus on that. So we had a blog about that and then we had our blog about the fun things to do here at the Zoo for kids so that’s where we really were able to highlight Tree Top Trail, Splash Fountain, some of the other fun things that we have to do at the Zoo.

 

Adam: [00:11:09] The Train.

 

Tracy: [00:11:09] Exactly – Train Carousel all that stuff. So, we really saw some… and probably those three were the the top three blogs that we had that were really you know people were most engaged with. We also had things, we had blogs about conservation efforts which is extremely important and it’s our mission here at the Zoo. It’s just we didn’t get as much traction on some of the conservation…

 

Adam: [00:11:46] Doesn’t have mass appeal. So what I’m hearing you say, I just want to make sure I got it, is that you created valuable interesting pieces of content related to what’s going on with the Zoo and you created it on your website and then you basically promoted and advertised it to draw traffic back into your website?

 

Tracy: [00:12:02] Correct. We used an outside vendor to do this. They were placing it in Yahoo. Basically the sponsored content that you sometimes see. It was also on Facebook and things like that. So yeah but again it drove conversions, drove people to our website. So we consider that a success.

 

Adam: [00:12:23] That’s amazing. Yeah I love that. So I asked this next question hesitantly and you can tell me no, but are there any initiatives that you’ve done that weren’t so successful that you’d like to share?

 

Tracy: [00:12:36] Absolutely. I think …I mean you have to be willing to test things out.

 

Adam: [00:12:42] Yes, yes you have to test and fail..do it agin!

 

Tracy: [00:12:44] If you fail you’ve got to acknowledge it and walk away or look at how you can adjust and move forward. The native advertising was an example of that. We did it last year and it wasn’t as effective but it wasn’t going back to our website and it wasn’t our own content. It was more an advertisement and there wasn’t anything rich behind that ad. And so I think we pulled back we said there’s got to be something to this, how can we make it better. And we looked at new vendors that could provide us with what we needed and then we found it and it worked. So that’s one example.

 

[00:13:28] One of the things it’s not necessarily that it doesn’t work for us but as a nonprofit it’s something that we’ve unfortunately had to kind of move away from. We have limited resources. So, over the past couple of years that I’ve been with the Zoo we’ve shifted more and more of those media resources over to digital because it’s a flexible medium. It allows us to change our messaging very quickly if needed, it’s cost effective and it’s measurable. We can see the results. In a very timely manner. We’ve moved somewhat away from broadcast media. In the past we would have one big spot that we would focus in on and run on TV and we put together a couple of radio spots. But in my mind the cost of putting together those spots, I’d much rather be investing that in other ways.

 

[00:14:26] So I think -not that it’s an effective medium for us, it’s just something that we’ve kind of shied away from over the past year or two, just to be more conscious of how we’re spending our resources.

 

Adam: [00:14:38] I love that.

 

Tracy: [00:14:38] Other things I think, direct mail again I alluded to it before we’re shying away from it a little just because it’s costly, there’s a long lead time and.

 

Adam: [00:14:55] It’s not as precise either.

 

Tracy: [00:14:56] Exactly.

 

Adam: [00:14:56] Digital Marketing, you can serve up 20 different ads to very specific types of people and then direct mail I mean.

 

Tracy: [00:15:02] And you see if it works right away. So those are…I wouldn’t say they didn’t work. I’d say we’re just…

 

Adam: [00:15:10] You learnt .

 

Tracy: [00:15:12] Yeah we learnt from it and moved to other options.

 

Adam: [00:15:12] I love that because I feel like sometimes nonprofits are cautious about taking risks with digital marketing because they don’t want to waste money. And while I agree you don’t want to waste money, you’ve got to take a few risks here and there to learn what really works because it’s very likely that if you do that and you iterate and you grow, you can really use your money so much more effectively than you ever could otherwise. I think to use your money effectively over say a five year period or two year period even, you have to have some failures in there you learn from so you get so much better down the road.

 

Tracy: [00:15:42] Yeah. And some of them I wouldn’t even say they’re failures, it’s just they may not have been as effective as another…

 

Adam: [00:15:48] Exactly.

 

Tracy: [00:15:49] So it’s just.. you you can learn quickly from them.

 

Adam: [00:15:51] You don’t know until you test.

 

Tracy: [00:15:52] Which is the beauty of digital. Yeah.

 

Adam: [00:15:53] I love that. Well any other nuggets of digital marketing wisdom you’d like to share. Any final thoughts?

 

Tracy: [00:16:00] I don’t know. I mean I just I am a huge advocate of it and I see it being a larger and larger part of our marketing mix over time again because of the reasons that I noted before it’s a flexible medium, cost effective, I know costs are going up on it but for a nonprofit it’s a no brainer. And again, you can test things out and you can see the results quickly and learn from it.

 

Adam: [00:16:26] So last question, softball questions- should be easy. So nonprofits do have a tendency to not want to spend money on things like marketing, digital marketing. My opinion on that is you kind of have to spend the money to grow your organization to some degree. What are your thoughts on that? Do you have to take that risk you have to go for it?

 

Tracy: [00:16:46] I do think it’s [00:16:47] why. [0.3] Well especially in a business like ours or an organization like ours, we have a mission but we’re only able to fulfill that mission if we have people coming through. So there’s always going to be a need to drive people to the Zoo. So it’s extremely important for us to be top of mind when people are considering what to do with their spare time. So I think it’s essential for us. That being said I do think non-profits have to be more creative not only about how they spend their marketing dollars or allocating marketing dollars and how they spend it but I also think they have to be very savvy in terms of the free mediums or the you know owned and earned mediums like PR. We rely heavily on our PR efforts and social media. We rely heavily on getting our message out to people who are on social media.

 

Adam: [00:17:46] You’re great on social media too.

 

Tracy: [00:17:47] We have a very very talented communications team that does a great job.

 

Adam: [00:17:52] They really do- especially Instagram. Instagram is top notch.

 

Tracy: [00:17:55] Yes. Yes.

 

Adam: [00:17:56] A lot of good material out there.

 

Tracy: [00:17:58] I wish I could take credit for it but we have an amazing team that does that. I agree may be biased, but I agree.

 

Adam: [00:18:05] To all of our listeners, if you’re not following them on Instagram you should do that. If you’re in metro Atlanta and you haven’t been to the Zoo since you were a kid, you absolutely need to come. It’s completely different and truly amazing. My kids – I’ve got five of them and they love it here -like we’re here all the time. We were here last weekend. So it’s great. So Tracy thanks so much for joining me today.

 

Tracy: [00:18:26] Thank you for having me. I appreciate it.

 

Adam: [00:18:30] All right. That was great.

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