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ZSL Zoos

The power of purposeful popularity 

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The context

Founded in 1826, The Zoological Society of London is an international

conservation charity comprising a respected scientific institute, active conservation projects in more than 50 countries and two world-renowned Zoos, ZSL London and Whipsnade Zoo.


Despite an illustrious history and heritage, an enviable reputation and a combined total of 1.8 million visitors each year, a lack of internal clarity on both ZSL’s overall mission and on the role of its Zoos in supporting that mission was significantly hampering the charity's ability to impact and influence externally.


With a new Director General, ZSL embarked on a review of its overarching mission, as well as a new definition of the role of the Zoos specifically, and strategy for how each individual Zoo should be positioned and developed in the future.

The approach

internal engagement from across ZSL; zoo, conservation and scientific teams > global external stakeholder interviews - partners, peers and influencers > desk and contextual research > visitor data analysis > key insights and recommendations > co-creation of new positioning and principles > collaborative development of new strategic propositions



The strategic shift

In order to successfully serve and grow a global and domestic tourist audience and also engage the mainstream with ZSL, its aspirations and its work, we recognised that the powerful popularity of Zoos is an invaluable tool.


And so, whilst different audiences represent different opportunities for ZSL and the Zoos, there is a significant opportunity for ZSL to create their own definition of ‘fun’ for tourist visitors to their zoos,

re-imagining it as mission-critical, to inspire and to support behaviour change. 


Looking at successful leading-edge zoos around the world, it is clear that it is also time to dial up the innovation and creativity of approach to the visitor experience.


And, whilst developing and delivering our new definition of fun, both the visitor attraction and global conservation charity stand to benefit if, in our planning, ZSL is put at the heart of our Zoos and our Zoos at the heart of ZSL.


Mainstream appeal works, so put it to work

A positioning that appeals to the mainstream can do all of: driving new and repeat visits and revenue, supporting ZSL’s overall reach and also engaging the ‘public’ with science and conservation.

Providing a ‘special experience’ provides a challenge

People are prepared to pay for the sense of wonder and awe inspired through real, up close and personal experiences with animals and the natural world. But not particularly frequently without good reason, and they expect value for money. So the requirement to innovate; to offer a changing experience and one that attracts and engages in new ways, will always be present. 




Reputation works two ways

Recognition and awareness of ZSL by public audiences is low, so the Zoos, as public faces of the organisation, are crucial to reputation. And, ZSL’s reputation is going to become increasingly important to Zoos in terms of public permission, contextualising the presence and display of animals in support of conservation as well as entertainment.




Answer the fundamental questions. And weave the answers into your plans and your work

To remain relevant and appealing, aware of myriad responses and opinions from stakeholders and audiences to the huge conservation challenges facing the natural world, we are creating answers the questions: Why zoos? What makes ZSL zoos special? What do we offer? and How do we do what we do?

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"Claire and Martin have been instrumental in providing a new strategic direction for ZSL's Zoos during a period of organisational change. They helped us define and articulate our strategic positioning and propositions for both our Zoos. Working very much as part of a ZSL project team, they helped us as an organisation answer some very important strategic questions and, through a very thorough process, helped everybody stay on the same page and feel ownership of the end results. It's been a pleasure to work with them, they have a great approach and attitude - challenging your thinking but also making the whole process a fun and engaging experience too. I would very much recommend them!"


Rich Storton

Managing Director ZSL Zoos

Engagement Director ZSL

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