August 15, 2019 - By Anne Curtin, Sr. Director of Marketing, Nielsen
As one of the largest museums of natural history in the world, California Academy of Sciences (CAS) welcomes more than a million visitors to explore the wonders of nature every year. But non-profit marketing isn’t easy.
Increasing awareness, admissions and membership without draining resources from other initiatives can seem impossible in a world of for-profit advertisers with deeper pockets. Success depends on adopting smart, efficient and effective marketing strategies.
Based in San Francisco, CAS is California's oldest operating museum and research institute, housing over 46 million specimens in addition to a planetarium, rainforest, and aquarium.
Given its relatively small marketing budget, CAS needs to make every marketing dollar work harder. Reaching as many people as efficiently as possible is essential for driving awareness while keeping costs down.
Prior to working with Nielsen, CAS didn’t know if its marketing investments were even profitable, much less how much to spend, when, and on which vehicles to drive the greatest revenue and return. Understanding the impact of all business drivers – from traditional and digital media, to pricing, product and external factors such as weather and competitive activities – would be critical to success.
CAS engaged Nielsen to understand the true drivers of performance and maximize the effectiveness and efficiency of CAS’s marketing spend in driving general admission tickets and membership sales.
“CAS is an analytically rigorous organization, and Nielsen has been instrumental in helping us make fact-based marketing investment decisions within the context of our business realities,” said Melissa Felder, Chief Revenue and Marketing Officer, California Academy of Sciences.
Starting in 2010, CAS has partnered with Nielsen to help them make smarter marketing investment decisions. Every 18 to 24 months, Nielsen performs a marketing mix modeling (MMM) analysis to uncover key revenue drivers and deliver actionable recommendations for optimal marketing performance.
“With each analysis, we’ve been able to answer key business questions around pricing and new products, in addition to understanding performance drivers and how to best optimize our marketing mix. Each MMM study we run is an investment that pays for itself,” added Felder.
Nielsen’s MMM approach is a regression-based model that takes into account all potential drivers of sales to tease out the drivers of demand and calculate return on investment.
For CAS, the media factors in the model included multiple channels such as TV, online video, Out-Of-Home, print, radio (traditional and online), email, direct mail, digital display, paid social, organic social and search. Several non-media factors were accounted for as well including price, weather, holidays, special exhibits and competitive activities.
Based on the analysis, Nielsen was able to diagnose the drivers of attendance and membership sales, interpret changes over time, and calculate the return on investment by activity so CAS could make key advertising and investment decisions.
With each MMM analysis, CAS has seen its return on advertising spend grow, with total returns increasing by 30% over the past five years. This growth has given the CAS team confidence that they are allocating their resources and optimizing their marketing mix the right way. This increase in return has helped offset annual media cost inflation.
Understanding how their product portfolio works together has also enabled the team to fine-tune prices across general admissions and memberships. The pricing optimizations have driven a 15% increase in revenue over the last five years.
Through its partnership with Nielsen, CAS has gained key insights that will help secure its mission to “connect people to the wonder of the natural world, the power of science, and solutions for a sustainable future.” These insights include:
"We work with advertiser budgets ranging from a few million to a few billion dollars to help them optimize their marketing spend. While California Academy of Sciences falls at the lower end in terms of spend, it’s impressive to see the analytical rigor and discipline they have implemented in an organization of its size,” said Ankur Jain, VP, Marketing Effectiveness, Nielsen. “It requires the right mindset, team and persistence over time. Nonprofit and for-profit organizations alike can learn a lot from The Academy."
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