January 26, 2011
There’s no question that advertising can play a key role in attracting visitors to leisure entertainment facilities—and keeping them coming back. However, marketing is an equally effective, less costly way to get the job done—providing initiatives extend beyond merely distributing colorful literature and sticking with similar “old school” methodologies.
One of the best strategies for marketing leisure entertainment operations of all types is the use of social media—in other words, outlets like Facebook and Twitter, to name a few. The Newark Museum in Newark, N.J., has jumped on this bandwagon, maintaining a Facebook page and a Twitter account. The museum also has several photo-sharing portals on Flickr and broadcasts educational podcasts via iTunes. “Social marketing and social marketing tools are definitely playing a larger role in our organization,” said Wei Zhou, marketing manager. “As newspaper space dwindles, we now rely more on social networks, focusing on viewers who have an interest in the museum.” Zhou added that the social marketing has, to a certain extent, replaced the use of free publicity to keep the museum front-and-center in consumers’ minds. “Of course, we still work closely with (traditional) media, but as they have informed us, space is limited and there are many organizations vying for the same space,” she noted.
As do other Ripley’s Believe It or Not! franchises, Ripley’s Believe It or Not! Orlando Odditorium in Orlando, Fla., has also moved heavily into social media marketing through Facebook, Flickr and Twitter; the Ripley’s Facebook page has more than 25,000 fans. To best take advantage of social media exposure, the Odditorium—like The Newark Museum—links its Twitter and Facebook accounts so that any updates appearing on the former—from information about special exhibits and events to, in Ripley’s case, unusual stories—automatically appear on the latter.
Moreover, even if a leisure entertainment facility starts out small with social media marketing by pursuing only one outlet as opposed to multiple ones, the concept as a whole makes sense on many levels, according to Internet marketing expert Lehman Hailey, president of MN Group LLC, Nashville, Tenn. Not only do Web sites like Facebook, Twitter, Flickr and YouTube attract a very high volume of traffic, more than five million visitors every day; they are generally free to use. Consumers have come to expect to interact with their favorite destinations via social media. Even better, social networks act as word-of-mouth advertising—which most people consider far more credible than its commercial counterpart.
As an adjunct or alternative to social media, leisure entertainment facilities can also exercise their marketing muscle with e-newsletters and other email communications. Theme parks operated by Cedar Fair Entertainment Co., including Kings Island in Mason, Ohio, and Knotts Berry Farm in Buena Park, Calif., periodically distribute the FUNtimes newsletter, for which consumers can sign up on the appropriate park’s Web site. According to a Cedar Fair spokesperson, each newsletter has “thousands and thousands” of subscribers. Content includes information about new attractions and special events, as well as discount offers.
Contrary to what leisure entertainment facility operators may believe, newsletters need not be complex. They can simply feature a brief message from the owner/operator and a promotional offer—such as a few dollars off the price of admission; a coupon redeemable for free tokens; a “buy-one, get-one free or half off” an attraction, go-kart ride, miniature golf game, etc. or a discount off a concession item. As they grow more accustomed to marketing to and communicating with customers this way, newsletters can be expanded to include everything from detailed articles about new attractions and events, to interviews with customers and staff, to helpful information like how to improve one’s miniature golf or bowling game.
Leveraging special events as a marketing tool constitutes yet another option leisure entertainment facilities might do well to consider. Some facilities, among them the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach, Calif., have experienced considerable success with special events that tie into their mission and involve some manner of community outreach. This past October, the aquarium teamed up with Run Racing, an organization that specializes in the development, management and implementation of endurance, health, fitness and other events; and the Long Beach International City Bank Marathon & Half Marathon to host a free one-mile Kids Fun Run. About 2,000 children ages six to 12 participated in the event, for which they were encouraged to dress in blue or as their favorite marine creature and whose Grand Marshall was Lola, the aquarium’s resident talking cockatoo. Each participant received a commemorative medal, a finisher’s certificate, and free entry to the aquarium. Cecile Fisher, vice president of marketing and communications, said the fun was a great way to “inspire children to be healthy and to achieve their goals in life,” while simultaneously promoting the aquarium.