Case Study: Cincinnati Zoo Used Business Analytics for Improving Performance

  • Post last modified:19 May 2023
  • Reading time:5 mins read
  • Post category:Business Analytics
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Cincinnati Zoo Used Business Analytics for Improving Performance


Opened in 1875, Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden is a world-famous zoo that is located in Cincinnati, Ohio, US. It receives more than 1.3 million visitors every year.


In late 2007, the management of the zoo had begun a strategic planning process to increase the number of visitors by enhancing their experience with an aim to generate more revenues. For this, the management decided to increase the sales of food items and retail outlets in the zoo by improving their marketing and promotional strategies.

According to John Lucas, the Director of Operations at Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden, “Almost immediately we realised we had a story being told to us in the form of internal and customer data, but we didn’t have a lens through which to view it in a way that would allow us to make meaningful changes.”

Lucas and his team members were interested in finding business analytics solutions to meet the zoo’s needs. He said, “At the start, we had never heard the terms ‘business intelligence’ or ‘business analytics’; it was just an abstract idea. We more or less stumbled onto it.”

They looked for various providers, but did not include IBM initially in the false assumption that they could not afford IBM. Then somebody guided them that it was completely free to talk to IBM. Then they found that IBM not only had suggested a solution that could fit in their budget, but it was the most appropriate solution for what they were looking for.


IBM first analyse the working of the Zoo as well the marketing and promotional strategies that they followed in the past. Based on the analysis, IBM provides a facility for analysing data related to the membership of customers, their admission and food, etc., in order to gain a better understanding of visitors’ behaviour.

This solution also provides a facility for analysing the geographic and demographic information that could help in customer segmentation and marketing. The solution provides extensive mutivariariate summaries of data.

The executive committee of the zoo needed a platform that must be capable enough of achieving the desired goals by uniting and analysing data associated with ticketing and point-of-sale systems, memberships and geographical details.

The complete project was managed by senior executives of the zoo, IBM’s consultants and BrightStar Partners, an IBM Business Premier Partner.

Lucas said, “We already had a project vision, but the consultants on IBM’s pre-sales technology team helped us identify other opportunity areas.” While the project was being implemented, BrightStar has become the main point of contact for the zoo.

Next, a platform was created on IBM Cognos 8.4 in late 2010, which has then further upgraded to Cognos 10 in the beginning of the year 2011.


The result of implementing the IBM’s business analytics solution is that the zoo’s return of investment (ROI) increased. Lucas admitted that “Over the 10 years we’d been running that promotion, we lost just under $1 million in revenue because we had no visibility into where the visitors using it were coming from.”

The new business analytics solution helped in cost savings for the zoo, for example, there is a saving of $40,000 in marketing in the first year, visitors’ number has been increased to 50,000 in 2011, food sales is increased by at least 25%, and retail sales has been increased by at least 7.5%, etc.

By adopting new operational management strategies of the business analytics solution, there is a remarkable increment in attendance and revenues, which have resulted in an annual ROI of 411%.

Lucas further admitted that, “Prior to this engagement, I never would have believed that an organisation of the size of the Cincinnati Zoo could reach the level of granularity its business analytics solution provides. These are Fortune 200 capabilities in my eyes.”

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