Marwell’s wildlife mission
With a £17 million investment at hand, Marwell Wildlife aims to improve footfall at its 140-acre zoo while staying true to the charity's commitment to biodiversity. A Saatchi Masius Masterclass was a valuable chance to look again at its marketing plan
Founded in 1972 by John Knowles, Marwell Wildlife is best known for its internationally renowned zoo, but it is also a registered charity, doing vital work to conserve endangered species.
But, just like any business in the tourism and leisure industry, Marwell must stay competitive. So it has committed £17 million over the next ten years to develop immersive quest experiences including a new Tropical House and Water & Wetlands exhibit.
Connecting the experience
Such a significant investment requires a return, but commercial success must sit well with the zoo’s conservation commitments. The problem - Marwell’s Chief Executive James Cretney told delegates at the Saatchi Masuis Masterclass he attended in June - is that the zoo’s visitors aren’t necessarily connecting the experience with the realities of conservation in Africa and elsewhere.
“Our aim is to inspire an interest in conservation,” he said. “But there is a difficulty. We are there to encourage that interest, but that’s not necessarily what people are going to a zoo for.”
The business also faces another pressing challenge familiar to any company working in the sector. “We are very weather dependent,” added James. “On a normal Easter Sunday, we would expect 6,000 visitors, but if it rains that number will be much lower.”
The 140-acre zoo – built in the grounds of the Owlesbury Estate in Hampshire – is one of the country’s best-known attractions, with visitors from all over the UK and overseas. Its role extends well beyond entertainment though. It raises public awareness of conservation issues and offers classes and workshops for schools and other groups. Recently, Marwell collaborated with Southampton University to offer a master’s degree in conservation.
“One of the first things we’re going to do is explore how we can create and nurture those emotional connections through redeveloping our website” Andrea Mullins, Marketing Director, Marwell Wildlife
James saw the latest Saatchi Masius Masterclass as an ideal opportunity to get an expert perspective on Marwell’s marketing and branding strategy. “It was just too good an opportunity to turn down,” he says.
James was joined at the marketing and branding Masterclass by Marketing Director Andrea Mullins.
In common with the other delegates attending the Masterclass, James and Andrea took part in a reframing exercise devised by the Saatchi Masius team. Working in teams, delegates were encouraged first to describe their companies and then to redefine their activities in terms of their real appeal to customers. The purpose was to identify the factors that differentiate the business, thus provide a platform for future marketing.
“The reframing exercise was very useful to us in helping us define what we do as seen from the perspective of the customer,” says James.
But it also presented a challenge. “We were looking at the emotional connection we have with the customer. The question for us now, is how we capture it,” he adds.
Applying the insights
As the Marwell team prepared for the return journey to Hampshire there were definite plans to apply at least some of the insights from the Masterclass. “One of the first things we’re going to do is explore how we can create and nurture those emotional connections through redeveloping our website,” says Andrea.
The Masterclass offered time out of the office to focus on marketing strategies that will not only increase visitor numbers but also deliver on the centre’s stated aim of bringing about “behavioural change”.