Communicate spoke with Jaki Ellenby, Executive Director - Marketing and Events at Global Village to understand how the theme park adapted their communication strategy during a pandemic.
How did Global Village pivot in 2020?
After closing our doors last March, we immediately began a company-wide audit of what needed to be done in order to open Season 25 of Global Village. On top of being a milestone year for us, there was an extraordinary amount of work required to navigate how we could keep our teams, partners and guests safe whilst providing excellent guest experience and ensuring that our product offering is up to the high standard our visitors have come to expect from us.
At the beginning of the lockdown period, like many other [organizations,] our communications were centered on supporting the frontline workers and then we gradually rolled out other content across our social media channels. By the time we hit the Summer of 2020, we had a full communication plan in place leading up to opening. The first big announcement we made was our opening date. It was a big step not only for us but for the country, as it was a sign of getting back to a sense of normality.
But of course being one of the first destinations to open would definitely come with its own set of challenges.
How do we support our artisans with cashless payment solutions? We can't offer guide maps to our visitors, how do we help them navigate their way around the park? How do we help our exhibitors bring their products and staff into the country? There were all these different challenges that we needed to figure out before we opened the doors including the opening event itself. We wanted a major event, but knew we wouldn’t be able to have a crowd, so we decided to partner with the largest rock band on earth, Rockin’1000, and host the biggest virtual concert in history, with over 2000 musicians from 80 countries.
We were able to roll out the communications and create a lovely build up to the opening in a really positive way. We made it a priority to discuss the topic of safety in our communications and what precautionary measures we were taking, without sounding like a hospital. We were careful with our vocabulary and avoided using words like ‘stringent’ or ‘strict’. I think those words sound reassuring when you’re visiting a hospital, but not when you’re coming to a Seasonal Park. We wanted to reassure people that they can have peace of mind whilst enjoying themselves.
We employed a lot of strategies to create that fun atmosphere. For example, we designed bright colourful masks for kids, implemented social distancing in the kids theatre with huge colourful teddy bears to keep guests two metres apart. We did everything we could to create an atmosphere of fun while adhering to the safety measures and this was the same tone we wanted to put out in our communications as well. We were balancing the tone of safety along with being a fun outdoor place to visit.
How did you implement this balance in your marketing strategies?
It was a challenge to communicate on Season 25 in our marketing content, especially before opening the doors. We improvised in the beginning by publishing visuals of the park being less crowded which we knew it was going to be. Once the park opened, we rallied our in-house content team and our agencies to make sure that we had a large base of visuals that showed people wearing masks, precautionary measures were being followed inside the park, etc.
We also shot and published a lot of behind the scenes footage this year- of what happens when the park closes at night and the measures we take, to keep the venue safe and sanitized for our visitors. This is something we’ve never done before.
Apart from the safety angle, we also wanted to tell stories this year. We have so many fascinating characters in our park and very few people actually meet and interact with them. So we wanted to share these stories, to show the human side of the Park and also help our community understand that Global Village isn’t “just” a place to buy stuff. It’s about connecting with people from around the world and getting a sense of their culture and way of life.
We’ve also seen a lot of UGC content from our fans this year. More than the usual amount and some of the visuals were pretty stunning. So we engaged with our fans by creating online contests to share more attractive UGC content.
This is the 25th year of Global Village. How did you find a balance in terms of communicating the 25th year anniversary and the subject of safety during visiting the theme park? What were the conversations like?
I believe that you can’t be truly creative without a little bit of pressure. I think it helps to get the creative juices going. The global pandemic was an unprecedented situation and we just haven’t been able to rely on tried and trusted communication platforms, but I think that’s been a great opportunity to pilot new types of activations and surprise people in our Silver Jubilee year. As an example we focused on art installations for our National Day Celebrations rather than our more traditional events.
All the ideas and strategies that were implemented were a result of working as a team across the business, brainstorming, getting inspired from what people were doing elsewhere and also working with peers from around the world especially our fellow members of the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions (IAAPA) for example.
We realized that the majority were thinking about the precautions rather than focusing on the guest. So we decided to flip our thinking and start from the guest experience and work backwards. This thinking helped us avoid conversations about what should the social distancing branding look like and instead forced us to focus on to ensure people are social distancing whilst they are having fun.
How did GV adopt digitally this year? What kind of strategies did you implement?
Fortunately for us, our digital transformation plans were in the works well before the pandemic. We were planning on making some major changes and the pandemic pushed us to accelerate our efforts to put everything in place well ahead of plan.
Our Global Village mobile application became more critical than ever this year because of the need for contactless transactions. We needed to ensure people could purchase tickets, pay for parking and top up their Wonder Pass on our app without any hassle. It was important to create a seamless experience on the app for our users.
As I mentioned earlier, we weren't able to hand out guide maps to our visitors, so we had to figure out a digital navigation system for our users. This was something we developed with a company called Mobii World. We used state-of-the-art tech to build one of the most accurate outdoor GPS navigation systems in the world for the turn-by-turn map function. The App is continually evolving and we are launching new functions regularly. The most recent is the 'Create your own route'. Users can plan their trips around the Park or follow one of the routes that we have created to inspire them such as the “foodie route” or the thrill-seeker. We are also working with influencers and radio personalities from ARN who have created their own fave routes around the park for fans to follow.
We launched a new payment solution called GVPay this year too. We have artisans coming in from all around the world to sell their wares and the majority don't have a bank account here. So how can we do cashless transactions? By creating an e-wallet in partnership with Noqodi which all our partners were able to implement simply and everyone can use through their smartphones. Our marketing automation platform was launched in May along with our partner recruitment campaign. The platform is now in full-swing and as we gather more data from the customers on their interests, we're able to communicate and tailor personalized experiences for them. People come to Global Village for very different things. Some come just for shopping, some for food and the like. Because Global Village has such an eclectic nature to it, it's important for us to speak to people about what they want to know. This will be a continual work in progress.
With regards to data collection, we communicate with them in a very straightforward manner, asking them to let us know what they’re interested in and what they want to know about so that we can give them the information they need. Obviously we are also using other data touchpoints and based on the insights we derive from the data, we can serve relevant communication via email, push notifications, SMS messages, etc. and also craft our product to serve the needs of our guests.
All these changes are significant because they are strategic and long-lasting – not about making tactical decisions that have no long term impact on the brand or the way we work. We look at this year as an accelerated learning curve for us, and we are piloting many new tools and approaches. This creativity and drive will be very important for us moving forward as we continue to deliver great experiences for both our guests and our partners.