A new email marketing capability for theme parks & visitor attractions

Building a new, centralised marketing database & email marketing engineMerlin brands

The brief

Merlin Entertainments Group is the world’s 2nd largest visitor attractions operator after Disney, with 105 attractions receiving over 60m visitors each year.  Merlin runs attractions across four continents operating theme parks (including Alton Towers, Thorpe Park, Chessington, Heidepark Germany, Gardaland Italy), plus six LEGOLAND parks, eight resort hotels, The London Eye, The Sydney Eye, Madame Tussauds, Dungeons, Sealife and others.

Historically Merlin has operated as a collection of independent visitor attractions and attraction brands, promoting quite separately.  However studies showed that many visitors to attractions visited more than one, so Merlin’s brands and attractions had customers in common.  On this basis, it made business sense and took better care of customers to co-ordinate communication with customers across Merlin’s attractions.  With 31 of Merlin’s attractions sited in the UK, this would become a pilot market for centralised customer relationship marketing (CRM).


We concluded that we needed a single customer view of all of the visits and interactions between customers and the variety of UK attractions operated by Merlin.  We needed teamwork to agree what to communicate, when.  Plus we needed to manage our communication schedule to be effective, measurable and engaging for customers.

  1. So firstly, we appointed a partnering supplier to collect together our data from all of the different attractions and brands, to crunch it together to form a ‘single customer view’
  2. Secondly, we pulled together staff across all of the attractions and brands, to meet monthly as a ‘taskforce’ to agree a schedule of promotions and offers planning forward initially across a six month timeframe
  3. Thirdly we devised a set of principles for planning messaging, crafting it and measuring it carefully.  Working closely with Merlin’s lead design agency and a top quality freelance copywriter, we were determined to be sure that our messaging stood out and worked well


At Merlin we worked quickly to collect together a variety of sources of data to form a UK marketing database of over 1 million targetable customers or prospects.  Plus to grow our scale, we reviewed who we could reach through the data we held, with quickwin conclusions to be able to engage with more of our current and prospective customers to grow the reach of our marketing database.

We worked hard Merlin email Halloween Teaserwith the new CRM taskforce to devise, agree and plan a ‘promotion calendar’ populated at first with opportunities to promote seasonally from obvious anchor points such as Christmas, theme park openings in March; Easter, Summer and Halloween peaks; plus school holidays, bank holidays and our own anchor points like the opening of new rides or attraction features.

We adopted a ‘test and learn’ mentality, measuring everything, and always running test versions against what experience told us would work.  We started to write up and publish our learnings and to be sure that we acted on our conclusions. Merlin email Halloween AdventurerMerlin email Halloween Scaredy CatMerlin email Halloween BraveheartPlus we tried hard to make our communications engaging, with copy full of personality and visuals which would catch attention.


The Big Difference

Within weeks we’d established a track record of delivering measurable boosts in web visits, ticket bookings and revenue.  After just two months our promotional schedule was delivering clear and obvious uplifts in the number of visitors passing through the gates at attractions.  We learnt how to create awareness and demand, particularly for special events and seasonal offerings at the parks and attractions.

Within three months our ‘silent cell’ measurement gave us enough data to model an estimate of incremental returns:

  • database customers & prospects we promoted to became +11.2% more likely to buy
  • the difference in average £ spend between customers we promoted to versus the silent cell we measured against was +20.3%
  • which modelled into a forecast of +£8m in annualised incremental gross revenue across Merlin in the UK

Enough to prove the value of the approach – giving us a green light to roll out to Germany where Merlin had 20 attractions, and soon after to Florida as a pilot for the US market.

Inside the first year of operations we used our quickwins to grow our targetable UK marketing database reach from the initial 1 million to more than 3 million records, but started to change messaging to ‘non-openers’ inviting their feedback to try to re-engage with them.  Just as importantly we grew open rates, click rates and conversion rates showing that we could apply the results of testing to make our messaging more effective and appealing.

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