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Calgary Stampede research inspires innovative customer experiences
Calgary Stampede/Zinc Research collaborations put customers front and center



When your product is nearly a hundred years old, which the Calgary Stampede will be next year, you don’t want to mess with your winning formula – a world-renowned brand, an iconic local and national event, and a hugely popular entertainment experience. On the other hand, how do you do keep things fresh, exciting, and in tune with the times? That’s a balancing act that can be as tricky as straddling one of those famous bucking broncos.

Stampede programmers have a decades-long track record of doing just that: serving up those beloved experiences with a dash of the different and new. Whether it’s something as audacious as hosting an ice show in mid-July (which was launched last year) or simply tweaking one of the traditional rodeo competitions – that added touch of the unexpected is what fills the seats and keeps customers coming back year after year. “That,” says research consultant Mathew Stone, “is what we’ve learned in study after study: ’Surprise me. If you want to connect with me as a customer, I need to see things I never would have thought of before.’”

It’s that customer viewpoint that sets the stage, literally and figuratively, for every detail, and every decision – not just for programming or marketing, but throughout the Stampede organization. That insight comes an impressive array of consumer research, ranging from the most basic to the most imaginative. And Mathew Stone, who has worked either for or with the Stampede for over ten years, has been involved in most of it. “In our industry,” he says, “there is no other organization that does the amount of research that we do – not just in quantity but in quality.”

While the research has many facets, virtually all of it is aimed at getting a better understanding of the Stampede’s customers. “With our new approach to segmentation,” Mathew says, “we now can tell you we have eight audience segments. We know how they feel about us and what their behaviours are – but most importantly, we know where they live and we how to reach them. That really helps our marketing.”

The Stampede’s customer surveys are equally strategic, Mathew adds – and just as diverse: “We will do research where we start at customers’ houses, talk to them there about how they decide to go to the Stampede and what their planning activities look like, and then we’ll follow them through their entire experience. We will go talk to the audiences while they are sitting there, using some really innovative tools – like audio research, where we measure sounds to understand what impact music might have on their experience, during an event or as they move from zone to zone in the park. Or we’ll use perception analyzers, where we measure customers’ second-by-second perceptions of a particular entertainment product. For us, it’s not so much about how much we do, but how smart we are about it.”

Doing more with less

What does ‘smart’ mean? “Last year, for example,” Mathew continues, “instead of doing only an exit survey, we also did an entrance survey – really quickly, just two or three questions. We know now that we have a really good, reliable profile of who our audiences are.” The onsite surveys, which have been carried out over the past five years by Zinc Research, have focussed primarily on customers’ satisfaction ratings, whether in general or pertaining to specific events and attractions. By simply adding these new questions, the Zinc team was able to triangulate Stampede’s existing segmentation data. “They have certain marketing campaigns targeting certain segments,” Zinc president Brian F. Singh explains. “Based on the data we have – from the people coming in, and exiting – we can test out if they match up.”

“That has been a game-changer for us,” says Mathew, “because now we have that “before” aspect of where they live and what they think, and then we have it in real time, what these segments are actually doing onsite. That is a really big thing.” [For a closer look at this and other collaborative initiatives, read the Zinc Research case study.]

Howdy, friends and neighbours – can we talk?

For an organization that prides itself on being customer-centric, social media poses an especially exciting opportunity. The Stampede has had an online presence for several years, but much effort has been invested recently to see how they can tap into social networking channels to establish an ongoing dialogue with customers – anytime, anywhere. “That’s the power of social media. We can have that conversation locally, but we can also have it internationally, and with our national tourism audience. That’s really where we are headed for the long-term. Those things are hard to set up, they take time, but we want to make sure we do it right, so that we can do it in a way that is genuine and attractive for our audiences, too.”

Adopting social media as another form of customer engagement – and then working with the information it provides – is another area that Zinc Research has been exploring with the Stampede team. “Any time we work with them, we’re always collaborating,” says Brian Singh. “They wanted to have a discussion around social media, and around mobile, so now we’re starting to co-create around that – to say, ‘Well, how do you actually maintain brand relevancy based on what you’re collecting within the data?”

For Mathew Stone – indeed, for any researcher – it doesn’t get much better than this. “What we get to do with that insight? How do we better market to our customers? How do we better engage them? That is a fabulously exciting prospect, and I think if you are a pure marketer, whatever business you’re in, you would be excited about knowing how to have a conversation with 10,000 people at one time.”

For more information on these and other client-researcher collaborations, contact Brian F. Singh.